2016 Lexus RC-F with prickly-pear cacti in Arizona.
In which your Race Organizer accompanies an ancient Beetle on a long desert drive
The last time your Race Organizer put a car through the real-world paces of putting on a 24 Hours of LeMons race, the event was the seventh annual Sears Pointless race and the car was the 2016 Scion FR-S. That car worked fine, but didn’t make much of an impression on the racers; for the Arizona D-Bags race, I decided that I needed a Toyota-made coupe with a lot more power, flash, and carbon fiber: the RC-F.
2016 Lexus RC-F in desert near Willcox, Arizona
This is a big, heavy, powerful coupe, in the tradition of the personal luxury coupe that goes back to John DeLorean and the 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix. Nearly 2 tons, nearly 500 hp, rear-wheel drive, and an internal-organ-rearranging (optional) 835-watt Mark Levison audio system. Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona” came up on random play soon after I picked up the car at the Phoenix airport, which seemed appropriate; I cranked up the air conditioning and roared off into the heat for a taco-truck meal.
2016 Lexus RC-F with 1967 Volkswagen Beetle
I’d be meeting up with the notorious G.D. Yo-Man, a Phoenix-based racer well-known for his team’s explodey Super Beetle, and then we’d drive the 200 miles to Inde Motorsports Ranch for the 24 Hours of LeMons race. This was something of an unusual pair of vehicles for our caravan: a lowered 1967 Beetle with early Porsche 911 seats, hot-rodded 1,915cc Weber-ized engine, and no air-conditioning accompanying a super-modern 467-horse Lexus through the desert.
2016 Lexus RC-F with MiG-17 fighter plane at Inde Motorsports Ranch
The Lexus got about the same highway fuel economy — 23 mpg — as the Beetle on our trip, despite weighing twice as much and packing more than four times as much horsepower, and it was at least 100 times more comfortable … but there was no doubt that the racers at Inde Motorsports Ranch thought the Beetle was the cooler car of the pair.
Against the backdrop of the Cold War aircraft parked all over the facility (including an F-111, a MiG-21, and an F-104, among others), it was difficult for any mere ground vehicle to compete. That said, the RC-F got a lot of approval from the car-jaded racers at the track, thanks to its evil-sounding V8, subtle Nebula Gray Pearl paint, and racy-looking red leather interior.
2016 Lexus RC-F with 1981 Toyota Corolla wagon race car
Because I didn’t get permission from Toyota to take the car onto the racetrack, I cannot provide a review explaining what the RC-F is like at the limit; I suspect that I would have had a wonderful time until I cooked the brakes due to heavy vehicle weight and lack of racing ability. On the road, however, the RC-F is the kind of car that can be lived with day after day, probably for several hundred thousand breakdown-free miles (at which point human-driven cars with gasoline engines are likely to be illegal).
As you will find with just about everything sporting Lexus badges, this is an incredibly competent car. I couldn’t tear it down to its tiniest components (as did with an earlier Lexus coupe a couple years back), but the engineering and build quality appear to be as good as I saw in the guts of that SC400. The RC-F is fast, good-looking, comfortable, and just impractical enough to give you the air of a midlevel Yakuza attorney.
Murilee Martin’s 1997 Lexus LS400 at Denver Airport
I admit to something of a pro-Lexus bias; my first car was a distant Lexus ancestor, and when I stepped off the plane after the race, I headed to my classic early Lexus LS with Celsior badging and fusa hanging from the rear-view.
Would I buy an RC-F, were I shopping for a new car? No, I’d prefer to spend the extra 10 or so grand for the more VIP-ish LS 460 F Sport.