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IS -- 2 doors = RC
Lexus' latest coupe is stylish and comfy just as its saloon sibling. But the math somehow went wrong elsewhere
Lexus is greatly known as a luxury car brand with an arsenal of hybrid drivetrain choices in its model lineup. Some of them are performance-oriented versions like the LS600h luxury flagship and RX350 mid-size SUV, while eco-minded variants include the GS300h, IS300h and ES300h executive saloons, plus the NX300h compact SUV and CT200h hatchback.
That said, you might have thought that Lexus' all-new mid-size coupe, the RC, should have landed on Thai shores with an equally focused petrol-electric option. But rather than going for the RC300h, the Thai division of Toyota's upmarket nameplate has opted for the non-hybrid RC200t.
In a way, they could be right because the RC is a coupe with some supposedly sporty intentions after all, hence the brand's new 2.0-litre petrol-turbo unit lurking beneath the bonnet of the RC200t.
Actually, this 8AR-FTS-designated motor is the same used in the RX200t and has been developed to replace the brand's 2.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine. The only difference is that the RC200t employs an eight-speed automatic, while the RX200t deploys an older six-speeder.
This is an engine-downsizing exercise in which Lexus has been very late to the game to match those latest-generation motors seen in Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, all done in the name of reducing CO2 emissions and maintaining reasonable performance at the same time.
This immediately brings us to one of the shortcomings of the RC200t. With 245hp of power on tap, the RC200t theoretically competes head with the identically powered BMW 428i Coupe and Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe (although not available officially in Thailand).
Rear head room seems to be a bigger issue than leg space.
Anybody who has been lucky to get a hold of the 428i GranCoupe (whose imports have already ceased) should get the picture to why the RC200t sort of underperforms. Of course, the RC200t isn't slow and is quite a quick car when roads allow you to search for its performance potential.
The problem is the RC200t doesn't feel like a 245hp car and has driving performance more on par with a C250 Coupe, which has 211hp of power channeled similarly to the rear wheels.
It doesn't stop here. Responsiveness of the turbo engine in the RC200t is leisurely and won't necessarily be rectified if you switch the drive mode into sportier settings. It feels quite old-fashioned because rivals have managed to sort out this deficiency which was once a problem in the earlier days.
So rather than thrusting away forward in a manner expected by the driver (hey, the turbo is actually a modern twin-scroll type like in the BMW's petrol 420i), the RC200t takes some time to put its act together. In terms of outright urgency, nothing has yet to beat the 420d with its unique, torque-rich 2.0-litre diesel-turbo engine.
What also makes the RC200t inferior in performance terms could be the weight. Glance at the specs and note that it is considerably heavier, at nearly 1.7 tonnes, than all of its rivals. This on-paper figure is far more revealing in the real world than that pertaining to power.
Lexus has tried to inject some emotional appeal into the performance side by fitting an artificial sound system that can be turned on and off via a switch on the dashboard. But it sounds eerie rather than tuneful.
What's more resolved in the RC200t is the driving characteristics. At real-world speeds, the car has a comfortable primary ride. As well, the quiet and absorbent secondary ride seems to be unmatched by either the two-door Bimmer or Merc. Topping off the comfort game is good cruising refinement.
The same goes for the steering which is utterly intuitive and direct around town and reasonably feelsome elsewhere. However, it appears that all of these settings have come at a slight expense of driving dynamics. Overall, the chassis doesn't feel as sharp or planted to the road as in the German duo, both of which can make ridiculously high speeds feel legal.
Somehow it feels that the RC's driver manners aren't any different from the IS saloon which, on the other hand, could be a good thing because many coupe owners don't necessarily want to drive on the limit.
BMW, meanwhile, has made the 4-series a touch sportier than the 3-series saloon which, conceptually speaking, could also be the right thing. The same goes for the Merc's case meaning that this debate is left to you dear readers.
If there's one thing the RC does well, it's none other than its catwalk ability. Okay, this may be subjective, but the brand's latest design language makes the RC look striking, bold and stylish at the same time. All of a sudden, the Germans look bland (though classically restrained in the coupe fashion).
However, those orange-coloured brake calipers in the RC200t seem out of place because this isn't a high-performance version like the M4-baiting RCF.
Orange-coloured calipers try to holler something — when it doesn't.
As the RC200t is being sold in just F-Sport trim in Thailand, the interior comes with a mix of red leather, black plastics and some alloy-like trim. Unlike the engine and chassis, the cabin feels properly sporty as a coupe. The driving position feels snug yet comfortable, thanks to a well-shaped seat.
But the cabin isn't without flaws as the template comes from the IS, which has been on the market for quite some time now. There are still many switches scattered here and there, the door bins can't hold bottles and the rear quarters are cramped – just like in the Merc C-class Coupe. But just like in both Germans, the RC's boot usability can be extended by folding the rear backrests down.
Specification-wise, the RC200t is generously equipped. The amount of passive safety features and driver-assist technologies outnumber those in its rivals. But here comes another problem in the RC200t.
Like the 4-series and C-class Coupe, the RC is a niche product and comes to Thai showrooms in completely built-up form facing the maximum 80% in import tax. Yet, the RC200t is priced at 5.49 million baht – nearly two million baht more (yes, you read that correctly) than the 420d and C250.
Okay, the RC200t's kit is lavish and it faces 35% excise tax (between 151-200g/km of CO2) rather than the 30% rate (from 101-150g/km) its two rivals are subject to. But that price difference simply feels too hilarious because it could get you either the trendy Mini Countryman or sensible Honda Accord Hybrid sitting in the garage withwhichever German coupe you settle for.
Speaking of taxation, the RC300h would have faced a lower 20% (EVs emitting 101-150g/km). Actually, hybrid power can fit the RC bill, since this Japanese coupe is more about being seen in and a cajoling driving experience.
You really wonder whether the Lexus people have gotten high when pricing the RC200t because its price is most likely to the be the first thing potential buyers will be put off with, not to mention what's going to follow.
Of course, there's the great looks of the RC and the easygoing attributes of it while driving – a new and politically correct trend, even in cars with some sporty intentions.
But as we see it now, you'd probably have to be equally intoxicated to go for the RC200t at such a price level.
Driving position feels snug and comfortable at the same time.
Turbo engine doesn't exactly feel its 245 ponies.
Luggage area can be increased by folding the rear seats down.
Design details like the front and rear lamps are very artistic.
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58, Rimklongsaensaeb Rd., Bang Kapi, Bangkok 10310 Thailand