Kiawah Island, South Carolina- Time once again for this Midwesterner and loyal 'Plus One' to venture south for a week of Rest and Relaxation within the confines of the Charleston, South Carolina Metro area generally and Kiawah Island specifically, a tropical-ish barrier Island southeast of the peninsula's city center.
This fall of 2020 vacation stop included a built-in social distancing theme and annual reconnection with local fauna favorites including a cadre of shore birds, alligators lollygagging in lagoons and a burst of colorful, migrating butterflies. Once again, the fine folks at Lexus supplied the wheels for time well spent basking in Carolina's low country.
Not sure what was expected during a prolonged Corona virus outbreak, but tourist-friendly businesses and notably restaurants observed recommended safety protocols delivering a comforting atmosphere for Covid weary out-of-staters seeking solace.
Winding roads within Kiawah Island combined with long stretches of narrow two-lane straight-a-ways on neighboring John's Island flanked eversoclose by century's old oak trees draped with Spanish moss provided an ample testing ground. It only takes one minor transgression to veer off course, finding oneself face-to-face with stately oaks. Our tester's responsive handling combined with poised body control played an outsized role within this driving environment.
Helping navigate this picturesque course, a luxurious, 2020 Lexus RC 350, a proud member of the first-generation RC (think Responsive Coupe) family introduced in the 2015 model year built upon an ultra-stiff platform enhancing greatly appreciated sharp handling.
Four RC trims each carry forward their own strengths; the RC 300 includes a rather tepid four-cylinder turbo (241 horsepower) standard in rear-wheel drive set ups; RC 350 ups the ante with a recommended naturally aspirated (non turbo) V-6 while the returning power champ tops out with the RC F and its naturally-aspirated, 5.0-liter 472 horsepower (up five from 2019) V-8. The all-wheel drive RC 300 offers the 3.5-liter V-6 engine optional, while delivering a slightly horsepower than the RC 350.
In 2020, RC-F adds a low-volume 'Track Edition' boasting carbon-fiber body ware, specialized interior trim and can't miss exterior spoiler. Both the RC 300 and 350 offer the choice of rear or all-wheel drive with the RC-F exclusively dealing rear drive.
While Lexus and parental unit Toyota continue as gas-electric hybrid sales champs, no gas-electric version yet adorns RC. However, Lexus' other coupe, the larger LC introduced in 2018, does offer a gas-electric hybrid (the non-plug-in version) marketed as the LC 500h which also comes as a convertible.
The ultra-peppy RC-F got tested earlier this calendar year upon the streets of suburban Chicago. This off-sight report highlights assets of the RC 350.Combined U.S sales of all RCs in the 2019 calendar year reached 4,591, up from 2018's 3,358.
Changes from 2019 for the RC 300 and RC 350 remain scarce save for the premium Mark Levinson sound system now available as a stand-alone option. The 2020 edition remains part of the Generation One body structure debuting five years ago.
It's also of use to differentiate between the RC's lettered trim level and similar-sounding option package. The RC F trim represents the V-8 powered selection. The 'F Sport option package,' available in both RC 300 and RC 350 volume trims, includes such upgrades as bolstered front heated and ventilated bucket seats, additional drive modes, a trunk-located first aid kit, split five-spoke alloy wheels and adoptive variable suspension.
Safety nuances standard in all RCs (and part of the Lexus Safety System) include a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, self-activating high-beam headlights, and radar cruise control. When opting for the the F Sport option package add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts, two radar-enhances safety nuances highly recommended and easily integrated into daily driving.
In front, the strikingly eye-appealing RC 350's long hood leads eyes to the black, can't miss Spindle Grille, a Lexus identifier gracing all family members. It's a truncated hourglass, cinched in the mid-drift with the circular Lexus logo front and center flanked by edgy, boomerang-style daytime running lights. High side character lines combine with narrow static side windows. A large rear window contrasts with a small deck lid. The exterior has aged well during the past half-decade.
