2015 Lexus RC F Debuts At 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Jim Frenak

Lexus is dreaming big again, and the 450-hp 2015 Lexus RC F shows that it means business. Audi RS5, BMW M4, and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, let’s see what you’ve got.

It seems like a dream as you’re blasting up the 412 highway from the Frankfurt -- Cologne autobahn. Actually, you know it is only a dream, but even so you’re thinking about filling up with high-test at the famous gas station across the road from the entrance to the track and then pulling up to the little tollbooth that will admit you onto the Nürburgring Nordschleife. You can almost feel this radical coupe under you, and it’s got a 450-hp V-8, a track-ready chassis, and big tires. And then it comes to you that you’re in a Lexus.

Whoa, you awake with a start. Is this a dream, or is it some kind of twisted nightmare? Really, a Lexus?

As we’re looking at the 2015 Lexus RC F in this photo studio in Los Angeles just a few weeks before the car’s unveiling at the 2014 Detroit auto show, we’re convinced that as dreams go, this is likely to be a good one. And it’s all the better because it will become reality in the fall when this high-performance evolution of the newly introduced 2015 Lexus RC350 goes on sale across the United States (and Europe, too).

The Lexus people are a little tired of being overlooked, as if they were some flyover state in the land of prestige brands. Back in 1989, their LS400 stomped the German prestige brands flat with new standards of comfort, drivability, and reliability, and yet Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz still dismiss Lexus with a casual wave of the hand, just as they did twenty-five years ago.

Instead of just sitting on its success in the American market, Lexus decided to make an international statement. The RC F is part of that statement, and it’s a message that has been on the way to us for a while. It wasn’t a coincidence when Toyota created its own Formula 1 racing team from scratch and hit the track in 2002, even before BMW and Mercedes-Benz bought pre-existing F1 teams. The Lexus LFA wasn’t just a high-tech toy when it debuted as a show car in 2005. The Lexus IS-F sedan wasn’t simply an imitation BMW M3 when it came on the market in 2008. By the time the LF-LC concept arrived at the 2012 Detroit show, it was clear that Lexus was serious about building sporty cars.

Now the production-ready RC F finally lies before us, although it’s wearing show-car colors and the specifications aren’t quite finalized. (RC stands for “radical coupe,” and F is a traditional Toyota code for special projects, notably the F1 that became the LS400.) We embrace the classicism of the rear-wheel-drive coupe’s proportions, the long, dramatic sweep of the hood matched with an upright cabin at the rear. The RC also has real style. The shape seems as if it’s interacting with the flow of air around it instead of simply pushing it aside, and you can almost see the vortices swirling off the sheetmetal.

While some dismiss this look as “origami styling,” we like its futuristic newness. In comparison, cars from the European nameplates often look as if they are simply different lengths of each brand’s corporate sausage. The upcoming Lexus RC350 has much the same look as this, yet the RC F is notably unique for its carbon-fiber roof and optional carbon-fiber rear wing. This is the largest version yet of the spindle grille that has become the signature of Lexus, and we can now see it and no longer hear Darth Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father.”

Within the RC F’s cabin, you find the same architecture as the RC350 in the sweep of the dash and the swoop of the center console. The F is set apart by the TFT display for the instruments, which allows you to change the array in a way that suits the moment, whether it’s street or speed.

Beneath the styling, the RC F gets tough. It’s built on a version of the Lexus IS platform, and the wheelbase has been made 2.8 inches shorter to match the 107.5-inch wheelbase of the outgoing IS-F sedan. The RC structure mixes high-strength steel, laser screw welding, and structural adhesives for optimum rigidity, while the F gets further structural braces for even more strength. Overall weight distribution is balanced toward the front, and it is not a bad strategy because it gives the car a surer sense of direction when the speedometer numbers start to get scary. The weight target is a rather husky 3970 pounds.

As with the IS, the RC has a control-arm suspension in front and a multilink setup in the rear, and the F iteration gets aluminum suspension arms and firmer bushings. Up front, you’ll find the six-piston brake calipers familiar from the old IS-F sedan, but you’ll also find thicker, larger 15.0-inch rotors. At the rear, new four-piston calipers are matched with thicker, larger 11.4-inch rotors. Forged-aluminum wheels with nine-inch rims carry high-performance 255/35YR-19 front and 275/35YR-19 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

Of course, everyone really wants to know what’s under the hood. You’ll find the same cast-aluminum block that’s now doing business in the IS-F, but everything else about this DOHC 5.0-liter V-8 engine has been revised. Lightweight titanium valves are again matched with strong, forged connecting rods, but there are new cylinder heads that still incorporate variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams. The polished crankshaft is smaller in diameter to reduce friction, while the pistons reduce friction as well. Naturally the intake manifold and exhaust headers are new, and the exhaust barks with a sharper, louder note. The dynamometer numbers aren’t yet final, but we’re told that this engine spins faster than before to deliver at least 450 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque.

