Lexus RC 300h long-term test (2020) review | CAR Magazine

Lexus RC long-term test: the seven-month verdict

Published: 04 September 2020

► CAR lives with a Lexus RC
► Ours is a 300h F Sport hybrid
► Regular reports from the CAR team

I knew what I had before it was gone. But I still miss the Lexus and its stylish, easygoing ways. There are few more soothing cars to drive. I swear my resting pulse rate became lower with every journey, so calming are the RC 300h’s manners.

It’s one of the most tranquil motorway cruisers I’ve experienced, helped by wonderfully comfortable (and fabulous-looking) seats. The car as a whole cuts its suit more sharply than its German rivals. If the RC were a businessperson I imagine it turning up to a meeting with some kind of vibrant tie/pocket-square combo, maybe in the same orange as our car’s brake calipers.

I just wish it was a bit more engaging to drive. Its more athletic cousin, the V8 RC F, proves the RC platform has the potential, but our RC 300h never felt anything other than inert and uninvolving. Calming, yes, but that’s not always what you want from a rakish 2+2 coupe. The chassis is hamstrung by the hybrid powertrain and e-CVT transmission. Sometimes I found myself having to open full throttle before reaching a corner’s apex to ensure any kind of momentum on the other side.

Lexus RC LTT front cornering 2

The hybrid drive does help with fuel economy around town, however. Gliding around in EV mode at low speeds has contributed to the 16.8p per mile petrol cost the Lexus averaged over its time with us, lower than that of most of the Our Cars fleet. Depreciation is its downfall, though, wreaking revenge upon the overall cost per mile.

We’ll gloss over the tortuously awkward trackpad-operated infotainment system. (Out of curiosity, I asked a relative to enter a postcode into the sat-nav while they passengered in the Lexus – we’d travelled 12 miles before they’d successfully dialled it in.) And the interior itself could do with a bit more gloss. Some of the big plastic panels around the switchgear and centre console would look more at home in a Prius or Yaris than a £40k coupe.

There’s a sketch in an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa falls for a boy named Thelonious. ‘As in Monk?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘The esoteric appeal is worth the beatings.’ The RC’s esoteric appeal is almost worth the beating it would dish out to your wallet come resale time. It’s a rare sight on UK roads, and for £40k+ I can’t put my hand on my heart and recommend you buy one. But I do have a huge affection for it, and I’d be more inclined to plump for an RC (perhaps a low-miles used one, taking advantage of that depreciation curve) over a BMW 4-series, Audi A5 or Mercedes C-Class Coupe, for leftfield appeal alone. Even though I know the Audi and Mercedes drivers would be in nicer interiors and the 4-series driver would have more fun on a good road.

My driveway is a less handsome place for its absence, and my resting pulse rate is a tad higher, having gone from the plugless hybrid RC to the fully electric Mini Electric. The Mini’s already proving more fun to drive but, one month in at least, nowhere near as relaxing to live with as the departed Lexus. Careful what you wish for and all that.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 34.2mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.8p per mile
Miles this month 639
Total miles 7927

Count the cost

Cost new £43,725
Part exchange £29,255
Cost per mile 16.8p
Cost per mile including depreciation £3.24

Month 6 living with a Lexus RC: trying the V8 RC F

I knew it was in there somewhere. Our long-term-test Lexus RC 300h feels like there’s a great driver’s car trapped inside it – you can feel the inherent handling balance and the underlying stiff structure it’s allied to – but it’s smothered by the unresponsive hybrid powertrain.

You waft in a state of anaesthesia in the RC 300h, relaxed but not particularly engaged with the driving process. Which is fine – and quite calming, actually. But if you do stumble across a great driving road, it doesn’t have an awful lot in its dynamic locker to help you enjoy it, or to back up its Olympically sporty looks.

The only other RC model currently offered is the polar opposite: the RC F packs a very much unhybridised 5.0-litre V8 with 458bhp and starts from £62,900 to the 300h’s early-£40k. Where the RC 300h is a hybrid alternative to the BMW 4-series and Audi A5, the RC F is a full-blown M4/S5 rival.

Except it’s not blown but naturally aspirated. Lexus being the oddball kind of company it is, it’s flying the flag for turbo-free V8 engines, and this one has plenty going for it, including titanium valves and a fantastic barrel-chested sound with a metallic edge under acceleration. Said acceleration doesn’t knock your socks quite so comprehensively off as an M4, with a bit of a dead spot from low revs, but once into its stride it’s certainly not slow.