Size-wise, all RCs frame as a sizeable compact coupe. Weighty side doors, with strap-like exterior grab bands, swing out wide, allowing access into the teeny tiny two-bucket seat second row once the front bucket seats slowly power forward and seatbacks manually tilt forward. Don't expect palatial accommodations as any semblance of leg room necessitates serious negotiating with front bucket occupants. It's best left for show or four-legged pet transport.
Our RC 350's ride through barrier islands gravitated towards a comfortable, composed end; absorbing bumps and road imperfections with ease; great when vacationing, but could be a point of contention for enthusiasts insisting upon greater road feedback. Our rear-drive RC 350 included a 54/46 front-to-rear weight distribution not quite the pinnacle 50/50 split, but better balanced (resulting in better handling) than front-drive coupes.
Kiawah Island, a noted golf mecca, is readying for the September 2021 PGA Championship, although the RC 350's relatively diminutive 10.4 cubic foot trunk is hard pressed to accommodate more than one hearty PGA-sized golf bag. Its gas tank, however, is of ample size swallowing 17.4 gallons of required 91-octane premium fuel.
Both our rear-drive RC 350 and the rear-drive four-cylinder RC 300 connect up with an eight-speed automatic transmission (with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters). Both all-wheel drive variants include a six-speed automatic with manual transmission a distant memory. Our V-6 tester delivered nothing-to-write-home about fuel economy estimates of 20 miles per gallon city and 28 highway. It's not the most potent of its class, but gleefully gets the job done. As with many Lexus powertrains, this V-6 provides quiet elegance with little audible engine feedback seeping into the cabin.
A 2020 rear-wheel RC 300 starts at $41,295 with pricing quickly ascending upward. Our V-6 Kiawah Island 350 tester started at $49,295 with standard rear wheel drive and a bottom line of $58,615 after a $1,025 destination charge, F Sport option package, $2,725 upgraded navigation/sound system and a spotting of other goodies. The lower-volume RC F V-8 started at $64,750 before extras, and reach close to $90,000 smackers when opting for the multitude of extras.
Inside, an electronic push-start circular button gets positioned up high on the dashboard and conveniently away from any steering wheel interference. The center dash anchors via an old-school, distinguished analog clock flanked by two horizontal vents. Gold-stitching adorned our tester's doors, steering wheel and center console with gold piping vertically framing the multi-adjustable and supportive seats.
Ventilation system controls below include two rows of smallish rectangle push buttons monitoring fan speed, direction, A/C and assorted defrosting options. Dual zone temperature settings monitor from thin, touch-sensitive vertical tube sensors flanking the buttons.
Above the circular Roman numeral clock is an optional 10.3-inch multi-function screen (upgraded from the seven-inch size) set deep back into a cove-like setting. Smartly, two twist dials near HVAC buttons control volume and station select.
Un-smartly, remaining interaction depends upon the 'Lexus Enform Infotainment System,' and its wonky flat remote touchpad between the front buckets, necessitating a steady skating fingertip to activate the far away screen curser, requiring too much driver focus. Allow plenty of practice time for proficiency with this and optional in-screen navigation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone compatibility comes standard, allowing stored, downloaded applications to play through the flat screen, relieving some frustration unearthed when dealing with the Lexus Enform Infotainment interface.
Between enveloping front buckets is a chrome dial for selecting six drive modes. The available snow mode works fine if stranded in the upper Midwest, but when stationed in a sub-tropical climate, remains a distant memory. An analog speedometer resides to the right with a top speed exceeding 200 miles per hour.
2020 Lexus RC 350
Price as Tested: $58,615
Engine: 3.5-liter, naturally-aspirated V-6
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Overall Length: 185 inches
Overall Width: 72.4 inches
Overall Height: 54.9 inches
Fuel economy: 20 mpg/28 mpg
Curb weight: 3,748 pounds