IT IS difficult to imagine how the Japanese martial art of Aikido, perfected more than a century ago with its roots in traditions that span the dawn of time, could result in the Lexus RC 350.
After all, the martial art itself is as much about philosophy and world peace, as it is about the mastering of movements and weapons. But it is also about the blending of energies and controlling your attacker's actions with little effort and it is this component, said chief engineer and Aikido black belt Eiichi Kusama, which was at the forefront of the RC 350's development.
"In Aikido one uses the opponent's force to respond," said Kusama at the car's Australian launch in the Victorian hills this week.
"This is relevant to the RC in terms of handling optimisation and also how we respond to our market rivals, who are undoubtedly formidable."
While instantly recognisable as a Lexus, the interior of the RC 350 feels somewhat underwhelming. The quality and grade of the materials used is top notch but given the boldness and wow factor of the outside, perhaps I expected the console to also widen the eyes and satisfy the senses.
Nevertheless, once firmly ensconced in the sporty bucket seats, with their lumber support and long cushion length, you certainly feel like you are in for an enjoyable driving experience.
The chunky wheel is balanced to the touch, with the paddle shifters within finger reach and steering controls logically placed and easy to operate. The indicator stalk, which doesn't return to centre, can be annoying but that is just a little gripe. The less than sharp graphics on the 17.7cm multi-vision infotainment screen is probably a bigger one.
It is clear that attention has been paid to the overall cabin feel. The classic touch with a more modern sweep evident in the on-trend LCD ambient lighting, the contrasting cabin materials and sweeping door trims.
Wide doors and large openings mean you don't have to stoop to enter as you would in rival coupes, and the one-touch front seat movement makes access to the back seat decidedly easier too.
Once you are back there though, you are certainly at the mercy of the front-seat passengers and it can be a bit tricky for tall adults, with headroom also on the meagre side. Babies and young children, whose car seats can be easily fixed, will travel in style.
The boot, which in the measure of luxury cars, can hold two large golf bags. Internal storage options are quite light but you can carry objects up to 150cm long should you drop the 60:40 rear seat.
On the road
The exterior of the RC 350 holds such promise that you can hardly wait to snap on that seatbelt and fire up the ignition. Even negotiating the slow-moving Melbourne traffic is bearable, the bubbling grunt that tickles your accelerator foot an indication of the pleasure ahead.
All three models are kitted out with a 3.5-litre dual-injection V6, paired with a more than willing eight-speed sports direct shift transmission. Drivers also have the option of different drive modes - eco, normal and sport in the Luxury grade and Sport S and Sport S+ on the F Sport and Sports Luxury grades - all of which alter economy, driver participation, car response and comfort.
This is a heavy car and that takes a bit of getting used, to especially if your feet are of the female variety, but all bets are off once you get going. The RC 350 has obviously been instilled with beautiful manners and is not afraid to show it.
Progress is smooth or sporty according to your desire, it keeps its line well, gathers speed at will and turns effortlessly when required. It is beautiful around the twisties, particularly the F Sport, brakes are spot-on and the ride supple over a range of conditions.
It can give itself away a bit in the wet, with decreased front-wheel grip and sometimes the rear takes a while to come around. In manual mode, the gearbox too can be a bit testy, sometimes refusing to relinquish third for second if the rev count is too high. All in all, though, an enjoyable ride.
What do you get?
Entry-level Luxury comes with all the bells and whistles you would associate with this price-point and more, including LED head and fog lamps, smart entry and start, leather-accented interior, power front seats with heating and ventilation, advanced Bluetooth capability, touch-sensitive climate controls, sat-nav with third-generation Lexus remote touch, reverse camera, seven-inch multimedia display and 10-speaker audio.
The F Sport adds 19-inch alloys, adaptive variable suspension, dynamic rear steering, adaptive variable suspension, 17-speaker sound system, powered memory front seats, a whole host of additional safety systems and the option of two enhancement packs.
The top-of-the line Sports Luxury also gets LED headlamps with auto high beam, a sun roof and every conceivable safety system.
Talking about safety, it is naturally five-star.
The RC 350 boasts a whole list of state-of-the-art technologies aimed to lower fuel consumption, with official figures 9.4 litres/100km combined. We were closer to 14.9L/100km, probably not a real indication given the cars were not being driven with economy in mind.
Look, this is not a family car but it will carry the kids if you need to. Lexus is targeting upwardly mobile males with household incomes over $200,000, but the RC 350's good looks, style and real-world drivability will appeal to women too. But think of this as a luxury cruiser with sporty intent more than an out-and-out speed machine.
I know that a car's appeal can be a rather relative thing but this RC 350, with its low wide stance, flowing lines, spindle grille and front flares, has that wow factor. It is an indication of Lexus's new design language.
It is hard, provided you are not looking for a typical sports car, to not like the Lexus RC 350. It looks good, has a well-appointed interior, a bundleful of high-grade inclusions and offers driving pleasure at a more than reasonable price. It is a combination that will prove hard to resist both for loyal Lexus customers, as well as those who are only just now running an eye over the brand.
What matters most
What we liked: Wow exterior, passionate intent, ride comfort
What we'd like to see: better fuel consumption, newer V6 engine, funkier interior.
Warranty and servicing: Four-year/100,000 kilometre warranty. Servicing is typically annual or every 10,000km.
Model: Lexus RC 350.
Details: Five-door rear-wheel drive sports coupe.
Engine: 3.5-litre six cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 233kW@6400rpm and peak torque of 378Nm @ 4800rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed SPDS automatic.
Consumption: 9.4 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: Luxury from $66,000, F Sport from $74,000, Sports Luxury from $86,000.
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