California’s Central Valley is a veritable wonderland of largely deserted, two-lane backroads. They wend their way through golden, rolling hills dotted with splotches of green, and are often lined by hearty trees or craggy rock faces.
I’ve explored several of them over the years on the way back from Pebble Beach to L.A., and planned to do the same as I scoured Google Maps for a route I hadn’t taken before. My steed this time was a new 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition, the ultimate expression of the roughly decade old Lexus F performance sub-brand.
Lexus had a group of us up to the Pebble Beach Golf Links to take in some of the 2019 U.S. Open, which was a bit strange as it was the first time I’d been there without cars strewn all over the 18th fairway and practice green for the annual Monterey Car Week. If you had a chance to watch any of the U.S. Open live or at home, it was basically impossible not to notice Lexus. The marque sponsors several golfers, including bigger names like Jason Day and lesser known but similarly talented players such as Wesley Bryan, who was cool enough to hang with us for a bit and give us some chipping tips (they didn’t help me at all, but thanks for trying Wes!). As the official vehicles of the event, its cars were everywhere during the tournament, and Lexus was all over the TV broadcast. Marketing bonanza.
In the Lexus hospitality tent, several stylish pictures of Lexus cars were hung about the room, interspersed with shots of their sponsored golfers. Though no one at Lexus is under any illusions about what vehicles pay the bills (crossovers like the recently refreshed RX, duh), the photos on the walls were mainly the sexy stuff, F’d up cars like the RC F Track. They’re the cars we hope Lexus continues to build, the cars that stoke emotion and enthusiasm.
Thankfully, it didn’t take much talking to get Lexus to let me drive the RC F Track back to L.A. (I have incriminating photos of important people.) Hmm, here’s a good-looking squiggly road, California state Route 146, which hooks to Route 25 then to Route 198, which was the primary road I’d use to get across the valley. Earlier this year we had a chance to take a few laps in the 2020 RC F Track on a track, but didn’t get a chance to wring it out on the road. This time it would get wrung to the tune of more than 400 miles before I finally gave someone else a chance behind the wheel.
As the excited valet handed me the key, he asked if the car had been wrapped. Nope, that’s Matte Nebula Gray young fella, a killer color Lexus reserves for special cars like the RC F Track. It contrasts well with the carbon-fiber hood and roof that help shave some 176 pounds over the base 2020 RC F. (The car weighs 3,781 pounds in all.)
Walking around it, I was reminded that this particular car is a prototype had been beaten up by a mongrel group of auto reviewers. As there are only 50 RC F Track models headed to the U.S., there aren’t a lot go around; it shows on this car, as there are some battle scars. But it’s still a classy looking piece, with a killer set of 19-inch BBS wheels (wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S 255/35 rubber the front and 275/35 at the rear) cribbed from the Lexus RC F GT3 cars that have started to win some races lately.
You’ll be seeing lots of Circuit Red as you step inside. The seats are red, the carpet is red. Even the carbon-fiber-weave trim has red in it. So yeah, if you don’t like red, this may not be the car for you. As for the seats, they’re high-backed, narrow, Alcantara-trimmed thrones with more than enough bolstering where it counts. And after a seven-hour stint, they didn’t prove too tight or thin on cushioning to be uncomfortable. In other words, don’t let the Track in the name fool you, the 2020 RC F Track Edition is easy to drive all day on the highway, and its suspension isn’t going to punish you when you hit gnarly, heaved up stretches of pavement, even with everything dialed up to Sport+.
But the RC F Track isn’t just a poseur with a fancy carbon-fiber wing bolted to the trunk. That much is clear from the second I put my foot in it and its 472 horses sing a baritone and boisterous, naturally aspirated song through the exclusive titanium muffler and pipes.
As I outlined a while back when I had a go in the 2019 Lexus GS F, Toyota’s free-breathing 5.0-liter V-8 remains a breath of fresh air in a world were turbo- and supercharging and engine downsizing are the order of the day. Like most V-12s the world over, It’s all but assured that this engine will be gone soon enough, too. It doesn’t quite have the explosive power delivery of the boosted, smaller-displacement German V-8 offerings, as peak power doesn’t come on until 7,100 rpm (peak torque hits at 4,800 rpm), and while 4.0 seconds to 60 mph is plenty fast, it’s not going to throw you back in that red bucket when you floor it. But Lexus does claim the RC F Track has the lowest power-to-weight ratio in its class at 8.01:1.
There’s a linear feel to how the power comes on, and while it doesn’t overwhelm your senses, it sharpens them as the revs build. As I push harder down Route 146, dynamic setting on Sport+, the RC F’s shift programming refuses to let the next gear engage, keeping the engine on high alert until absolutely needs to shift. Then I run into a one lane road. Strange. I’m spooked and call on those huge, carbon-ceramic 14.9-inch brakes with red Brembo binders that slow things down in a hurried, yet linear way (and also save a lot of weight over the base RC F). Eventually I run into Pinnacles National Park, which I neglected to see on the map. There’s no way to drive to the other side. Ugh. Backtrack time.
Not the end of the world. It’s back to the 101 and then onto the front end of the 198, a wonderful 50-odd mile stretch with tight turns and long straights. Driving any high-performance car on a route like this is a blast, and it’s no different in the 2020 RC F Track. It feels buttoned down into slower corners, the steering isn’t too heavy. The RC F Track is a proper sports car, a super GT in a sense. There isn’t that razor’s-edge feel you get from harder-core sports cars, but it’s easy to drive when you’re just cruising along and easy to get rowdy in when you want to have some fun.
The RC F Track is also delightfully analog in several ways. There’s a physical, foot-activated parking brake, for instance. It lacks a stop-start feature or torque-vectoring differential system. And of course, the engine, that glorious thing. At $97,675, the car is some $30,000 more than the base RC F, but you’re paying for exclusivity, and in many ways you’re also paying for the last of a breed of cars that we almost certainly won’t see again from a major automaker. There’s something to be said for that, and taking the long and winding way home whenever you can in a car like the RC F Track.
2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition Specifications
|ENGINE||5.0L DOHC 32-valve V-8 /472 hp @ 7,100 rpm, 395 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||16/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||185.4 x 72.6 x 54.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|TOP SPEED||168 mph|