The RC F’s nicely balanced during cornering too, with handling just the right side of tail-happy, helped by an electronically controlled locking differential. The eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t the most responsive, but it’s more engaging than the RC 300h’s CVT.

rcf badge

The interior is broadly similar to our long-termer’s, with additional swathes of scarlet leather and glossy carbonfibre, and some mysterious extra buttons, including launch control and settings for that torque vectoring diff. And there are extra F-specific graphics including a g-force meter (which you probably shouldn’t look at while you’re driving) and a real-time torque split at the wheels (which is so mesmerising it’s hard not to). You sit in deeper sports seats than in the 300h, yet they’re curiously less supportive – our long-termer cradles me better than the RC F.

Just like our car (which, confusingly, is in F Sport trim – some of the styling cues of the F, without the extra go), the RC F is a leftfield kind of car that is a wilfully different choice, and all the more likeable for it. I’m not sure I could quite bring myself to part with more than £60k for one but I feel more drawn to its standalone character than its German rivals.

I missed it after it had gone, just as I know I’ll miss my RC 300h, which is soon to depart the CAR fleet. And I now know it really is capable of a driving experience to match its modern muscle car styling – it just takes an old-school V8 engine to help unlock it.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 36.8mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.9p per mile
Miles this month 672
Total miles 6658

Month 5 living with a Lexus RC300h: getting looks

lexus rc ltt side

The RC is winning friends and influencing people wherever it goes. It’s won ‘nice car,’ ‘nice colour’ and, just as frequently, ‘what is it?’ comments from usually silent petrol station staff, and a security officer at an airport car park suggested I move it to a disabled space; his wonky logic was that the spaces weren’t used much, and it would be a shame if somebody dinged the Lexus.

I doubt a competitor 4-series or a C-Class coupe would get the same reaction, even if they would be a bit more involving to drive. Manoeuvring recently in front of a glass-fronted building I caught a glimpse of the RC; I can see why it gets such a friendly reaction.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 34.4mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.1p per mile
Miles this month 1131
Total miles 4931

Month 4 living with a Lexus RC300h: three readers digest

This is a four-up road test. Three readers and one writer are squeezed into the RC’s 2+2 seats, and debate is in full swing as we travel, pit-stopping for driver changes as we go.

One reader owns a Lexus already, and is considering a coupe as his next car; one has never considered buying a Lexus before, but has driven several of the RC’s rivals; and one is a successful competition driver with an interest in switching to hybrid power for the road. Each of them has a different opinion on our long-termer…

Meet the judges

The Lexus sceptic
Branding expert David Wall has owned and driven a raft of coupes but Lexus hasn’t yet flickered on his radar – can the RC win him over?

The rally driver
Ashleigh Morris works in the automotive industry and rallies a Ford Fiesta R200. She can give an unflinching assessment of how the RC drives.

The Lexus owner
Matthew Billing runs a Lexus CT 200h as a second car and is considering swapping his BMW 5-series for a coupe. Could the RC be the car for him?

Ashleigh Morris: ‘You expect a bit more performance’

Ashleigh spends her weekends sliding an M-Sport-built rally car around bales and hairpins in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship, so she’s well-placed to assess the RC dynamically.

She’s also interested to see how its hybrid powertrain feels: ‘I know a fully electric car can’t work for me yet – I regularly drive up to Scotland to visit family and travel long distances to go to rallies – but I’m interested in the environment and would like to do what I can.

‘I’d also like to save on fuel; the two road cars I regularly drive, a Land Rover Discovery and a Ford Focus RS, are both thirsty, so it would make sense to perhaps have one fun car and one hybrid in the future.’

RC LTT Ashleigh Morris

Would the RC make it onto her shortlist? ‘The steering feels direct, and it’s well-weighted – I don’t like steering that’s too light,’ she says, pouring the RC into a long, quick corner. ‘The handling feels balanced and it corners well, but it doesn’t feel particularly quick at all. It feels like a smaller engine than 2.5 litres, and as if it has less than its 220bhp all together.’ Ashleigh also finds the brake pedal’s feel inconsistent, perhaps a function of the motor regeneration under braking.

‘I actually do like it to drive overall, though. It’s very smooth, and so quiet. Since the styling is so sporty, I’d just have expected a bit more performance.’

David Wall: ‘Is the RC emotive enough?’

Serial Alfa Romeo owner David runs a branding and design agency, and finds Lexus’s brand identity a curious case study. ‘I have almost zero interest in Lexus – so obviously I’m exactly the right kind of person to offer opinion on the RC,’ is his tongue-in-cheek opening gambit.

