Lexus RC200t

Smaller engine provides greater appeal

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

A BARRAGE of new Lexus models have hit local showrooms in the past year, with the RC200t the latest salvo. Lexus reckons it can lure BMW 4 Series and Mercedes C-Class coupe buyers with this cheaper and more efficient entry-level two-door.

The rear-drive RC200t starts at $64,000 Ė less than the BMW 428i and Mercedes C250 Coupe Ė yet itís only $3K less than the RC350, and that comes with a 233kW/378Nm 3.5-litre V6 compared to the 200tís new 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, which delivers 180kW/350Nm.

The price difference between the four-pot and V6 is consistent across all three RC200t trim levels, which start with the Luxury weíre driving here, then F-Sport and flagship Sports Luxury. So there must be something special for the 200t to be that price, right?

Equipment levels are near identical to the V6, the most significant omission being the 350ís rear-wheel steering. Our Luxury-spec RC200t test car wore 18-inch alloys and even sported the same black claw marks on the rear bumper.

Thereís also little difference when you slide into the RC200tís spaceship-like cabin with its excellent driving position and leather upholstery. That is, until you fire it up.

At idle, the four-cylinder is near silent, and thereís no fuss as you accelerate serenely around town.

This is where the RC200t is the pick, with greater refinement and a more progressive throttle than the V6, bolstered by a 7.3L/100km fuel number (against 9.4).

Plant your right foot and response is an adequate, obedient march rather than a sporty, aggressive shove, even in Sport mode. The 7.5sec 0-100km/h claim is hardly slow, but the 200t is no traffic-light maestro.

The eight-speed auto is also mild-mannered, failing to make the most of the 350Nm (spread from 1650 to 4400rpm).

Approach a twisty section of road and kickdown is lethargic. The auto upshifts at 6000rpm (6200 in manual mode) as the torque wedge peters out, though the Manual modeís extra 200 revs allows earlier downshifts, as the computer otherwise prohibits such loutish behaviour.

Tackle a bend and the front-end lacks sharpness and accuracy, with turn-in needing a good chunk of lock before the steering weights up, the front treads quickly taking over roadholding duties. That said, change of direction is well managed, even if the RC200t picks up every mid-corner undulation. It rides better around town, where it feels supple and well sorted.

Thatís the RC200tís forte: stylish urban touring. It sits uncomfortably close to the 350ís price, but is the most liveable daily driver in the Lexus RC range.

Spooliní around

The 1998cc four-cylinder turbo, codenamed 8AR-FTS, made its Lexus debut in the RAV4-based NX SUV last year; now itís offered in the GS sedan, IS sedan and RC coupe.

In all four, it makes the same 180kW/350Nm and is mated to an eight-speed auto. If you compare the RC200t directly to its sedan counterpart Ė the IS200t Ė it carries 55kg more weight, yet somehow uses 0.2L/100km less fuel and costs $6500 more. Itís expected to be the most popular RC model, making up 40 percent of an estimated 80 sales per month.

PLUS & MINUS

Only $3K less than the V6; heft over IS sedan; lacks rivalsí dynamics Unique style; excellent attention to detail; engine and cabin refinement