Does the new Lexus RC F have what it takes to beat the BMW M4 at its own game? crankandpiston.com finds out with a run up our favourite mountain
|Model||Engine||Power||Torque||0-100kph||Top speed||Weight||Basic price|
|BMW M4||Inline 6cyl, M TwinPower Turbo, 2979cc||431bhp @ 5500-7300rpm||406lb ft @ 1850-5500rpm||4.4secs||250kph||1750kg (246bhp/ton)||$118,400|
|Lexus RC F||V8, 4969cc||471bhp @ 7100rpm||389lb ft @ 4800–5600rpm||4.5secs||270kph||1765kg (267bhp/ton)||$84,390|
Since 1986 the BMW M3 has been the performance saloon/coupe of choice for the discerning petrolhead, thanks largely to an addictive cocktail of balance, precision, four/six-cylinder oomph and looks that could charm even the stoniest of hearts. So when BMW unveiled its fifth gen M3 and the almost identical M4 Coupe last year, few doubted both would be brilliant and could easily see off bitte(r) rivals Audi and Mercedes. Such indeed proved the case, if international media reception was anything to go by. Now though, a new contender has stepped up to the plate.
The latest member of Lexus’ F performance trifecta, the new RC F had the BMW M4 in its crosshairs even before the sheets hit the floor in Detroit last January. Targets rarely come harder to hit than M-Division, and despite the reputation built by both the ISF and Ferrari-baiting LFA, many wondered if Lexus had immediately bitten off more than it could chew. On paper at least, the RC F makes a solid case. Sharing the same chassis as the RC coupe on which it is based, the new F is lower, wider and longer than its premium counterpart for improved road holding. The bonnet, roof and active rear spoiler were built with carbon fibre reinforced plastics in an effort to reduce weight, while design cues were taken from the LFA for both the aerodynamically efficient bodywork and the adaptive rear wing: using the same technology as the 552bhp supercar, the spoiler automatically deploys at 80kph to increase downforce. Perhaps most significant though is the 5-litre V8 belted down under the bonnet that sends 471bhp and 391lb ft to the rear wheels, a 12 per cent improvement on the corresponding (and heavier) 416bhp unit found in the ISF thanks to new cylinder heads and a crash diet across the board. What we have in effect is the most powerful V8 performance car the company has ever developed. Don’t let the Molten Pearl orange fool you: with the RC F, Lexus is far from mucking about. Nor for that matter is BMW.
Yes, good spot. Our M4 test mule today is actually the slightly newer cabriolet, there being a slight breakdown in communication with BMW when the drive was booked. We opted to proceed though since our test model is hardly lacking in credentials: Barbie’s Glam Convertible this most assuredly is not. CFRP construction also makes an appearance on the Beemer, as does a lightweight aluminium chassis. Under the bonnet lies the same 3-litre TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder as found in the M3 Saloon, boasting as it does the same 431bhp and 406lb ft figures. Despite the M4 dropping 40bhp to the Lexus, from standstill to the ton the BMW arrives 0.1s faster – 4.4sec to the RC F’s 4.5sec – a result of the M-spec seven-speed double clutch transmission and active differential that have vastly improved traction.
Ahead of this rather epic twin test then, you could colour us all mightily intrigued: could Lexus demonstrate that orange truly is the new black (or in this case, Yas Marina Blue), or would three decades of M3 lineage be enough to keep the M4 Convertible on top? An answer, we decided, would be found on one of the region’s most challenging stretches of mountain-assaulting tarmac: Jebel Jais.
