2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition first drive review: The F sharpened
We take to the track in the second most exotic model in Lexus' F Performance division: the carbon fiber-clad RC F Track Edition.
Antuan GoodwinReviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
ExpertiseReviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainmentCredentials
North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
With the introduction of the revised and refreshed 2020 Lexus RC F earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show, fans of the Lexus F Performance were treated to an even more track-focused variant of the brand's sportiest model. Perhaps the second most exotic vehicle to come out of the F division -- after the Lexus LFA, all those years ago -- the appropriately named 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition builds on the performance of the new RC F with ridiculous amounts of carbon fiber and weight reduction.
In order to showcase how the Track Edition performs on an actual track, Lexus invited me to The Thermal Club circuit in southern California for a few hot laps.
Watch this: 5 things you need to know about the 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition
The new RC F
The updates to the 2020 RC F start in the engine bay where the 5.0-liter V8 engine gets a 5-horsepower bump and six more pound-feet of torque thanks to intake tweaks that help it breathe easier and more freely. Output now sits at 472 hp and 395 lb-ft.
Those are fairly modest gains, but the Lexus also benefits from improvements to the responsiveness of its powertrain and chassis, metrics that are more difficult to quantify. The engine mounts are stiffer and the throttle now has a more linear response, emphasizing the naturally aspirated feel of the V8, making the RC F feel more engaged. Meanwhile, the final drive has been lowered from 2.937 to 3.133:1, which further helps with acceleration.
In addition to hardware, the powertrain benefits from software upgrades, including the addition of launch control. The RC F is only the second ever Lexus model to feature standard launch control -- the first being the LFA -- which helps drivers to point-and-shoot their way to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds.
More subtly, the standard eight-speed automatic transmission features new AI-Shift Control programming that Lexus says can emulate the behavior of an experienced racing driver on a race track. It worked pretty well during my testing, but I still preferred the joy of slapping my own shifts with the paddles.
The face-lifted look incorporates many subtle changes that add up to a significantly improved aesthetic. I especially like the redesigned front and rear light clusters with their prominent L-shaped signatures and the new triple-stack configuration for the main front LED headlamps. There's also an aerodynamic function to this new form that includes a new front spoiler that reduces lift and improves stability at speeds above 90 mph. Out back, a new side sill design improves air movement around the rear wheels, working with a redesigned rear diffuser to reduce drag.
Perhaps the weirdest, most subtle aerodynamic tweaks involve the RC F's signature fender vents, which have been enlarged and now pull air from the wheel wells rather than the engine bay. Lexus claims that this reduces air pressure around the wheels at speed and allows the suspension to move more freely and accurately. That sounds almost crazy enough to work.
The suspension and standard tires have also been revised to improve handling and responsiveness. And a 55-pound overall weight reduction for the 2020 model year yields improvements across the board to the acceleration, braking and handling.
2020 RC F Track Edition
And that's just the standard 2020 RC F. The Track Edition builds on those core upgrades with a more hardcore approach to weight reduction and on-circuit performance. Overall, this limited-edition model shaves 176 pounds of mass by upgrading to ultralight exotic components for many of its chassis components.
Fifteen pounds are saved by the hand-made titanium exhaust, which also enhances high-frequency acoustics, giving the Track Edition a unique sound among other F Performance Lexuses. An impressive 48.5 pounds is shed by upgrading to Brembo-sourced carbon ceramic brakes, which also help the coupe handle stop after abusive stop on the track with less fade. Ultralight 19-inch BBS forged aluminum wheels with sticky, new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires save a further 6.7 pounds.
And I can't ignore the many square feet of carbon fiber body and aerodynamic components. The enlarged front spoiler, canards and new carbon fiber side splitters save weight while also working with the huge new fixed rear wing to help to keep the car flat when cornering and planted at speed. Look closely and you'll even see that Lexus has woven its "F" logo into the wing's end plates.
In addition to the aerodynamic components, hood, roof and rear diffuser that you can see, Lexus has also replaced the hidden rear bumper mount and chassis-stiffening rear partition brace with lightweight carbon fiber bits. The automaker was also deliberate about where the Track Edition shaved pounds, paying particular attention to unsprung mass (brakes and wheels) and mass away from mass (hood, bumper bits and roof) to make the biggest impact on the coupe's still fairly hefty curb weight.
Watch this: 2020 Lexus RC F goes lighter with new Track Edition | Detroit 2019
Track time with the Track Edition
Leaner and meaner, the RC F Track Edition now does the 0-60 sprint in 3.96 seconds -- about half a second faster than the standard RC F -- which I was able to experience while rocketing onto the circuit at The Thermal Club. I was impressed by how stable the RC F felt at speed and how composed it felt when braking from up to 120 mph at the end of the back straight -- still well short of the 168 mph top speed. No, the new RC F doesn't feel tremendously faster than the previous model did on a different track, but it certainly feels more awake and alive, especially with the titanium exhaust singing over my shoulder.
That "alive" feeling persisted when it came time to get off of those expensive brakes and start chucking the RC F into a few corners. The optional torque vectoring rear differential -- a Torsen LSD is standard -- made the coupe a bit more willing to rotate into oversteer. I almost learned that tidbit the hard way when getting onto the throttle a bit too early while still learning the track, hanging the tail out momentarily. Thankfully, this new Track Edition offers so much more feedback than the old model and responds much more naturally, helping me to rein it in and better hang out near the limits of its increased grip, lap after lap.
Pricing and competition
Including a a $1,025 destination charge, the improved 2020 Lexus RC F starts at $65,775 before options, but the Track Edition steps up to a heftier $97,675 preoption sticker. That prices the most track-focused F Performance model in the neighborhood of some extremely tough and exclusive competition that includes the carbon-laden BMW M3/M4 CS, Audi's RS5 Quattro and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (which is nearly as fun to say as it is to drive). This slightly spicier flavor of performance for the new RC F compares surprisingly well -- especially as the established players seem to be mellowing with age -- and should appeal to fans of the Lexus brand or those looking for something different.
The Track Edition is also significantly more expensive than Ford's Shelby GT350R -- admittedly, not a luxury car, but certainly on the radar of track-focused buyers.
As RC's platform and cabin technology start to show their age, the automaker has doubled down on the performance side of the equation, giving fans of the Lexus F Performance division -- now in its 10th year -- new reasons to love the new RC F. Meanwhile, the exclusive RC F Track Edition offers enough extra edge to make this executive coupe feel at home on track day. But all of that carbon fiber, ceramic and titanium doesn't come cheap.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.
The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.