My Drive this week was the Lexus RC F. This is Lexus’ current halo sports coupe and successor to the IS F and boy is it a fun car to take for a spin.

With the RC F, Lexus has essentially taken everything they learned with the IS F and put it into the RC sports coupe. They’ve also refined and enhanced the technology, improving on the drivetrain and ride to produce a racing coupe that perhaps hearkens back to the fast spinning engines of Japanese four cylinder engine yore.

The RC F starts with the same V8 engine from the IS F – it even has the same model number. But refinements have seen power increased by 13 percent to 351 kW, and torque increased five percent to 530 Nm. The best part, in my opinion, is the engine redline. It’s up by 500 rpm, meaning maximum power now comes at 6800 rpm, and the redline itself is 7300 rpm. This means the RC F roars from take-off, heading with anger and then screaming towards redline before demanding a gear upshift.

So what does it sound like? The RC F has the same automatic exhaust flap control as before – the exhaust is quiet under normal driving, but put your foot down and the flaps open up to let a more powerful sound out of the bag. It doesn’t have that savage burble the C 63 AMG did last week, but it makes up for it with a high revving scream that evokes visions of V8 Supercars.

The eight speed torque converter automatic gearbox also returns in the RC F, with extra refinements to handle the higher revving engine here. In manual mode, every gear except first gear operates in converter lock-up mode, simulating a clutched manual gearbox. Upshifts are executed in 0.3 seconds, while downshifts are done even quicker at 0.2 seconds with the gearbox blipping the throttle to match engine speeds to the gear. Drive power goes to the rear wheels only.

Being a sports car, the suspension setup is quite a firm one, and there’s no adaptive suspension to soften it for regular road driving. It’s suited to windy roads and fast circuits, and Lexus has even developed a new, electronically-controlled rear differential to change the car’s handling depending on which kind of road you’re on. The company calls it the Torque Vectoring Differential, and it can electronically control how much torque goes to each rear wheel. You can choose from three profiles – Standard, Slalom and Track, with Slalom making the car “more agile for better handling on windy mountain rallies”, while Track “stabilises the car for better stability on circuits”.

Standard creature comforts in the Lexus RC F include adaptive cruise control, leather accented heated and ventilated front seats, proximity card entry, 17-speaker sound system, sunroof, rear parking camera and sensors, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.

The RC F retails for $133,500 plus on-road costs.

24 October 2015
Albert Malik

When we look back at the recent history of drivetrain technology in cars, it’s quite fascinating to see how engines, gearboxes and such have been developed by the different carmakers around the world. In Europe the focus was on downsizing the engine and using turbochargers to make up the gap of lost displacement. This process started with diesel engines and then moved on to petrol, so that in modern cars today, you’ve got petrol engines as small as just one litre coming equipped with a reasonably sized turbo to give it the maximum output of a 1.5 litre engine. Drive it normally though and you get the fuel economy of the one litre engine. Go to the other side of the world – Asia – and you find the Japanese manufacturers have worked on pairing an electric motor with a petrol engine to improve efficiency. Toyota had the most success here, starting with the Prius and then expanding to most of the model range. It shared that love with Lexus too, and you can now have a hybrid drivetrain with almost every single model Lexus offers.

This was the divide in ideology for a few years now, but recently, you could say there’s been a reconciliation of ideals, at least that’s how it appears. The European car manufacturers have begun offering more and more plug-in hybrid vehicles in the last year or two, while Japan’s largest car manufacturer has finally made an attempt at a downsizing turbo engine. It was only a few months ago when we read that Toyota’s engineering team had developed a turbocharged two litre petrol engine, and the Group has wasted no time in rapidly rolling out the engine across the Toyota and Lexus ranges around the world.

This brings me to my Drive this week – the Lexus IS 200t. For several years now, the Lexus IS engine choice was pretty simple – get the smaller 2.5 litre V6 to save fuel, or the bigger 3.5 litre V6 if you wanted power. The company then introduced a hybrid option which gave you power somewhere in-between the two while drastically reducing fuel consumption.
But now, the new turbo engine changes everything – it replaces the smaller V6 to actually become the entry-level drivetrain, making the IS a much better car to step into now.

The current generation IS sedan was introduced only a couple of years ago, so Lexus has decided to drop in the new drivetrain and not change anything else. The two litre turbo engine produces 180 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque; it comes mated to an eight speed automatic transmission powering the rear wheels.

I have to say, for the company’s first attempt at a turbo engine, they’ve done a pretty decent job. Engine response off the mark is admirable – it quickly fires up to the 6100 RPM redline and the wide spread of gears makes sure the revs stay up there under full acceleration, making good use of the engine’s torque band and getting you to 100 km/h in around seven seconds. Unfortunately, acceleration when you’re already moving isn’t so impressive. Plant your foot down and the gearbox will find the right gear almost immediately, but then there’s 1-2 seconds of turbo lag before you get to maximum output and fire away. Lexus says it’s using a twin-scroll turbo charger, so the lag is a bit of a mystery and a shame, but still, it’s the company’s first turbo engine, so I can only imagine the next one will be even better.