Commuter traffic has not quite hit its peak this morning, but already our Technicolor convoy has started turning heads. As crankandpiston’s resident Beemer nut – and having not yet had the chance to sample M division’s newest coupe – I’ve slotted myself into the M4 for the opening leg of our 180km journey. The monotony of an hour-long highway run may seem an anathema for a 431bhp BMW, but M-Division’s newboy is off to a good start. On the inside it’s typical Bavarian fair with finely manufactured Merino leather upholstery (red, obviously) interlaced with contrast stitching and faux carbon fibre trim. It’s a little garish, and of course wouldn’t be complete without M badges adorning the floor mats, headrests, steering wheel, DCT gear lever and doorsills. I’m being pedantic though, since the cabin is very impressive. True, a slightly less complicated infotainment system would have been nice (the need for both an i-Drive rotary dial and a bastion of buttons seems unnecessary), and fitting two full-sized adults into the rear seats without severing vital limbs might be tricky. The contoured sports seats though prove more adjustable than the most limber of gymnasts, there’s buckets of head and legroom, and the ride comfort from such a stiff chassis borders on witchcraft. It’s with a suitably relaxed (nee smug) expression that I pull over for our first fuel top-up.
The expression doesn’t stay there long though, vanishing along with the contents of my wallet that pays not only for the M4 but the RC F my C&P cohort AJ is piloting. Strangely, he’s also activated ‘smug git’ mode, the effects of not only the RC F powertrain – which we’ll come back to – but also the newboy’s looks. And this leads to a brief argument: while AJ is a big fan of the Lexus’ bulbous hooter, indicator ‘ticks’ and those natty multi-spoke alloys, I’m won over by the established ‘grungy’ look of the Beemer, complete as it is with air-intake festooned front bumper, power dome on the bonnet, and those evil-look headlights. There’s no doubting though that the RC F is a striking car, the sheer amount of iPhone shots being taken of it on the petrol station forecourt emphasising this adroitly. It’s a clear victory then, as voted for by the public: in the opening grudge match, the Lexus has stolen it.
The M4 is not about to wallow in defeat though. Hithero my journey in the BMW has been in Comfort mode, the M4 offering controls to alter the stiffness/ferocity of the chassis, steering, powertrain and gearbox individually as opposed to the four-way drive mode system in the 435i M-Sport that changes everything simultaneously. I’m ready to fire a warning shot, switching everything into Sport Plus for maximum ‘Holy Crap’ effect. It doesn’t take long, a tangible sense of urgency creeping through the throttle and engine pitch and additional weight rolling into the steering. The mountains loom into view, and I gun it.
The power of that TwinPower Turbo technology hits me like a wrecking ball, the gentle(ish) acceleration in Comfort now all but forgotten. At 3000rpm, the turbocharger delivers a punch to the already torquey pull from the six-cylinder. It’s an aggression that doesn’t wain the further up the rev range I climb, and one that’s replicated when I flick the right paddle shifter (which, like the rest of the cabin, is of superb build quality) in the high revs. I’m relieved that, unlike its Germanic rivals, that BMW’s automatic box is not interfering, allowing me to hold the lower gears at higher revs and let that bassy six-cylinder echo against the canyon walls as we climb higher into the mountain range. I slow slightly to allow AJ, caught off-guard by my enthusiastic departure, to catch up before we hit the road’s formidable left and right switchbacks.
Out of the tight corners, the turbo again gives me a slap across the face, though it’s not enough to affect the composure of the M4 mid-corner. No traction control in Sport Plus means the rear wheels are now getting a little feisty as 431bhp escapes to the tarmac. There’s nothing like the aggression exhibited by the turbocharger though, the rear end stepping out on demand, but it’s all very controllable. Feather the throttle and the rear end can be caught easily, thanks in no small part to the grip at the front end which seems to go on forever, even when – as I can feel through the wheel – the surface changes on the tarmac. It’s heavy steering, sure, but there’s very little fight from the tyres, allowing me to place the nose where I want it (and leash the rear wheels as I do so).
One thing that has surprised me is the stiffness of the chassis and the balance the M4 is demonstrating through the turns. This being a convertible, you might reasonably expect a bit of blancmange to creep into the handling. But there’s little in the way of give through the turns, little understeer or bodyroll affecting the change of direction through the increasingly tight and tricky left-rights we’re powering through. Despite the aggressive manner in which the power is delivered, the composure of the BMW makes it extraordinarily easy to drive quickly. Once again, though he’s got 40bhp on me, AJ and the orange spec have started getting smaller in my rear-view mirror.
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