It must be really difficult be a proper auto journalist in today’s car market. The vast vast majority of vehicles for sale are at the very least highly competent and at the same time most people who buy said cars don’t give a hoot about things like how well it handles or how fast it is to 60 (things that reviews tend to focus on). As a result most of the reviews I read end up being totally as I expect them to be; BMW’s are great to drive, VW’s are great all-rounders and Audi’s have great interiors marred by a slightly disappointing driving experience; these facts may well be true, and not having driven too many cars I can’t really say otherwise, but I can’t really imagine car manufacturers making the same mistakes over and over again, or indeed not releasing the occasional dud.
Then you of course have the patriotic car reviews, where it seems that any magazine feels it impossible to criticise any vehicle from a home grown marque, or at least one that is percieved to be…unless it’s made by Vauxhall in which case it’s almost always disappointing (apparently). Of course we all want British manufacturing to do well and it’s great to see Jaguar Land Rover being able to invest vast sums into the economy (even if it is ultimately owned by an Indian company), but all too often I see reviews overlook obvious negatives in such cars; the new Range Rover Sport is an amazing vehicle, but the 2 seats in the boots are completely useless and it is by no means as efficient as German rivals…and the price has jumped by about £20k compared to the previous version too! Ford also gets this treatment, and the Focus is always heralded as the perfect handling hatchback despite initial reviews decrying a noticeable softening in response when compared to the previous car. Admittedly other European countries mirror these national biases but since when did auto journalism become the Eurovision song contest?!
This all means of course, that some cars never end up in anybody’s good books, for reasons ranging from unpalatable looks to unusual powertrains to general dislike by auto enthusiasts. Recently I have noticed that one auto maker in particular seems to be failing in all of it’s attempts to gain good grace in reviews, this is despite making quite noticeable and dramatic changes in it’s line-up. Lexus has done a lot in the last couple of years to try and shake off it’s image as a manufacturer of dolled up Toyotas and dull-driving luxury cars that appeal to those without the appreciation for real luxury features like handling, crazy power and erm poor reliability. The most noticeable aspect of this strategy is the adoption of their ‘inverted spindle’ grille across their entire line-up; wisely or not this has now been introduced on all models from the lowly CT hatch up to the Land Cruiser based LX, but distinctive but admittedly mixed results.
Other initiatives include more adventurous styling on updated models (as opposed to merely facelifted ones), the introduction and revision of their ‘mouse’ infotainment system and of course the introduction of hybrid models to give better economy against regulations and diesel rivals (especially in Europe). Despite all of these things nothing seems to have impressed journalists apart from the fearsome LFA supercar a few years ago…so maybe to try and win a few more fans they introduced a more mainstream coupe, the RC, complete with bonkers styling and an even crazier ‘F’ version to compete with the BMW M4 (aka M3), but as I’ve seen in the last week or so even that seems to have failed!
I know my reviews are mostly based on hear-say and wider reading, but I do feel that the RC deserves more credit than it has been given, at least in the US which is by far and away it’s target market. Essentially a coupe version of the already striking IS saloon, the RC does away with 2 doors and pumps up the crazy to give bulging wheelarches and random character lines to give it a much more daring look than Lexus customers are used to. Up front the ‘Nike’ LED running lights from the IS are still very distinctive, and whilst not as flow-y and arguably sophisticated as the 4 Series or A5, the Lexus remains very distinctive and aggressive…surely that’s what a lot of coupe buyers want?
Inside the RC again share a lot of architecture with the IS, which gives it a pretty Japanese sparsity complete with lots of matte-effect wood, high quality plastics and a classy analogue clock in centre. Not having used any infotainment systems at length barring Mercedes’ COMAND, I would find it difficult to criticise RemoteTouch in the way that I have seen others do, but whilst it may purportedly be trickier to use for most auto journalists, that’s not to say that owners won’t get on with it – especially as most of them will just use it for their day-to-day commutes 90% of the time! Rear space is admittedly less than in rivals, but coupes are never bought with practicality in mind!
Handling and performance prowess are again difficult to gauge, as still the needs of the everyday customer is likely to be confined to suburban crawl and motorway blasts, both of which I am sure the RC is more than competent at in any of it’s engine guises. The base engine for now is a 2.5L 4-cylinder paired with a hybrid drivetrain and CVT to give 220bhp and a decent turn of speed (the RC300h). Next step up is a 3.5L V6 petrol that produces around 300bhp through an 8 speed automatic…in the US at least this RC350 will be the volume model by quite some way. At the top of the tree lives the RC F with it’s 470bhp 5L V8…I’ve seen reviews of the F and the power is described as brutal but not as refined as rivals from BMW and Audi…grrr.
The RC is not a car I would ever buy, and indeed there are very few current (or past) Lexus that I would consider owning, but it’s frustrating to see a car manufacturer striving to make it’s cars more exciting to drive and look at but get shot down almost as badly as if they hadn’t made any effort at all. However I doubt even rave reviews from journalists would see sales of Lexus UK jump through the roof and average reviews in the US won’t stop buyers snapping their vehicles up either, it would still be nice though for reviews to be a little fairer and applicable to the average buyer!