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2017 Lexus RC 350 AWD: Not Quite a Sports or Luxury Car, But Just Right? [Review]

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2017 Lexus RC350 F-Sport

Lexus’ RC 350 F-Sport packs 306-hp and looks to match. [photo: Lexus]The V6-powered Lexus RC 350 F-Sport sits between the RC 350 F and its V8-powered brother, the RC 350 F. The F-Sport package ups both the luxury and tech as well as the suspension and wheels. And the RC gives Lexus a vehicle to go up against the premium sports coupes offered from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Infiniti.

WHAT’S NEW

The AWD version of the RC 350 gets a 6-speed transmission while the rear-wheel-drive gets 8.

But otherwise, the 3.5-liter V6 is the same, pumping out 306 hp and 277 lb-ft. of torque. For some Toyota-on-Lexus perspective, the Toyota Sienna minivan/Toyota Highlander crossover features, wouldn’t you know it, a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 296 hp. and 263 lb-ft. torque. Whether or not we should applaud Toyota for turning its bread-and-butter V6 engine into a sport car power plant is a matter of debate.

However, the RC 350 F-Sport AWD weighs 860 pounds less than an AWD Sienna and will never carry more than two passengers to the van’s eight. So the RC 350 should be really, really fast, right? Based on looks alone, the RC 350 F-Sport should rip the doors off almost any parked car it passes.

But, it wasn’t until I stopped comparing it to European sports coupes and started to see it up against American muscle cars such as the Mustang and Camaro that the RC 350 made sense. This Lexus is heavy and long. Spec’s show the RC at roughly 15.5′ in length, which is only a foot shorter than the Sienna minivan.

And the RC is actually wider than the van by a couple inches. Sticker price for the Lexus RC 350 F-Sport AWD I tested came to £57,198, destination charge included. The F-Sport package made up £3,700 of the cost.

The infotainment system ran £2,550, and the moonroof added another £1,100 to the final price.

Lexus tuned the RC 350 to be a Lexus not a rigid, bone-shaking sports coupe. [photo: Lexus]

PERFORMANCE

Without turbocharging, the RC 350’s V6 suffers at altitude. On a high-altitude, straight-away climb at more than 10,000 feet of elevation, the RC was around 20 percent slower than the turbo four found in a Cadillac ATS. It was still powerful, but the giddy-up was gone.

The horsepower just wasn’t there. Then I dropped to 7,000 feet for another hill-climb, this time from a standing start. Here’s where the engine’s torque found enough oxygen to press me into the back of the seat and screech the tires.

Conclusion: In Colorado, the Lexus’ V6 has plenty of torque at low speeds, but loses a bunch of power at highway speeds. Handling, for a car designed and built for nothing but speed, disoriented me. Instead of the stiff, taut suspension found in most straight-forward sports cars, the RC350 unabashedly drives like a Lexus, a.k.a. plush.

The body rolls slightly in aggressive cornering and the steering wheel feels disconnected to the road. Drivers expecting that visceral connection to and experience with the road won’t find it with this model of the RC. Try the 350 F instead.

Don’t get me wrong, on a mountain road with more than a handful of switchback turns, the RC 350’s AWD handling and suspension performed confidently. And maybe that’s what Lexus understands about its buyers: They want the comfortable confidence, not the visceral bone-shaking. Fuel economy is one place the RC 350 does perform like a high-performance vehicle.

After a week of commuting, errands, and a 150-plus mile run into the Colorado Rockies and back, I average 20.5 mpg. Granted I kept the car in “Sport” mode the entire time, because, you know, it’s the F-Sport model. “Eco” and “Normal” modes held no appeal. EPA mpg rated the Lexus at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.

Once you slither into the driver’s seat, Lexus’ superior ergonomics swaddle you in luxury. [photo: Lexus]

COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE

Toward the end of my week in the RC 350, I started to enjoy it more and more.

My initial disappointment at its plush ride gave way to a sense of relief. Once I slithered into the driver’s seat, the luxurious interior, soft leather seats, Lexus’ excellent ergonomics, sound-proofing, and supple suspension almost convinced me I was driving a luxury sedan. It’s that nice as a daily driver, folks.

However, I still never grew comfortable sliding into and out of the car. Doing the daily yoga moves to do it only added to the initial disconnect I had felt between plush, luxury ride and serious sports car looks and ambition. But by the end of my week, I learned to get over it.

The infotainment system can be operated via a trackpad just aft of the gear shifter. It takes some getting used to, and it’s easy to accidentally swipe and change a radio station or kill a call. I’ve heard some people love it, others hate it, and I believe it.

Call me still undecided, but having no touchscreen feels woefully out of date in 2017.

[photo: Lexus]

UTILITY

The cargo area passes the two-golf bags test easily with the useless rear seats folded down. But let’s get real: No one’s buying this vehicle for anything other than its ability to haul two people on, at best, a long weekend road trip. There’s nothing utilitarian about it.

TFLCAR’s TAKE: The RC 350 F-Sport looks like a sports car, checks off the boxes of a sports car in terms of horsepower, torque, and tech, but it drives like a Lexus, which will make spirited drivers nuts and should make Lexus owners who want something fast and flashy happy.

To find out how the RC 350 F-Sport compares to the V8-powered RC350 F, check out TFLcar’s Roman Mica as he drag races the 2015 iterations of them from 0-60.

The cars have remained roughly the same from 2015 to 2017, which makes the comparison relevant in 2017.

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