The gearbox is one of the smoothest and sophisticated in the business. Under normal driving it will shift up as soon as it can to improve fuel economy. If you hit a hill, the gearbox will notice and downshift to give you enough torque to climb up. Put the car in sports mode and the gearbox becomes more responsive when you drive the car harder. It will stay longer in lower gears, blip the throttle on downshifts and execute those downshifts earlier if you’re braking hard from high speed.

One other change in the IS 200t is the introduction of engine idle stop-start – great for saving fuel in heavy traffic or city conditions with a lot of stopping. It’s also intelligent enough not to stop the engine when you have the air conditioning at full power on those hot days.

A quick summary of the model line-up: the IS 200t is available in three variants – Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury. Standard features include climate control air, radar cruise control, satellite navigation, bi-xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers and electrically-adjustable steering column. The F Sport adds all the sporty stuff, like adaptive suspension, 18 inch alloys, sports pedals, high friction brake pads and a single gauge digital instrument cluster. The Sports Luxury adds a sunroof, 15 speaker sound system, electric rear sunshade and new-age safety features including automatic high beam, lane departure warning and blind spot monitor.

The IS 200t retails from $57,500 and ranges up to $79,000 for the top model before on-road costs.

In summary, the Lexus IS now has turbo power and it’s pretty decent, especially considering it’s the company’s first attempt at one. If you’re after a Lexus IS but don’t want to spend too much on one, you won’t go wrong with this drivetrain. That’s it for me this week.

10 October 2015
Albert Malik

The NSW Police Force has added a potent new weapon to its arsenal - a 5.0-litre V8-powered Lexus RC F coupe. The RC F will be a multi-purpose vehicle for the NSW Police, playing an active role in roadside campaigns to promote road safety while also featuring as a static display at community engagement activities such as the MS Sydney to the Gong bike ride. It will also appear at motorsport events including the Bathurst Six Hour during Easter as a race control vehicle, opening and closing the circuit before and after races.

The coupe will operate in the NSW Police's Southern Region, which is based in Wollongong and takes in a vast area from Deniliquin Local Area Command in the west to Goulburn and Griffith at its northernmost points. Lexus Australia chief executive Peter McGregor said there would be significant benefit from providing the vehicle to the NSW Police.

"It gives us great pleasure to provide the NSW Police with a stunning RC F coupe to assist them with their important task of promoting safety on our roads - a critical issue for all road users as we enter the Easter Period and colder months of the year," McGregor said. "We are also confident the public will enjoy interacting with the RC F when it is on display at the events, providing a visual statement with its arresting styling package and an audible thrill thanks to its high output V8 engine."

Inspector Jim Fryday of the NSW Police's Southern Region said the RC F would be an ideal addition to the force's busy events schedule. "The RC F will be a major help in our efforts to engage with the public at major gatherings around the state," Inspector Fryday said. "There will be further opportunities at motorsport events to communicate our message to race fans while showing off the RC F in a very appropriate setting."

The RC F's V8 engine produces 351kW and 530Nm and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed Sports Program Direct Shift transmission, while an adjustable torque vectoring differential optimally distributes torque to each wheel. The RC F provides focused handling thanks to a stiff chassis and racetrack developed suspension, featuring ZF Sachs monotube shock absorbers. It also has a Brembo brake package for optimum stopping power.

The high performance mechanical package combines with an aggressive, aerodynamic styling package and cockpit-like interior that features competition-inspired high back sports seats, steering wheel, pedals and instrument meters.

Lexus has clarified its position on participating in Australian motorsport, announcing it will continue to provide support vehicles to V8 Supercars but not enter the championship as a fully-fledged competitor. Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said the luxury marque would continue to have a presence in V8 Supercars while monitoring the sport's developments, including the 2017 Gen2 Supercar regulations that open up the series to new engine and body configurations.

"At this stage we will not enter V8 Supercars as a competitor, but we are delighted to continue providing high performance Lexus support vehicles, including the RC F V8 Safety Car," Hanley said. "V8 Supercars remains a strong interest for Lexus and we will keenly watch how the sport evolves with the new regulations in 2017."

The Lexus NX Line has been awarded the highest rating of five stars in a recently conducted Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) test. The NX crossover SUV features an advanced body and interior design as well as an extensive range of safety features to protect the driver and its occupants. These include dual frontal, side chest, curtain and driver knee airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and electronic stability control. Lexus NX's frontal and side collision protection measures, including the use of high-tensile-strength steel sheet up to 980Mpa in key areas, contributed to a high frontal impact score and a perfect side impact test score. The NX was also awarded maximum points in the 'pole test' for fitment of side airbags, while its whiplash injury lessening front seats helped with a 'good' rating in whiplash protection. Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said the award underlined the integrity inherent in all Lexus vehicles.

