It’s always interesting to see where the next trip takes you.
On more than a few occasions, car companies pick foreign drive locations that are not on the radar of the usual tourist crowd.
Some venues are so remote it takes hours by road to reach the next town or city.
Unless well-travelled or well informed, most people are unlikely to have heard of Le Touquet, Whistler or Spartanburg.
For the organisers, such off-the-beaten sites suit them just fine – all the better to minimise distractions and ensure the journos focus on the job at hand – drive and write about the car of the hour.
In between, there’s always time rostered for interviews with engineers/designers and a little R & R to lighten the mood.
This is where White Plains comes in. It sounds like a dusty old town in the US Midwest but it’s not. It lays claim to fame as the birthplace of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Located in northern New York state and 50km north of New York City, it was the staging ground for the international media drive of the RC coupe, Lexus latest sports car heading to Malaysia in November.
It was the tail end of summer earlier this month when we were presented with the RC and its more testosterone-charged sibling, the RC F.
The RC gets a 3.5-litre V6 engine while the RC F has a 5.0-litre V8 howler. As tradition goes, both are two-door coupes, and the mills are naturally aspirated.
Old school they are; Lexus is not joining the turbocharging frenzy in this category. At least for now.
Local Toyota/Lexus distributor UMW Toyota Motor has announced earlier this month that the RC (in Luxury trim) and RC F would be introduced at a gobsmacking RM540K and RM800K respectively.
For sportier effect, a Carbon package is a RM71,000 option for the RC F, which lightens the 1,780kg car by 10kg through the use of carbon fibre on the bonnet, roof and active rear spoiler.
Not on the import list are the hybrid and RC in F Sport guise.
So what else do you get for paying big bucks on a niche Lexus toy?
Lexus talks a lot about emotional appeal; with the RC and RC F, it all starts with an appearance that excites.
Both cars are certainly visually expressive. They have to be.
You see, Lexus expects the RC to attract the next generation of luxury buyers and those new to the brand, being engineered as a stand-alone model, rather than as a two-door derivative of a sedan.
An oversized spindle grille, wide stance, short wheelbase and large diameter tyres come together to surprise – in a good way.
The RC grille is the lowest and widest application yet of the design feature. Like the LED head lamps, the LED rear combination lamps adopt the Lexus L-shape motif.
Extended fender flares give the coupe a grounded look.
“Design is the very lifeblood of the RC so we set about implementing the production technology required to build the RC,” said its chief engineer, Eiichi Kusama.
The RC F adds greater depth to the RC line, being positioned as a car you could easily drive on the road and ready for track play at a moment’s notice.
It runs on wider tyres and its body enhancements such as an active rear wing, air scoops, cooling ducts and carbon fibre parts are all linked to functional performance.
Lexus RC’s chassis is unique as it is based on the GS (front), ISC convertible (centre) and IS (rear).
Having driven a number of premium German cars in this class, we found the RC/RC F interior to be refreshingly different.
The dash is easy to like, and that analogue clock lends retro elegance to the cabin.
Sports seats in the 2+2 coupe provide excellent accommodation for driver and front passenger. But rear seat occupants will have cause to complain if they are more than average build.
As the RC and RC F are not hardcore sports cars, seats are not as low as some would like it. Boot space is fairly decent with storage for two golfbags.
The drive started from the hotel at White Plains and ended at the Monticello Motor Club, which has a private track for the cars to be put through their paces.
We drove pre-production models, which Lexus said were close to the real McCoy save for minor details yet to be ironed out.
“The RC F is intended as a car to enable drivers of all skill levels to enjoy fun-to-drive performance,” said RC F chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi, adding that the car was designed to be a joy to drive on public roads as much as on the track.
“With the LFA no longer in production, the RC F will become the new F image leader,” Yaguchi said.
An electronically enhanced driveline based on Lexus’ Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) enable amateur drivers to get closer to limits previously achieved only by trained professionals.
The same systems is said to generate even greater levels of safety on the open road.
The route to Monticello, 90 mins from Manhattan, had its share of smooth roads and poorly surfaced roads, so there was about 140km of asphalt for both cars to introduce themselves.
The 6.6km of private track that followed was an occasion for them to let loose and give a better account of their abilities.
Both cars come across as easy to drive, displaying the luxurious refinements that Lexus is noted for while showing varying degrees of sporting character.
Straight-line stability was excellent, and the V6 RC was in its element as a cruiser on a winding open road, with a pliant suspension that filters out nasty vibes.
Power to the rear wheels was delivered smoothly and linearly with an agreeable growl to it, thanks to an intake sound generator that revs up sonic appeal under acceleration.
With a bellow and a bark to announce its big heart, the V8 RC F is just as civil at cruising speeds.
But underneath those contours and wind-cheating surfaces is a muscle-bound car that is waiting to be uncaged.
Throttle response is eager in Sport mode. Lower the right foot and the quiet car changes up and with a throaty roar pulls away from traffic faster than you can say, “Uh-oh, the cops are on my tail.” (one team incidentally got a US$450 or RM1,400 ticket from the state troopers for speeding in the RC F.)
The journey is fine until the tyres connect with patchy stretches; the RC F’s much harder suspension makes the ride not as comfortable as the RC’s.
There’s a measure of truth that the RC F - the car that has allusions to trackside fun – does deliver the thrills up to a point. But it’s undercut by its weight, which makes it feel less nimble than its German rivals.
Still for those who have never tried the more agile, faster and lighter BMW M4, they could have a barrel of fun in the RC F.
Speeding through corners, the optional torque vectoring differential keeps oversteer in check, adding a safety cache if one is overexuberant and misjudge a cornering line.
In this nook, the Germans rule the roost and it would take a pretty strong upstart to rock the boat.
The RC/RC F will probably appeal to a broader audience as Lexus has envisaged. If that pans out for Lexus, it’s mission accomplished.