Comparing the 2015 Lexus RC F, RC 350, and IS 350 on-track
This past week I had the opportunity to track both the 2015 Lexus RC F and the RC 350. My daily driver is a Lexus IS 350C and last fall and summer I had the chance to track the IS 350 on both an autocross and racetrack. What I have found is that the RC line is much more track-worthy than the IS line and that the RC 350 is surprisingly fun on a racetrack, even when compared to the might RC F.
RC 350 Is Light and Tossable
At the event I attended I was able to drive both the RC F and RC 350 back to back to back. I had as many laps as I wanted. This was not just a couple spins around and then done. I did about 24 laps of Monticello Motor Club’s road course. As luck would have, it I drove the RC F first. It exceeded my expectations in many ways. However, what stunned me was that when I drove and RC 350 F Sport, the car, though not as capable on the track, was still a complete blast to drive.
The RC 350 F Sport did not understeer (much) on the course. In some sections, it did push a smidge, but the faster I was able to turn the car, the less understeer I felt. In fact, on the fastest corners, the car felt neutral to me. The RC F by contrast never felt like it understeered, and on many sections the tail would rotate nicely. The RC F to me was a neutral car that could be coaxed into oversteer.
RC F Power vs. RC 350 F Sport
In my prior story, I talked at length about how the RC F’s 467 horsepower were always on-tap due to the amazing sport direct shift transmission with AI (artificial intelligence). No matter where on the course you are, the engine is already ahead of you. Dive into a corner focusing on braking and turning, and then when exiting roll onto the throttle and the car is at 4,000 RPMS ready to rock and roll. Not so the RC 350 F Sport.
I am not a pro driver. In fact, I am not really even a good driver on-track. I have had some formal training and limited track days, but I am no hot-shoe. The RC F made me feel like I was. The RC 350 F Sport reminded me of my real limits. My fist lap with it was awful. The problem was that I expected the transmission to be there for me, and it just was not. So, I adapted. As an owner of an IS with a similar transmission, I knew the left paddle shifter would bring me power. I also knew enough to pop the Trans over to the manual mode so that 5,6,7,8 were locked out. Once I started to paddle my way down through the gears while cornering, my enjoyment and I suppose my track times, went up dramatically.
Even when I did the downshifts perfectly, the RC 350 F Sport’s 306 horsepower was a lot less than the car could have put to use on the track. Exiting corners there is not a rush of power that creates perma-grin. You roll onto the throttle and keep the pedal pinned until the next braking point. I didn’t have the skill or bravery to do that in the monster RC F. Yes, I just said that the RC F had more power than I could use. Of the twelve drivers in attendance that day, only one looked like he was into the power 100% everywhere possible on the track. He also went off the track with all four wheels at one point and had to chill for a bit to regain his composure.
RC 350 F Sport Feels Light
Compared to the RC F, the RC 350 F Sport feels a bit more tossable. When you turn in, it seems like it is quicker to rotate. Initial braking seems to also reveal a lighter car, but the brakes on the RC F are much more powerful, so once they grab you get more braking Gs than in the RF 350 F sport. It made me wonder what the RC F would feel like if it was 300 pounds lighter. Like a BMW M4 is my first guess.
IS All-Wheel Drive Understeers
One downfall of the IS 350 is that almost all of the ones built are all-wheel-drive (AWD). Normally, this is not a big handicap on track, but in the IS it is. Part of the reason is the tires and rims are different when Lexus builds an IS 350 AWD versus a rear-wheel (RWD) model. Sadly, I have to say that in my experience the AWD car understeers and plows on a track. The AWD does nothing to help the car exit corners, at least that I can sense. The IS 350 RWD does not really overpower the rear tires, so corner exits are not really a problem. On the street, the IS 350 AWD is excellent. I tested that car on the road just three weeks back, and its on-road capabilities far exceed legal limits. If you are ever going to track your Lexus start with rear wheel drive which comers more neutrally, and if you don’t absolutely need four doors, go with the RC 350. The prices of the IS and RC are almost exactly the same.
As an owner of a current-generation IS 350 C (convertible coupe) I can tell you that it shares a floor pan and engine with the new RC 350. That is all. It is a wonderful cruiser and capable GT on public roads, but nobody would buy the IS 350C for track days.
So there you have it. Roughly 1000 words about how five distinct Lexus models perform on track. If you remember Lexus from years past as a boring brand, you may want to reconsider your opinions. Much has changed in the past few years.