We shouldn’t be surprised that an eight-speed automatic transmission is part of the high-performance program, as it delivers the drivability Lexus wants as well as the necessary durability. It’s calibrated to lock up in second gear and above for crisper response, it delivers gearchanges from the shift paddles in less than 0.2 second, and it blips the throttle automatically for quicker downshifts. Just as important, the electronic programming for the transmission, chassis, and stability control includes no fewer than three modes suitable for track driving, plus there’s an optional torque-vectoring rear differential. The array of sensors that operates stability control even includes a rear-ride-height function for those times when, you know, the car is airborne after crossing a crest at the Nordschleife.

The benchmark for the RC F has been the Lexus IS-F CCS-R, the winged specialty car that Lexus raced at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2012. RC F chief engineer Yukiko Yaguchi smiles conspiratorially at us during our video conference call with Toyota’s engineering center in Nagoya, Japan, as he notes that the RC F has been tested at Autopolis Circuit, Fuji International Raceway (which is owned by Toyota), the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and Willow Springs International Raceway in California. Even so, Yaguchi still says emphatically, “Our competitors tune their cars for track driving, and only expert drivers are comfortable. With RC F, the car shows outstanding performance on the circuit, but it is drivable for anyone, and you don’t need special skill to enjoy this car. It is about the human experience of the driving, not just the performance of the machine.”

The RC F fits into the ongoing transition of Lexus into a brand with more aspirational overtones. As Brian Smith, the brand’s marketing VP, tells us, the RC F supports the new Lexus F Sport models that have been rolling out, giving the brand a pyramid of premium cars for customers to climb. The RC F sits near the top of the pyramid, and we hear that a version of the supersporty LF-CC concept car is also on the way.

All this has much to do with Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota Motor Corporation since 2009 and a member of the board of directors since 2000. He embraced the LFA when it first appeared as a concept car, and he has been around the Nordschleife a few times himself. Toyoda has driven in endurance races staged at the Nürburgring several times since 2007, and he has become friends with Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin’s president, who also regularly races the Nordschleife. In fact, they swapped cars with one another in the last driving stint of a 2011 event, so Bez crossed the finish line in an LFA and Toyoda drove across in a V12 Zagato.

You might say that the dream of driving to the Nürburgring in a Lexus is Akio Toyoda’s own, and now, with the 2015 Lexus RC F, he wants to share it with us.

Evolution of the species

The changing shape of the Lexus coupe reveals a growing seriousness about performance.

1991 SC400: U.S.-designed coupe reinforces success of LS400 sedan.

2001 SC430: Hardtop convertible is great for golf, not for driving.

2005 LFA: Sports car concept introduces new look.

2012 IS-F CCS-R: Pikes Peak racer is benchmark for RC F tuning.

2012 LF-LC: LC concept displayed at Detroit and Sydney shows.

2013 RC350: New coupe with 314-hp V-6 appears at Tokyo show.

Michael Persiano
I have little patience for individuals who comment on cars they have NEVER driven or experienced.   The 8-speed tranny in the ISF is lightning quick in the manual mode...the mode that locks the torque converter from gears 2-8.  True...unless you are cruising at 170, you really do not need 8th gear.  But I have to say the car is wonderful at daily driver speeds and a complete blast to drive in the manual sport mode.
BTW:  the ISF continues to amaze at the drag strip.  The latest feat being victorious drag strip runs against the new C7 stingray.
Zack Kibler
Just as ugly as I'd expect a modern Lexus to be, though it's profile is attractive. I'd still pick the M4, both for its styling and manual gearbox, but if the Lexus didn't appear to have been styled by an ax murderer, this would be a compelling alternative.
@automobilemag @AM_Capparella When do you get to tear the #AsphaltUp in first drive #LexusRCF? Eagerly awaiting review!
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

