2021 Lexus RC 350 Black Line: Style and performance
When I was younger, I used to think zero-to-60 times were the most important fact in any car review. Especially in comparision tests of sport coupes, sport sedans and sport cars, I thought the fastest car must be the best.
But now I understand there are many other far more important factors to consider when deciding which performance — or any — car to buy. They include how well it meets your needs, how it makes you feel when the "new car smell" has long since worn off, and how well you can live with it on a day-to-day basis.
All of which leads me to say, the 2021 Lexus RC 350 is not the fastest compact sport coupe on the market. But it is one that would easily pass my other tests, espcially when equipped with the F Sport handling package that improves the ride without making the suspension too stiff for daily driving — even in the Sport+ mode.
New this year is the Black Line edition — the subject of this test — that includes a wealth of special appearance upgrades, ranging from special dark wheels to interior ash trim and even a specially-designed two piece set of luggage. At $2,145, it is well worth considering.
It is hard to believe the RC and mechanically identical IS sedan were first introduced in 2014 and have only had a single refresh in 2018. Thanks to the aggressive styling that Lexus pioneered, they both remain strikingly attractive, especially the two-door RC with fastback roofline. The large spindle grill that was originally so polarizing now seems merely distinctive. And the stacked dash stands out when so many other manufacturers are going minimal or organic.
The RC is available with a choice of two engines that at first glance might seem limited. The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four that produces 241 horsepower and the optional engine is a normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 311 ponies. While a non-turbocharged V6 might not sound very exciting, a week of daily driving we found it was more than competitive. Mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, it was always ready to run, especially in the previously mentioned Sport+ mode that also increased throttle response.
My tester included the F Sport package, which ups the ante on the RC (and other Lexus models) considerable. It includes an adaptive variable suspension, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, orange brake calipers and such welcome interior features as bolstered heated and cooled front leather seats, aluminum pedals and more. The most important thing is how much it improves the handling, providing a firm ride that never gets too harsh, as opposed to the too stiff suspensions of some other sport sedans I've tested.
The RC is a rear-wheel-drive car that is available with all-wheel-drive. While I normally recommend AWD for better wet weather traction in the Pacific Northwest, my test had a Snow mode that I wasn't able to try out since the car arrived in the summer. Good to know, though.
As much as I enjoyed the 2021 Lexus RC 350 F Sport, it has a couple of drawback that might discourage some potential buyers. For starters, the rear seats are very confined, making the RC more of a 2+2. If you have a family, the IS is a better choice.
The touchscreen that controls much of the infotainment system also requires some practice to use smoothly, especially while driving. It can be done — I've tested enough Lexus models with it to become halfway decent — but be prepared for a little bit of a learning curve.
2021 Lexus RC 350 Black Line
Base price: $44,900
Price as test: $60,310
Type: Compact sport coupe
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (311 hp, 280 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+, Custom
Estimated mileage: 20/28
Overall length: 185 inches
Curb weight: 3748 pounds
Final assembly: Tahara, Aichi, Japan
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