"At their core Lexus vehicles are all about quality and integrity, and safety is a major and critical element of this," Hanley said. "All Lexus models sold in Australia feature advanced active and passive safety features, and this is evidenced in the five-star ANCAP ratings of our tested models." Lexus NX is available with numerous additional safety technologies on selected models, including a 360-degree Panoramic View Monitor (combined with standard reverse camera), blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and Pre-Collision Safety System (PCS).

PCS uses a millimetre-wavelength radar sensor in the radiator grille to detect vehicles or other obstacles, and warns the driver or applies the brakes depending on circumstances*. Lexus NX is available with hybrid or turbo-petrol engine drivetrains, in Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury trim levels. Pricing starts at $52,500 for the 2WD NX 200t Luxury.

Lexus has expanded its recently launched NX Line with the addition of an important new first-for-Lexus turbocharged petrol engine. The Lexus NX 200t features a new engine which has been nine years in development and introduces technical innovations such as its Lexus-designed proprietary turbocharger and manifold. The extensive in-house development program was run to ensure the engine's power, efficiency, NVH and quality levels were suitable for the brand. NX 200t's engine brings a higher level of performance to the NX range, and offers customers the choice of a different driving experience next to the highly efficient NX 300h hybrid models already on sale. Putting out 175kW and 350Nm, the NX 200t's powerplant maximises the potential of the NX Line's stiff platform and all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive driveline to create the high-performance expression of what its creators have dubbed "urban sports gear".

NX 200t's six-speed automatic transmission combines with a number of the new engine's efficiency measures to provide excellent fuel economy of 7.7 litres/100km* on the combined cycle. The powerplant in NX 200t brings world-first developments, including its cylinder head with integrated four-into-two exhaust manifold and twin-scroll turbocharger. It also has Lexus firsts including the fuel-saving Stop & Start function, and most importantly - turbocharging technology for its petrol engines. The new engine also has the latest Lexus fuel injection system.

NX 200t's technology package is housed in the visually dynamic Lexus L-Finesse exterior design language of the NX Line, within its well-appointed and highly specified interior. Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said the NX 200t adds a new dimension to the NX Line while showcasing the technological development prowess of the marque. "Lexus' most recent offerings - including the RC 350 and the RC F - are bolstering the brand's performance credentials alongside the quality we've always been known for," Mr Hanley said. "The NX 200t now brings a genuine high performance option to our recently added NX small SUV Line.

"Its performance, along with the cutting-edge technology and innovation, really shows off the Lexus way of aiming for perfection right from the beginning."

Lexus unveiled its latest high performance vehicle, the GS F, at the 2015 North American International Auto Show overnight. The much-anticipated GS F sports sedan combines opulence with the performance of a sports car, and joins the marque's high-performance 'F' line that includes the soon-to-be-launched RC F.

GS F, which is based on the mid-sized GS luxury sedan, breaks new ground for Lexus as the largest vehicle ever offered with an F badge. It is powered by a naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 producing 348 kilowatts and 527 newton metres of torque, and provides fuel efficiency through the use of Atkinson cycle fuel delivery during narrower throttle openings. The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox with manual-shifting capabilities and three modes: Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. The vehicle's handling was honed at the Fuji circuit in Japan as well as Germany's famed Nürburgring. The GS F features structural reinforcements and an exclusively designed suspension system to match the car's enhanced output, along with larger tyres (255/35-19 front, and 275/35-19 rear) as well as an upgraded braking system complete with bright orange callipers. Lexus' Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD), also found in the RC F, features three operating modes: Standard (default), providing a balance of agility and firmness; Slalom, emphasising nimble steering response and agility; and Track, which enhances stability during high-speed circuit driving. The GS F features an enlarged and more pronounced version of Lexus' trademark 'spindle' grille, with a distinctive mesh pattern and large gaping air vents. Slim canted headlights with the signature Lexus L-shaped daytime running lamps complete the car's elegant yet dynamic face.

The GS F sits noticeably lower and wider than other GS models, combining with its front fender air outlets and 19-inch alloy wheels to make it instantly recognisable as an F model. GS F's cabin gains an F steering wheel and a new electronic instrument cluster that can be configured between four different displays depending on preferred driving style: Normal, Eco, Sport S and Sport S+. Custom front and rear seats provide the vehicle's occupants with more lateral support. GS F chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi said vehicles with the 'F' designation were created to generate a positive feeling behind the wheel for all drivers. "With the GS F we wanted to make a special car that not only would exceed the expectations of the most discerning driving enthusiast, but also something that all people can enjoy," Yaguchi said. "In that way, the GS F embraces the virtues of sound, response and power, the cornerstones of the Lexus 'F' brand."

Lexus Australia is currently negotiating to introduce GS F to the local market.