Lexus RC350 AWD Coupe: Sweet handling and sporty

Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW can supplement their showroom displays with sports coupes, so why not Lexus? Toyota’s premium brand now offers a fast, sweet-handling coupe, the RC350, that’s simultaneously luxurious and sporty.

Lexus’ RC series, new for 2015, comes in three flavors. The RC350, propelled by a 306-horsepower V6, is available with rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. Then there’s the rear-drive F version, featuring a 467-horsepower V-8. Prices range from $42,790 to $62,400.

We test-drove the all-wheel-drive version of the RC350. AWD doesn’t make the RC350 a true all-weather car – its bumpers and undercarriage are too close to the ground for serious winter driving – but it contributes to the car’s crisp handling and sure-footed performance without exacting a substantial fuel-economy penalty.

Like the four-door IS series on which it’s based, the RC350 compels drivers to execute an awkward twisting maneuver around the B-pillar to enter and exit the car. But once strapped in, most drivers will find little to complain about.

The engine is strong and whisper-quiet, while delivering a respectable 25 mpg on the highway. It does require premium gasoline, which may cost 20 cents to 30 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded. Power comes up smoothly and consistently, but perhaps at a more leisurely pace than sports-car enthusiasts would like. For them, the muscular F version is the Lexus of choice.

The RC350 provides plenty of road feel without punishing its occupants. Lexus has achieved a truly sublime balance between sharp handling and riding comfort.

Our test car was somewhat confusingly labeled with an F Sport badge on the front fenders, giving the impression a powerful V8 engine was lurking under the hood. In reality, the F Sport package is a group of options, priced at $3,580, that includes 19-inch wheels, blind-sport monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, seating and instrument upgrade, and adaptive variable suspension. This and other options brought the test car’s price from $45,025 to $54,650.

The interior is pure Lexus – meticulously assembled, uncompromisingly luxurious, and loaded with comfort features and technology. There’s plenty of leg room and elbow room in front. The back seat is suitable only for small children, however.

We’ll have to count ourselves among the reviewers who didn’t acquire a taste for the remote touchpad controller. Jumpy and unpredictable though it was, we suppose most drivers would adapt to it over the course of regular usage. Fortunately, the audio system can be operated without using the touchpad once favorites have been punched in, since the steering-wheel hub is equipped with a conventional set of volume and channel-changing buttons. Indeed, the switchgear consisted of a curious mix of touchpad-controlled electronics and conventional buttons that older drivers found somewhat reassuring.

The RC series competes mainly with the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series, which have lower price points but come with 4-cylinder engines at base level, unlike the V6-powered Lexus coupe.

The RC series has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $54,650

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 306 horsepower, 277 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 3,748 lb.

Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19-in. F Sport

Tires: 235/40R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 4

Luggage capacity: 10.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline

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