He’s well versed in coupes; his first car was a VW Scirocco, he runs a ’73 Alfa GTV alongside his Giulia Veloce saloon and he’s had seat time in several of the RC’s key rivals, Mercedes C- and E-Class Coupes and Audi A5 included. ‘The RC interests me, because it’s not one of the German cars. It has its own character. But…’ Compared with the aforementioned Germans, David finds the RC’s interior off the pace. ‘In an E-Class Coupe, for example, the map graphics’ clarity is better than reading an actual road map,’ he says, eyeing the RC’s blocky nav display. ‘Mercedes and Audi cabins are better finished than this car. The plastics on the steering wheel are sub-par. And ergonomically…’ David finds the trackpad-controlled media screen as tricky to operate as I do, the control layout beneath your fingertips at loggerheads with that of the display – a view shared by Ashleigh, who finds its position awkward with the seat set to her ideal driving position.

‘I think the place for this car is if you want to drive something different, and cover plenty of miles in a year,’ David says. ‘A coupe is an emotive purchase, and while I’d like to choose this over a Mercedes or a BMW, I would like a faster engine and more driver engagement. The E-Class Coupe I drove had two characters, depending on which mode you were in; in this car there’s only one [relaxed] option.’

Matthew Billing: ‘This could be a happy medium’

Matthew runs a Lexus CT 200h as a second car and a BMW 528i as his main transport, and he’s considering changing the latter for a coupe now that his two children are old enough to load and extract themselves.

Lexus RC LTT front cornering

‘The speed these seats move at could be a bit of a deal-breaker,’ he says, as the front seats glacially motor their way forwards to eventually allow six-foot-plus Matthew access to the back row, where there’s reasonable space for a short journey, albeit with his head tilted a tad. Matthew’s impressed with the quality of the materials back there, including leather on the armrests and the top of the doorcards, less so with the lack of a fold-down rear armrest/cupholder combo for rear occupants; the RC just has a shallow plastic tray that offers neither storage nor comfort.

Switching to the driver’s seat, he finds the younger, larger RC a slicker steer than his CT: ‘I much prefer the gearbox in this car – it’s smoother than the CT’s although it’s no BMW ‘box, is it?’ The RC uses an electronically controlled CVT with a sequential function to emulate the feel of manually changed ratios. A Sport mode stirs engine speed more quickly under acceleration but, to Matthew’s chagrin, it feels as if it’s ignoring your requests on the paddles. ‘It’s as if it changes gear for you when you’d rather be choosing yourself – I don’t like that.

‘In some ways, it’s a happy medium – the style of a two-seater with the occasional practicality of a 2+2. Ultimately, though, it’s a cruiser, isn’t it? Beautiful leftfield design, premium interior, but perhaps lacking a little engagement.’

Said design is a resounding hit with all three of our panel. Ashleigh and Matthew in particular are firm fans of the RC’s styling; David finds it a little fussy at the front but is won over by the chunky yet slinky rear-three-quarter treatment.

‘The main rationale to buy a coupe is because you want it to be a bit special to drive,’ David says. ‘That depends on whether you view this car as a sporty coupe or a premium car,’ Matthew counters.
Four months in to the test, I’m still undecided which camp I’m in.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 36.6mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.1p per mile
Miles this month 1131
Total miles 4931

Month 3 living with a Lexus RC300h: stick the boot in

For an elegant 2+2 coupe, the RC can carry a lot of stuff. Back seats folded down, it can squeeze in multiple boxes of flatpack furniture plus a bargain 40-inch TV in its box.

When you open the driver’s door the steering wheel moves towards the dashboard, and the driver’s seat goes rearwards to make it easier to climb in – cue the chilling sounds of cardboard squashing squeakily as the seat’s backrest begins to crush the TV box. I’m sure the sensors would have stopped the seat before any harm was done, but I moved faster than a Wild West dueller to the chair switches to freeze it, to avoid bringing a new meaning to the term ‘flat screen’.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 36.6mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.1p per mile
Miles this month 1131
Total miles 4931

Month 2 living with a Lexus RC300h: a road trip to London beckons for the editor

All aboard! Does the RC’s boot cope with weekend away clobber?

Lexus RC boot

Two of us, slinking off to London for a night in a hotel so far outside our budget that the cost per night sounds like a mortgage payment. First job, luggage. The RC is more than big enough for our purposes. Hooks for a suit on a coathanger above the rear seats are handy. Hopeless door bins, mind.  

Cool or crusty? The dial that changes the RC’s character

Sport mode essential in Lexus RC coupe

The interior is divisive: classy, or like drowning in ’80s hi-fi. I like it, even the touch-pointer interface thing, and the easy-to-turn-off main screen is a nice touch at night. Twisting the drive mode to Sport is essential – the throttle response in anything less is torpid to the point of insanity. 

