Patrick Tillard

Chaos and culture

Patrick Tillard
Chaos and culture

We were laughing but it wasn’t funny. There’s a fine line between hitting the apex of a corner and rolling a car in a ball of flames, and for a moment I thought I’d crossed it. I promise I wasn’t speeding, but this particular blind crest had no signs warning of the abrupt drop on the other side – it was effectively a ramp. I hit it at 80 (kph of course – we were in Spain) and the car took off. Clean air.

I have no idea how high or how far we travelled with all four tyres parted from the tarmac, but we landed with a spine-crushing thud. Had a vehicle been coming the other way, I may have been standing beside a £60,000 mess – or worse.

The car in question was the 471bhp Lexus RC F, the Japanese marque’s answer to the BMW M4 and Audi RS5.

I appreciate that’s no small claim, and so to tackle it, we must skip back 27 years, when Lexus launched with the LS. The idea was that it would be the sexy, luxury division of Toyota – a brand with the sex appeal of a napkin – but it didn’t have the predicted impact. Instead, Lexus was a bit vanilla. Its cars were plain and unremarkable. Going up against German performance was always going to be a tall order – any X Factor contestant can walk on stage with ambitions of becoming the next Whitney Houston, but until they’ve opened their mouth and proved their worth it’s all just hot air. But still, with the might of Toyota behind it, more was expected. In the years since, it’s been fighting to gain ground against its European rivals. With the RC F, it might just be getting close.

Anyway, back in Spain and overcome by a feeling of stupidity – an uncomfortable silence replacing laughter – I pull into a lay-by to relegate myself to the passenger seat. My companion is more than happy to resume the driving position and probe the 5l V8. And here lies its appeal: while the RC F’s cumbersome two-ton kerb weight means it needs to be bullied around tight corners, and despite the fact that it (I) nearly doomed us to an early grave, it does set the pulse racing. In the right way.

There’s no denying it looks great, all those aggressive angles picked up in this case by the Persian blue paint job. On paper, the large grille looks like a gormless carp, but in reality it’s more like a ferocious shark. In the heart of Madrid, under bright streetlights, the RC F looks particularly at home. Similarly, on the epic alpine road twisting over the Guadarramas, with the digital dial switched from calming blue eco mode to sporty red rev counter, it’s welcomed with open arms, too. In fact, it’s well suited to our road trip of chaotic culture, with visits to the immense monastery in El Escorial, the crenellated medieval walls of Ávila and the aqueduct in the Old Town of Segovia. The travel between these ancient relics and buildings is just slightly faster and more hair-raising than a tour bus full of geriatrics.

While the grumble of the V8 doesn’t exactly perforate your eardrums – if anything the sound it emits feels a little bit too computerised – it does bawl loudly enough to send a riot of adrenaline through your body every time your right foot gets a little twitchy. The lack of turbocharge means pick up on speed isn’t as rapid as it might be – let’s just call it smooth – but in the higher end of the revs it is ruthlessly efficient at delivering its power. Zero to 60 is dealt with in 4.5 seconds. Shift down into second and the RC F spits at you, letting you know that it’s ready to accelerate out of the corner as fast as you threw it in. From there the speedometer will climb as quickly as a Spanish taxi meter; the muted pastels of the Iberian Peninsula on fast forward.

As far as the interior is concerned, the Germans still have the edge over the Japanese. There’s a hint of second fiddle treatment in the RC F, with the performance and body playing lead, but that’s fine by me – I’d rather have a few more driving aids than a suede-lined glove box. And if the power didn’t kill me, operating the sat nav certainly would have. On the plus side: we got lost a lot and took the turns that looked most exhilarating. The down side: Madrid was a vortex from which we couldn’t escape. But there are worse places to be adrift.

Is it better than its BMW and Audi rivals? Not yet, but Lexus are certainly singing from the same hymn sheet in so much that the RC F neatly blurs the line between business and pleasure. You can take your kids to school in it at a sensible, polar bear-friendly speed, and then revisit your youth and power-slide to work like an absolute maniac.

Is it more exciting? Well, put it this way: I nearly killed myself in one, but there’s no doubting which I’d choose to drive tomorrow given the option. I’d take the Lexus every time.

This article was published in the Mar/Apr issue of Gentleman's Journal.