LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Lexus is perennially near the top of JD Power's quality ratings. It led a torrid luxury market with the summer's hottest sales gains. Its Lexus EX350 crossover is so prevalent in upscale Naples retirement communities, locals call it "the official vehicle of Florida."

Satisfying. Durable. Predictable. Yet Toyota's luxe brand isn't satisfied. Now it wants to be exciting.

Mom, hide Dad's retirement savings because Lexus wants to fill the other garage spot with a ground-thumping, ear-shredding, two-door, $70,000 temptress. It makes Homer's Sirens sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Lexus dubs it the RC-F. But they want you to think Sex-us.

Inspired by Toyota President Akio Toyoda himself — the motor-head grandson of the company's founder — the racy-looking, racy-sounding RC-F wants to wipe your memory banks of boring ol' Lexus design. Akio wants performance. Akio wants style. Akio wants to take on the vaunted BMW M4. What Akio wants, Akio gets. And the Lexus team has have never had more fun.

The immediate descendant of the LF-A supercar, the RC-F is the wildest looking luxury coupe this side of the Jetsons' ride.

Based on the RC350 coupe version of the IS350 sedan, the RC-F is another in the maddening alphanumeric alphabet soup that has overrun luxury brands. But if you must, I would have named it OMG-F.

Japanese luxe makers have struggled with their design language for decades. Acura had it, lost it, and is now trying the 10-spider eyes approach. The Infiniti Q50's pinched grille looks like Baby Herman's cheeks. Lexus opened as a Mercedes clone in 1989 then settled on boredom.

Determined to recast itself as a performance brand, Lexus' new design goes for shock value. In so doing they have thrown the kitchen sink at the RC. The huge, black, hour-glass front spindle grille comes at you like a locomotive cowcatcher. Six LED spider eyes light up the corners. We homo sapiens look for our reflection in our cars. We expect their fascias to be anthropomorphic. Human-like. But the RC-F resists.

If anything, that spindly maw looks like a villain's mask. Like the Winter Soldier's dark veil in "Captain America" or Batman nemesis Bane's breathing device. If BMW and Mercedes are the handsome superheroes, then the RC-F is the mad samurai determined to create chaos in our orderly, German-dominated, performance luxury world. Heck, even Lexus coupe ads feature Wes Bentley, the actor who chillingly played Blackheart, the son of Mephistopheles, alongside Nick Cage in "Ghost Rider."

In truth, however, the genius of Lexus design is it that it looks like a sculpted weapon. It drips with sci-fi menace.

Its bug-zapper grille is shaped by two arrowheads that punctuate the car's heavily creased sides. The headlights echo the Lexus "L" logo. Two trim lights immediately underneath the headlights are also L-shaped.

Out back, the coupe is curiously derivative of Scion's (Toyota's youth brand) affordable FR-S sports car. Separated at birth, you might say. A reminder that the RC coupe is aimed at a younger, 40-49 demographic. You a 20-something with an FR-S? You might aspire to the Lexus one day. Double the cylinders, double the fun.

These Toyota planners are shrewd. But even Lexus has to learn. As good as the RC-F is, it has has some learnin' to do.

Take the base RC350. Please.

On the outside, this sleigh is a looker. Where the F's face is a spindled web of terror, its less expensive sister ($42,950 base) is chrome heaven. So bejeweled is the RC that it recalls the 1950s Caddys right down to the little fog lights on its skirt (where the Caddy's chrome bumper would have been). All that's missing is a — AWOOOGAHHHH! — horn on the front fender.

Like Cinderella on her way to the ball, the dazzle isn't confined to the face. The RC's figure is full of swoops and folds. Its taillights extend beyond the bodywork like the tail-fin lights of yore. You'll want to drive this one to the valet and leave it at the curb for everyone to ogle. You have arrived.

Alas, the RC350's beauty is skin deep. The ballroom floor is full of svelte coupes: The BMW 4-series, Audi A5, the athletic new Cadillac ATS coupe. All are taut, quick, athletic dancers. The 3,750-pound RC, by contrast, is less sure-footed. One wrong turn and she'll step on your toes. The steering is light compared to the best-in-class ATS and BMW coupes. Its body roll (watch that diet) more noticeable.

The interior is a beautiful landscape of materials — leather, wood — but the Lexus skimps on details that will stand out like CyndiLauper at a Junior League meeting. Where e-brakes have become standard in this high-tech club, the Lexus prefers an old-fashioned, foot brake. Pickup chic? Like the European luxe makers, the coupe eschews the American-car touchscreen (my preference, but then I have freakishly long arms).

But rather than a dial, Lexus introduces a cool, mouse-like touch pad. Cool in theory, buggy in practice. I found it almost unworkable over New York roads (my finger dancing across the haptic surface with every road bump), and merely maddening when parked. Buick-like, Lexus decorates the skin with glued-on, non-functional strakes.

Details, details. Lexus RC350 2.0 (how's that for an alphanumeric badge?) will be better.

But where Lexus has the details right is on the RC-F. Make that eight details.

Challenged by stringent international fuel emission rules, the coupe class has gone turbo. Glorious Caddy 4-bangers with kick-in-seat low-end torque. Blown BMW sixes with more power than Zeus. But where are the trumpets? Thank you, RC-F for putting the soundtrack back in luxury.

The 5.0-liter, 467-horsepower V-8 is the best music this side of a Jaguar F-Type — but for 30 grand less. Heck, it deserves consideration with my favorite Corvette C7. Same price. Same horsepower. Two more seats. So you can bring your pals along for the ride.

On Monticello Raceway's spectacular, 4.1-mile roller-coaster track east of New York, the big, 4,000-pound (psst, Lexus that's the same weight as a Dodge Challenger R/T) even has the personality of a C7 and F-Type — all throaty roars and dazzling power slides. The terrific, rev-matching, eight-speed auto tranny almost made me forget the absence of a stick (a relic of the 20th century).

Jerry Seinfeld keeps his Porsche collection at Monticello. I don't think he'll be interested in the Lexus. But arrive behind him at the same restaurant in your RC-F, rev the V8, and I guarantee heads will swivel. What the F? That's a Lexus?

2015 Lexus RC Coupe

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear or all-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: $43,715 base RC350 ($76,565 RC-F V-8 as tested)

Power plant: 3.5-liter direct-injection 6-cylinder; or 5.0-liter direct injection 8-cylinder

Power: 306 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 467 horsepower, 389 pound-feet of torque (V-8)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (RWD); Six-speed automatic (AWD)

Performance: 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds (RC-F). Top speed: 170 mph (electronically limited)

Weight: RC350: 3,748 pounds; RC-F: 3,958 (AWD add 143 lbs.)

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 combined (RWD V-6); 16 mpg city/25mpg highway/19 combined (RWD V-8)

Report card

Highs: Howling V8; Wicked styling

Lows: Emergency foot brake; porky

Overall: <z_sym_star><z_sym_star><z_sym_star>

Grading scale

Excellent <z_sym_star><z_sym_star><z_sym_star><z_sym_star>

Good <z_sym_star><z_sym_star><z_sym_star>

Fair <z_sym_star><z_sym_star>

Poor <z_sym_star>

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://detne.ws/1saBPzD