To the twisties! Some of our favourite back roads to the A1

RC's chassis is surprisingly fun

The brief run from home to the A1 South is superb, including a wicked stretch of rural B-road that rollercoasters between fields and forests like a mini-Nürburgring. As the Lexus’s regular keeper James Taylor noted last month, the RC’s chassis is much better than its hybrid powertrain. 

City slicker: Lexus RC slots into London life

Our Lexus RC in London town

Many plug-in hybrids are never plugged in, and the weight blunts performance and efficiency. The non plug-in RC doesn’t have the electric range of a plug-in, but at least the battery is never totally empty, and gliding silently into London on EV power is soothing and it takes the stress out of queuing. Leaves the line like a departing SpaceX rocket when the lights change, too. 

Getting the nod at one of London’s plushest hotels

Lexus RC meets the Lanesborough Hotel in London

‘Handsome car, sir, very nice.’ Sure, it’s the doorman’s job to be charming, but the Lexus does feel right at home pulling up outside The Lanesborough. One high-pressure parallel park later (between two S-Class Mercs, naturally) and we’ve arrived, relaxed and on time. 

By Ben Miller

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 tested)
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph
Efficiency 40.8-47.6mpg (official), 34.4mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.3p per mile
Miles this month 982
Total miles 3800

Month 1 of our Lexus RC long-term test: the introduction

James Taylor and the CAR magazine Lexus RC coupe

Product design theorists reckon there’s an optimum relationship between complexity and simplicity. Psychologist Daniel Berlyne reckoned that if you were to plot a graph with its x axis travelling from simple to fiddly, and its y axis for level of attractiveness, the result would be a bell curve. Too simple and people are indifferent; too complex, people are turned off. 

In recent years, Lexus has spent too much time down the complicated end, its cars’ styling a riot of competing creases, slashes and embellishments. But with the knee-weakening LC flagship coupe and this, the recently facelifted RC (less flagshippy) coupe, I reckon they’re finding the sweet spot. 

It has just the right balance of sharpness, smoothness and rear-wheel-drive muscle around the haunches. The RC first came out in 2014, and this is the gently updated version, with mild trim tweaks inside and out and new safety kit. Plus the steering column and driver’s seat now automatically motor in opposite directions to make climbing in and out easier.

Lexus RC LTT interior

This is not the 5.0-litre V8-powered RC F supercoupe but an RC 300h in F Sport spec, a trim level à la M Sport or AMG Line. For around £3500 over the regular RC, that gives it triple-stack headlights, more exciting grille and bumpers, 19-inch wheels instead of 18s, sports seats, orange calipers and adaptive dampers. There’s one trim above it, Takumi, with a few extra niceties we can live without, such as a heated steering wheel. 

It used to be possible to get the RC with an unhybridised 2.0-litre petrol engine, but now the only game in town apart from the V8 RC F is this 300h hybrid version. It pairs a 178bhp 2.5-litre petrol four with a 141bhp electric motor and battery pack (turning out a combined peak power of 220bhp when both are in optimum harmony), running through an electronically controlled CVT to the rear wheels. 

As fast as it looks? It’s early days at the moment but, erm, no. A kerbweight in excess of 1.7 tonnes means the 300h feels like it’s powered by something much smaller than a 2.5-litre engine, even with the motor to help it along (which also serves as a generator to top up the battery under deceleration). The way the powertrain works takes some getting used to as well, with a choise of drive modes that sharpen up the initially slovenly throttle response and the option to shift manually.

Lexus RC LTT wheel

We’ve six months to establish whether the Lexus’s way of doing things is different/better or just different/different. Until then, the good news is that the RC handles. Lexus has stiffened the RC’s structure as part of its updates, and this is a well-balanced, grippy car (exceptionally so in the wet – thank the Dunlops).

So it looks like an alluring coupe, but that style doesn’t carry through from the exterior to the interior – the cabin could be that of any Lexus: big steering wheel, oblong buttons, clock mid-dash. Thankfully it doesn’t have the borderline-unusable mouse system that afflicted the Lexus RX Tim Pollard ran recently, but the RC’s trackpad is still fiddly. Best take another look at that graph, boys.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Lexus RC 300h F Sport

Price £42,305 (£43,725 as tested) 
Performance 2494cc hybrid four-cylinder, 220bhp, 8.6sec 0-62mph, 118mph 
Efficiency 47.6mpg (official), 30.1mpg (tested), 114g/km CO2 
Energy cost 21.1p per mile 
Miles this month 233
Total miles 2818