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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Roaring Lexus RC-F salutes the mighty V8

RC F really plays to the Lexus inconspicuous mantra from a styling perspective

The dawn of the muscle car in North America in the mid-1960s signalled not only the beginning of a cult era in motoring, but lead to the creation of a motto that would become part of automotive folklore till this very day.

With engine size often exceeding long standing US staples such as 308 cubic inches (5 047cc) and 351 (5 751cc), topping out at 440 (7 210 cc) or 454 (7 439 cc), the tag, no replacement for displacement was born.

At the same, General Motors had started fiddling with turbochargers as a means of upping performance, the results being the 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire with a 160 kW 3.5-litre turbocharged V8 and the controversial Chevrolet Corvair whose forced assisted 2.7-litre flat-six delivered 110 kW in the Monza Spyder.

Given the technology at the time though, problems relating to the turbo soon occurred and it wouldn’t be until well over a decade later that the blower would start to spool up. Today, the turbocharger is very much the mainstay of the modern automobile as not only a performance device, but also as a means of lowering consumption and emissions.

With electrification now the new buzzword, the death clock is ticking for the normally aspirated engine, especially the once mighty V8 that will soon growl off into the sunset. Before this happens though, the mentioned displacement adage still has a pulse with Lexus being one of the few automakers not ready to let go of it.

Of course, the luxury division of Toyota’s V8 track record is well known in that its first ever model, the LS 400, came powered by a bent-eight. While luxury, refinement, comfort and nondescript looks are key Lexus axioms, its V8 motors have earned cult status as not only popular swap items, but being tuneable without needing to go the turbo route.

Since 2014, the RC F has filled the position of Lexus’ sportiest model in spite of it sitting below the flagship, and arguably more luxury focused, LC 500. Not immune to criticism as the allure of a junior LFA soon faded, the RC F has nonetheless succeeded in obtaining a mid-life facelift, which, after bowing in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is now available in South Africa.

Viewed from outside, the changes are hard to spot but despite this, the RC F really deserves a second look, not just because of the stunning Poseidon Blue paint, but that it plays the ultimate role of a Q-car.

While it retains characteristics from its predecessor such as the bulging wheel arches, quad exhausts, air intake integrated into the bonnet and the fairly restrained F bodykit, it now comes with updated LED headlights, a restyled gloss black Spindle Grille with a honeycomb pattern, a carbon fibre front splitter, new taillights, a redesigned rear bumper and machined 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber.

Factor out that eye-catching hue, the RC F really plays to the Lexus inconspicuous mantra from a styling perspective, which, for a change, is all the more welcome even if it discloses its real personality with the F badges on the wings and bootlid.

The discreet aspect continues inside where, apart from the faux carbon fibre inserts that feel cheap, the cabin looks positively plain even with sporty touches such as leather, silver-and-blue stitching on the gear lever and F steering wheel, and a conspicuous little dial next to the gear lever marked Eco, Normal, Custom, Sport and Sport+.

Unfortunately, even these can’t dispel the fact that the centre console with its thickly padded leather sides looks a tad dated even with the bare minimum of buttons. It is however easy to forgive this as opposed to the mouse-like haptic touchpad for the 10.3- inch touchscreen infotainment system that is overly sensitive and almost impossible to use when not standing still.

Just as annoying is the system itself which is too fussy and not deserving to be in a car priced at R1 331 500, while another big irritation is the foot-operated handbrake that reminds one in no uncertain terms of which market the RC F is catered for.

On the flip side, the F is all Lexus on the specification front with superbly comfortable heated and cooled electric front seats, an electrically adjustable steering column, dual-zone climate control, Adaptive Cruise Control, a brilliant 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, front and rear parking sensors with a reverse camera, folding, electochromatic mirrors that are heated, Auto High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Keeping Assist and Vehicle Stability Control to name but a few.

As opulent as the RC F though is, it is all about the monster up front that will soon be no more. Retuned to produce 351kW/530Nm, the 5.0-litre V8 starts up with a traditional bent-eight rumble and from the off, is somewhat of a lazy beast unfazed about waking-up.

Go past 3 000 rpm and lower the rear spoiler, the V8 suddenly comes alive as the rumble turns into a metallic howl that renders the sound system useless as your ears are assaulted by sheer aural pleasure. While the eight-speed automatic gearbox errs on the ponderous side in Normal mode, it becomes a bit slicker in Sport or Sport+ modes, but consensus is that it should have been sharper when using the gear shift paddles in manual mode at least.

This, along with the portly mass of 1 710 kg, could be blamed for the rather poor acceleration time of 8.8 seconds obtained by Road Test Editor Mark Jones, which is not only well off of Lexus’ claimed 4.5 seconds, but makes it vulnerable to the latest slew of hot hatches.

Unsurprising however was the hefty fuel consumption of 14.2l/100km as opposed to Lexus’ 11.2l/100km claim, but considering that the RC F spent the greater majority of its four-day stay in Sport to avoid the “below 3 000 rpm dead zone’’, the high consumption was a given.

It did however show that it could react when provoked as the Adaptive Variable Suspension allowed for just enough slip in Sport+ to get the tail out, while the ride remained firm but relatively comfortable and the steering quick.

As Mark pointed out in his launch review, the Lexus RC F provides no real competition for the BMW M’s or Mercedes-AMG’s of this world, and should in fact not even be mentioned in the same breath.

What it is though is more of a luxury bruiser that is still able to push you back into the plush seats and keep you there as you are reminded that what lies up front will soon be a distant memory. It is a Japanese GT take on the muscle car in the most understated form possible if you will, and one with a penchant for natural power in a big displacement wallop.

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