2020 Lexus RC F review: Power and presence, but still a step behind
The luxury performance coupe segment is dominated by heavy-hitters such as the Audi RS5, BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63. But Lexus has been playing in this space, too. The sharp-looking RC F launched in 2015 -- a coupe-bodied successor to the outrageous IS F that came before it -- and it gets a few meaningful updates for the 2020 model year that make it even more attractive than before.
There's no denying the RC F is a handsome car, especially decked out in the Infrared color of my tester. But for 2020, the big coupe gets a few small styling tweaks. The cool-looking stacked tailpipes are still here, but they're set off by new taillights and a redesigned bumper. Up front, you'll notice larger air intakes and restyled headlights. The huge spindle grille is as prominent here as it's ever been, though it's actually a bit smaller for 2020.
The RC F gets a few engineering tweaks, too, cutting 56 pounds from the coupe's weight thanks to lighter components in the manifold and air conditioning system, as well as a bumper support piece made from a mix of carbon fiber and aluminum.
And whaddaya know, the engine gets a few tiny changes, as well. The 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 now produces 472 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 395 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm -- gains of 5 hp and 6 lb-ft. That's not really enough to move the needle in any meaningful way, but hey, more power is more power. Power gets down to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is as dismal as ever, though, with the 2020 RC F earning EPA ratings of 16 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.
The RC F gets more linear throttle mapping for 2020, as well as a shorter final-drive ratio of 3.13:1. Launch control is also part of the package now, and Lexus says it'll help propel the RC F to 60 mph in a pretty-darn-quick 4.2 seconds.
On the road
As I make my way to my favorite twisty backroad, I switch the drive mode to Sport S to make use of its quicker throttle response, but I keep the torque-vectoring differential in its standard setting. The gearbox mostly knows what it's doing, though sometimes I'll get an early upshift or it won't downshift under braking. Thankfully, that's easily remedied by using the paddler shifters, and I even get a little throttle blip when I downshift -- a great way to hear that V8 roar inside the cabin.
Moving to the Sport S Plus setting gives me maximum powertrain response and heavier steering feel. The TVD tech has Slalom and Track modes, the former of which helps the RC F feel a bit more spry on these tight backroads. Don't be fooled by the aforementioned weight loss -- the 2020 RC F still tips the scales at 3,902 pounds. The onboard electronics do a nice job of making the coupe feel a bit more svelte, if you'll pardon that use of an adjective as an adverb. In Slalom mode, the RC F rotates better through turns, and I find myself pushing it harder as I careen through the corners.
The RC F rides on a staggered set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, with 255/35-series front and 275/35-series rear rubber, wrapped around 19-inch wheels. These tires offer lots of grip, and Michelin worked with Lexus to specifically develop these tires for the RC F. It works, too -- at no point does the rear end want to step out under hard cornering, and I've got tons of grip at all times.
When it's time to just commute, the Lexus happily settles down. Putting all the settings back to Normal reveals a car that's still firm, but not uncomfortably so. Happily, the front seats offer plenty of support for long trips, as well as the right amount of cushiness for my hindquarters.
The standard adaptive cruise control works as advertised, but its operation is a little wonky. I have to engage the system from a stalk on the lower left side of the steering column, but the distance control is on the steering wheel itself. In fact, there are a lot of layout issues with the interior, but I'll get to that in a minute. The RC F's other standard driver-assistance features include lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, as well as forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are both package-based options.
I cannot talk about the RC F without shaming the Lexus Enform infotainment system. It's bad. Really bad. My tester has the optional 10.3-inch multimedia screen, which is a nice upgrade over the standard 7-inch unit. Enform is controlled by a touchpad that is supposed to be analogous to a smartphone, where I can tap, swipe and pinch-to-zoom to my heart's content. In reality, however, this is just horrible to use. It's incredibly easy to swipe past icons, even after adjusting the parameters of the touchpad. There are hard buttons for the map, main menu and to step back one screen, but everything else must be selected by the touchpad, which is infuriating to use while driving.
Further, in order to access apps like I Heart Radio, Yelp, Amazon Alexa and Waze, drivers must have the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 installed on their phone. You can get around this using Apple CarPlay, but Android Auto is absent (even though you can get it on the non-F RC coupe).
While the interior of the RC F is full of soft-touch, quality materials, it suffers in terms of layout and user experience. In addition to the aforementioned adaptive cruise control stalk/steering wheel snafu, a button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel controls a digital information pane on the left-hand side of the gauge cluster. The turn signals and windshield wiper stalks both return to place automatically and it's tough to get just a few blinker clicks for, say, a lane change, or one wiper swipe to take care of a little rain mist. Oh, and why does a car so packed with tech still have a foot pedal parking brake?
I don't expect a sports coupe to have much in the way of utility, but the Lexus falls short here by comparison. There is limited in-cabin storage and the truck only offers 10.1 cubic feet of space, which is smaller than what you get in the Audi RS5, BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63. The rear seats don't fold down but there is a pass-through to accommodate longer items, for when you want to take your rear-wheel-drive sports car skiing.
How I'd spec it
I love the way this car looks, so my ideal RC F would be painted Infrared, which costs $595. I'd add the premium package ($5,350) which gets me heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and the rear seat pass-through. Finally, I'll add the $1,250 torque-vectoring differential, bringing my perfect RC F up to $73,120 out the door.
Lexus also offers a $6,000 performance package which tacks on a bunch of carbon fiber parts, which I don't really want. Embedded navigation costs $2,725, which I'll also skip considering Apple CarPlay is free. If you really want to go big, there's also the $97,825 RC F Track Edition, but that's a whole different animal.
Good looks aren't enough
At $65,925 to start, including destination, the RC F is cheaper than its key rivals, but not by much. The Audi RS5 comes in at $75,195, the BMW M4 starts at $70,145 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 costs $70,895, all including their respective destination charges. For a few thousand bucks more you get nicer interiors, more eager powertrains and much better cabin tech.
The 2020 Lexus RC F is a fine choice for those who favor daily-driving comfort over full-blast, knock-your-socks-off shenanigans. But with fierce competitors that do so many things better, it still winds up being a back-of-the-pack pick in this exciting segment, even if it does turn heads.