-Arthur Schopenhauer
Soon you will have your spotlight Toyota. Dream big. 
Pranay Kumar Das
Stephen Schewe
I liked the AWD Mercedes AMG. I always go with AWD!
Aside from the hideous schnoz it's not bad. But wow, that grille is seriously fugly. And not just a little bit fugly, I mean it's fugly with a capital FUGLY.
It's as if the folks at Lexus saw the awful Acura "shield" grilles and thought, "hey we can make a grille that's even uglier!" (mission accomplished, guys)
Austin D. Skipper
I think it best have stability controls
It may look hairy as all get out, but it's just another fast car for rich folks who aren't really driving enthusiasts. An eight-speed AUTOMATIC?? Really?? No thanks.
Rod Munch
It looks like a Hyundai - not exactly how I'd want to feel about buying a luxury coupe. Interior is very nice but it's a little boy racerish on the outside - clean up the lines and make it more elegant / classy and they'd have something.
Vern Southard
Very exciting car, and as the writer put it so well, it is not just another size of the corporate sausage, it'is unique and bold, actively aero, in-your- face styling,  but still has class and style that ties it all together. Even that hourglass front end is acceptable on this car, for some reason. Looks like the ultimate road rocket coupe and should compete with cars a lot more expensive with ease. Lexus is on to something here, it's a good size and should ride and handle well. The IS is too small, but this is a substantial car. Looks like a thoroughbred even though it's new to the Lexus stable.
The first thing that pops into my head when I see the 2015 Lexus RC-F is the 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec.
Except for the grotesque front end, this would be an awesome car...
Well, I like what I have read, But try as hard as I can there is just no way I would spend money on any thing this ugly.
Not terrible, but I think the plastic surgeon will need to re-do the face job even though I do say it's edgy and the bariatric guy hasn't been called yet concerning the weight issue. Would I drive one if I won it.....definitely, yes. Would I pay whatever they're asking or I could get them down to......probably not. Disclaimer.......I'm a Audi guy.
Not a bad looking car if you are already a Lexus fan...in reading closely something I noticed was interesting.  The writer makes just ONE comment about the 3970 lb. weight of the car..From that comment on there are  no complaints about the weight.  Having a newer Shelby GT 500 I am constantly reminded by automotive writers about how heavy the car is as to why it cannot perform on the track...why does Lexus get a pass on being a "fatty"?
I have a friend who is a sales manager at a big Lexus dealer in Florida.   He would love to get me out of my Benz SL; but, the Lexus product line has been very weak for years especially with respect to coupes/convertibles and the sedans are a snooze factory on wheels.  The last SC was a nice car but was definitely stale when it was retired and they had no replacement.   The RC and this RC-F should help somewhat with that void; but, the spindle front on the new Lexus lineup and especially on this car looks awkward to me.   Is there going to be a convertible?.   If and when I see the production LF-LC, I will give it a chance; but, I'm not optimistic. 
Royd Bunuan Delos Santos
i love the lexus brand but not this design too ugly
Larry Williams
Love it. The grill is a deal killer.
Sylvain Raymond
That 61 Plymouth front end has gotta go!!!
Richard Martin
Looks like another car we'll never see at a Porsche Club high speed drivers' education day at the local track.  Maybe Lexus is competing with Mercedes-Benz for the "least likely to ever be seen on a track" award?    When all is said and done, it remains true that "there is no substitute."   
Muhammad Safuan
... looking for blue.
Greg Lane
it's not a Suburu??
Michael Steven Chavez
Ugly, just like every other Lexus and Toyota.
@automobilemag @Lexus i must say this is a pretty ugly car that seems to melted with a magnifying glass
Rinaldi E. Tubadeza
Still not (and probably never will be) a fan of this "spindle grill" ugliness, but I like the rest of the car. Larry Qualls, and Yuval, if they really are planning to reincarnate the supra, I hope you can get it with a traditional third pedal. Unlikely, but one can always hope!
Jon Russell
AWESOME!!! 1st Lexus I actually like & would buy!
Alicia Holt
I want that
@GregMigliore I'm with you, can't wait!
Awesome...finally an exciting design. We know what boring motor works looks like, cant wait to see what Merc and Audi come up with.
Dammy Onafowokan
I actually like it.
Craig Stishenko
Holy coming of Christ! It's another ugly over priced Toyota!!!
Manni Papas
It looks great, although not entirely a unique design. But that front end is just hideous. Can't get past it. Great looking interior!
Travis Jdm

This looks BADASS.   Menacing and ready to rumble. I love it.
Bob Lange
Joe Lussier
Last time I saw a mouth like that, it had a hook in it.
Alex Tofalos
It's amazing how misinformed some people are. A little bit baffled by some of the comments - a BRZ?! Have you read anything in the article at all? It's based on a modified IS platform, which last time I checked wasn't anything to do with the BRZ/GT86 at all?! I'm also yet to see a Mazda look like that as someone said. We'll have to wait and see on this car- I won't make my mind up till I've seen and driven it. One things for sure though, when Lexus do something they do it properly. Looks are personal opinion but I applaud Lexus for going in their own direction. I'm a big fan of the German brands and BMW but they do all look bland and same-ish at times. Yet Lexus tries something different and people complain? Now- THATS boring!
Lee Klein
Couldn't be uglier. Trying too hard.
Thomas Pierlow
Jon Kithcart
I'm sorry but the Asian auto manufactures have got to get some new different blood in their styling directors!... With the notable exception of the Mazda 6, they are deeply, hopelessly at present.... Lost
Andrew R Bowen
Why does every brand have to look just alike? Looks like an old Mazda 6 coupe with a Lexus nose.
Larry Qualls
Dope I say, dope!
Larry Qualls
I love that Lexus is venturing out of the box with their new design direction. Being different from the rest is always a good thing! This also pretty much confirms that a Supra is sure to follow. Go Lex!!!!
Conrad Zumhagen
Nice, except for that Predator face.
Adam Axell Neujahr
Anytime a manufacture makes a coupe and something sporty with functional space too, I have to support it. But yes, a BMW will be the ultimate.
Chris Story
An M4 would be even better..
Chris Story
Looks better than a GT-R. But, I'd take a 435i over this car.
Bald Guy
I know that styling is a subjective thing, but....slapping a Dyson front end to a BRZ body seems objectively silly and awkward looking.
Larry Qualls
Without a doubt, the stick has to exist!
Larry Qualls
And the conservative Lexus's in the past that everyone seem to desire now, weren't exactly flying off of the showroom floors. I personally would love to drive and be seen in a vehicle that looks nothing like anything else on the road. Go Lex!

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