Do little tweaks add to a lot?
LEXUS HAS made its free-revving, naturally aspirated V8 RC F coupe much more of a daily proposition thanks to a raft of minor changes focused on improving comfort and usability. A softer adaptive damper tune makes for a nicer around-town ride, while the ageing interior has been spruced up by a new, 10.3-inch centre screen replacing the previous 7.0-inch unit. Unfortunately, Lexus is persisting with its touchpad control interface, simply fitting a larger pad, which takes an eternity, and many profanities, to get used to. Thereís also simplified cruise control buttons and the latest semiautonomous tech, and you can now combine an aggressive engine setting with a Comfort damper setting where you couldnít before. A new yellow, Zinnia, has been added to the palette, as well. To drive, the RC F makes a helluva noise and feels fast, even if it would get smoked by a BMW M4, a car thatís only $1000 more in Pure form Ė the RC Fís acceleration is merely fast by 2010 standards. Still, despite some handling quirks, itís a rear-drive, naturally aspirated V8 thatís fun to drive, pretty nice inside with a muscular appearance that grows on you. It could be a bit cheaper, but own an RC F and you might just notice your fondness for it increasing over time.
Ė Dylan Campbell
SPECS: 5.0 V8; 351kW @7100rpm; 530Nm @4800rpm; RWD; 1780kg; $138,100
Optional exhaust not music to our ears
ALTHOUGH KIA doesnít plan to shove a V8 in the Stinger anytime soon, itís at least made an effort to intensify the V6ís growl. For $2600 you can now bolt an optional cat-back system, developed right here in Australia, to the 3.3-litre engine. This might seem like the piece to complete the Stinger puzzle since the stock set-up would sound a little breathless and thrashy if it wasnít for some artificial noise coming through the speakers in the interior. Unfortunately, though, this exhaust doesnít deliver the note the V6 Stinger deserves, not to our ears anyway. Thereís a fair bit of low-frequency waffle from the system at all times. The automatic doesnít help, either, in its determination to knock you out off manual mode constantly and keep the revs from reaching 4000-5000rpm, where it sounds a bit like a BMW N55. Even there its scream is muffled by a resonance that sounds far from OEM; thereís never a crispness to it. We didnít expect Kia to carve half a Lambo V12 from just a cat-back system, but based on our drive of the prototype version months ago, and hearing videos of aftermarket systems, we did expect better. Hopefully Kia can improve the second time around on the exhaust its developing for its four-cylinder, expected Q4.
Ė Louis Cordony
SPECS: 3.3TT V6; 272kW @6000rpm; 510Nm @1300rpm; RWD; 1780kg; $55,990
Ditch the SUV for old-school style
WANT A BMW 5 Series wagon with a straight six-under the bonnet? Too bad, you canít have one. Not here in Oz, anyway. The largest engine you can get in a 5 Series Touring now is the 2.0-litre, but donít fret because itís a pleasant surprise. While 185kW and 350Nm might not sound enough to raise the heart rate, the engine feels stronger than youíd expect if you keep revs in the higher end of the attractive digital tacho. And you can take full control of the smooth eightspeed auto with the paddles, so no self-shifting or denying (reasonable) requests. The 530iís ability to hold its own on twisty black stuff, though, could make us forgive its lack of outright pace. The front feels nimble, the steering is light, and the chassis is well-balanced and handles its 1640kg bulk well when pushed. Of the very few traditional luxury wagons available, the 530i strikes arguably the best balance of comfort and capability. Cabin ergonomics are spot-on, and the design visually pleasing, if a little conservative. Holding it back is price. At $115,500, BMW is asking a lot for just 2.0 litres, even if the 530i Touring is an absolutely lovely car to drive.
Ė Chris Thompson
SPECS: 2.0T I4; 185kW @5200rpm; 350Nm @1450rpm; RWD; 1640kg; $115,500