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2021 Lexus RC 350 Review: Sporty and Speedy, to a Point

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Lexus RC 350.

Lexus’ two-door sporty coupe is part of a fairly rare breed in the industry these days. You can count on one hand the number of rivals it has and have fingers left over. Those rivals are the Audi A5, BMW 2 Series and Infiniti Q60, by the way. This is just not a particularly lucrative segment at present, and automakers have generally diverted resources to other (more profitable and/or more necessary) causes like SUVs and electric powertrains.

Still, the Lexus RC hangs on, in aging form but still a feisty little thing. The last big update for the model dates to 2015 when it got a substantial makeover. With its naturally aspirated engine it stands apart from its turbo-charged 4-cylinder and V6-equipped rivals; whether that’s a god thing or not is debatable, but there you have it.

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2021 Lexus RC 350, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, profile

Lexus offers the RC in a base model 300 configuration or the 350 F-Sport, which is the version we tested. That F Sport package (which ups the car’s cost by $7,150) involves mainly esthetic upgrades to make the model sportier in appearance. For a truly more aggressive RC, you’ll have to go for the other version available, the RC-F. In Canada, the 300 and 350 both come out of the factory with all-wheel drive, whether you want it or not.

The RC 300’s AWD version, which is what we drove, gets a 260-hp 3.5L V6 (258 lb-ft of torque), while the 350 delivers a healthier 311 horses and 280 lb-ft of torque from the same engine thanks to adapted parameters. The engine works in tandem with a very competent 8-speed automatic transmission. The lack of a turbocharger is… refreshing here, especially since they are getting rarer on the market. So the sound is distinct (and pleasant), and the transmission does a wonderful job moving shifts along crisply and before you ever have the opportunity to start grousing. The exhaust sound emitted when you push the engine is indeed a pleasure to hear.

As for the looks of the RC, the car supplied to us was a limited Black Line edition (costing $950), back this year after last being offered in 2018. This brings ash wood interior trim, as well as a black grille, Triple-Beam LED headlights, 19-inch F Sport wheels finished in Black Sputtering Chrome, blacked-out exhaust tips and black, heated outside mirrors. But the Black Line is not actually available in black; your choice is between Ultra White and Cloudburst Grey.

2021 Lexus RC 350, front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, front

Other than that, that aforementioned F Sport treatment makes the car sharper-looking than the base model, but the very shape of this coupe is still super pleasing to the eye, even though the model is going on four years old now. Now, there are folks who aren’t big fans of Lexus’ big spindle grille, but the automaker has used that element as a central part of its design signature for long enough that we should all be used to it be now. For my part it bothers me not a whit, especially since here it’s more or less sized to match the smaller car.

Happily, Lexus doesn’t overdo it with chrome elements on the outside – there are just small strips on each exterior mirror – so this is a streamlined affair, not fussy or overdone with too many angles, cuts or lines. The F Sport package does its part to spiffy up the RC further; it brings in sharp-looking 19-inch wheels, a power moonroof, discreet badging and few more design enhancements.

2021 Lexus RC 350, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, interior

Inside, the F Sport package makes a bigger difference, enhancing an interior that’s already pretty premium. Here the differences are a 10.3-inch display screen, full TFT data screen, more F-Sport badging, leather-wrapped steering-wheel (heated), heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory system, power tilt and telescopic steering with memory, Lexus navigation and active sound control. Safety add-ons include blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.

The most significant difference the F Sport makes in terms of performance (besides the 19-inch wheels) is the adaptive variable suspension system it introduces, which helps the car hug the road in a seamless way that the regular RC doesn’t quite manage. The F Sport package is pretty expensive though, so you’ll have to weigh carefully the added value for you.

Speaking of the road, the RC 350 is definitely sporty, though it’s not in the same ballpark or even time zone as Lexus’ LC. It was work to get much of an angry roar out of the pleasant-sounding engine/exhaust, in fact I’d say you never really do, even in Sport mode. To that extent, you’re reminded you’re in a Lexus, with all the focus on comfort, rounded edges and predictability that come with that name. Acceleration is fine but not exhilarating; this is not a thing that goes like a bat out of hell.

2021 Lexus RC 350, front wheel
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, front wheel

On the other hand, the car, though relatively heavy for what it is, is nimble as heck and allows you to attack corners with real purpose, especially with the tight steering at your disposal. As mentioned, the F-Sport has the adaptive variable suspension, and it does yeoman work swatting aside road imperfections before they can bother you.

The other aspect always associated with Lexus is safety, and the 2021 RC comes duly well-equipped with a range of safety and drive-assist tech. New this year, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are now standard features.

Official fuel consumption ratings for the 350 AWD edition are 12.2L/100 km and 9.0L/100 km, city and highway. My average after a week of mixed driving came in at 11.2L/100 km, so roughly in line with what’s promised. Obviously, those aren’t the kind of numbers you want if you’re looking to save on gas, but then you likely wouldn’t be looking in this segment if that’s a big concern.

2021 Lexus RC 350, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, three-quarters rear

We like

A fine-looking car
Smooth, comfortable ride (though things stiffen up in Sport mode)
Really hugs the road, is nicely nimble

We like less

Multimedia system is getting old, needs updating/replacing
That touchpad! Ugh
Don’t count on the back seat to transport people far

The competition

Audi A5
BMW 3 Series
Ford Mustang
Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Toyota Supra

2021 Lexus RC 350, three-quarters front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, three-quarters front
2021 Lexus RC 350, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350, rear

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Photos:D.Boshouwers
2021 Lexus RC 350 Black Line pictures