2015 Lexus RC has intriguing looks, sport handling and power

The latest from luxury automaker Lexus is an audacious-looking sport coupe that turns heads and challenges long-held stereotypes of Lexus cars as sedate, plush rides.

The four-seat, two-door, 2015 Lexus RC is certainly not sedate, particularly when fitted with the top-level, 467-horsepower V-8 whose impressive power can make hearts skip a beat. Zero to 60 miles per hour takes just 4.3 seconds in the top-of-the-line RC F Sport, according to Lexus.

The ride, even in the 306-horsepower, V-6 RC models with a breezy 0-to-60 time of 5.8 seconds, is controlled and firm. It's not punishing, but it's not a plush ride that isolates passengers from the road.

Settling into the sport front seat, the driver is conscious of sitting low to the pavement and having a sleek array of gauges and controls at the ready.

A glance at the logo in the middle of the steering wheel confirms that yes, this is a Lexus, albeit a most unlikely looking one.

Available in rear- and all-wheel drive, the new sporty RC cars are designed to change the stuffy image of Lexus and help attract younger buyers. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $43,715 for a rear-wheel drive RC 350 with V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. The lowest starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 RC with all-wheel drive is $45,950.

The starting base retail price for a 2015 RC with V-8 is $63,325.

Truth be told, Lexus has been angling toward an RC type of car for a while. It shipped its first LFA "supercar" sport coupe to the United States in January 2011. But the V-10-powered LFA with carbon-reinforced plastic body and other exotic touches, is high priced; starting MSRP, including destination charge, is some $375,000, and only 17 LFAs were reported sold in the United States during calendar 2014, down from 23 the year before.

By comparison, the RC coupes posted sales of 1,831 in the first two months of calendar 2015.

They are competitively priced with sport coupes from prominent German carmakers. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C350 Coupe with 302-horsepower, direct-injection V-6 mated to a seven-speed automatic has a starting retail price of $44,975. The rear-wheel drive, 2015 BMW 435i Coupe with 300-horsepower, twin-turbo, inline six cylinder mated to an eight-speed automatic has a starting retail price of $47,200.

To be sure, exterior styling of the Lexus RC, with its side sculpting and oversized grille, is polarizing. Many auto critics attribute the looks to the fact the RC is a mashup of the Lexus GS sedan, previous generation IS convertible and current IS.

People who stopped to look at the RC test car just seemed intrigued and wanted to be sure they were seeing the Lexis badge on the car correctly.

And yes, they were younger than the senior citizen buyers of Lexus' well-known, flagship LS sedan.

The test rear-drive RC with V-6 quickly showed it's more than its looks.

The rack-and-pinion steering, with optional VGRS, had quick response, and the 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 responded just as promptly. With the car driven in a leisurely fashion, the automatic had smooth, Lexus-like shifts.

When the driver switched to the paddle shifters and moved the drive mode to S+, the shifts could become sharper as could the power delivery.

Peak torque, though, is 277 foot-pounds at a rather high 4,800 rpm. The 275 foot-pounds of torque in the C350 Coupe comes on by 3,500 rpm, in comparison, and, of course, BMW's twin turbo six cylinder delivers far more — 300 foot-pounds starting at 1,300 rpm.

The test RC, with a majority of city driving, averaged 22.8 mpg for a travel range of less than 400 miles on a single tank. This compares to the federal government fuel economy rating of 19 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway, for a combined average of 23 mpg.

With a sizable 17.4-gallon fuel tank and because premium gasoline is required, the V-6 RC cost nearly $50, at today's prices, to fill up.

In part, the gas mileage is affected by the RC's weight, which is a surprisingly heavy 3,748 pounds for a rear-drive, V-6 model and more than 4,000 pounds for the V-8-powered RC.

The test RC felt solid and substantial. But the engine power and, especially, the cohesive feel of the car body on curves and turns made the RC feel sporting.

Helping contribute to the sure-footedness was the wide stance of the car. The RC is wider than the C350 and the 435i.

The RC's standard rearview camera is useful. Window pillars around the back window are thick, so visibility is compromised.

Back seats offer a diminutive 27.3 inches of legroom and 34.8 inches of headroom, which can limit who climbs in back there. Both the C350 Coupe and 435i offer more back-seat room, though the 45.4 inches of front legroom in the RC is noteworthy.

RC trunk space of 10.4 cubic feet is less than the 11.7 cubic feet in the C350 Coupe and the 15.7 cubic feet in the 435i.

One more thing: The Lexus new-model trackpad that allows drivers' fingers to "write" and move the cursor on the display screen in the middle of the dashboard is cool.