|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|
At the top, I climb out and wait for m’learned colleague to arrive. He’s amused by my broad smile and now very keen to try the BMW himself because, frankly, he’s a little disappointed with the Lexus. As an established drifter in his native Jordan, AJ is frustrated that the overprotective nature of the traction control has stopped him getting overly lairy on the run up the hill in the RC F. I begrudgingly hand over the M4 key, and quickly decide to take point on the way back down the mountain in the RC F.
The cabin design in the Lexus is much more ‘driver focused’, with instruments angled towards the drivers seat and a much higher centre console designed to create separate pods for both driver and passenger. The ‘step’ dashboard design is pretty cool, but there’s much less room than in the M4 (regardless of removable roof) and I’m already feeling quite claustrophobic. You could argue that practicality in an ‘F’ is hardly a priority – the spare wheel taking up the entire boot rather confirms that – but even so, the driver’s seat mounted even a few centimetres lower would make a big difference.
What does surprise is the almost sedate manner in which the Lexus power unit fires into life. From the most powerful V8 performance car the company has ever developed, I had expected fire, brimstone and the route of all evil to escape the bonnet. It’s only as we begin our drive back down the hill though that it comes alive: hold a gear past the 4000rpm mark, and the V8 roar comes through with renewed vengeance and furious anger, a deep-throated grumble becoming much sharper and higher-pitched. It sounds spectacular.
The opening cruise is done in Comfort mode to get myself quickly acquainted, bringing as it does the refinement and excellent ride quality (despite the stiff chassis) as expected of a Lexus saloon. The RC F already has kudos to regain though, so I twist the drive mode rotary dial to activate Sport. The rumbling V8 chorus doesn’t rouse, nor does feel through the steering wheel get any weightier, and as a result, neither raises the blood pressure in the way I’d expected. With such a build up, the RC F is in danger of being an anti-climax.
Before I can get too worked up though, a message arrives over the radio from the BMW: “Guys, do I have a puncture?” The M4 pulls to a halt, the driver’s side front completely flat. Efforts to pump the tyre back up prove fruitless, air pissing out almost as quickly. Having established that neither the spare for the Lexus nor The Management Fleet A8 fit, the Audi is sent to get the errant tyre repaired. As it turns out, the tyre – after multiple test drives – is almost completely knackered, and has actually rolled off the rim entirely under heavy cornering. This does give me some time to kill, and rather than abruptly end our time with the Lexus in this way, the M4 is parked up and I head out for a thrash.
The energy I had been expecting from the 471bhp RC F still doesn’t quite materialise in Sport mode. The guttural mid-range soundtrack is proving (if possible) even better than the BMW’s across the canyon walls and there’s feisty pick-up from the V8 from the get-go. But it still doesn’t feel that fast compared to the M4, even when I opt for full fat Sport Plus mode. I had expected more energy, more sense of drama from Lexus’ V8, and while the speedometer tells me I’m picking up speed at a vast rate of knots, the sensation from the driver’s seat doesn’t quite give the same feeling. It’s a similar situation with the steering, which although supple, doesn’t offer the weight or feedback I was hoping for. Grip at the front end is very impressive, but I just don’t feel as connected to the front wheels as I’d like.
It’s as I start hitting the long sweeping turns though that the Lexus begins to show its party piece, namely the chassis underneath the funky bodywork. Beautifully balanced, there’s rarely a hint of body roll to trouble my momentum through the corners, grip from the front tyres (regardless of whether I can feel it or not) encouraging me to skim concrete barriers with what feels like only millimetres to spare, before opening up the throttle and lining the nose up for the next turn. For a car that looks so imposing from the outside, the precision in the Lexus is remarkable, aided immeasurably by swift changes through the eight-speed automatic gearbox, although every so often I’m denied a gear change when I need it.
Another thing that’s starting to grate is the traction control, which does not deactivate entirely in Sport Plus. Lean heavily on the front end into and out of some of the tighter corners and the system is already trying to catch the rears, stunting momentum as a result. I toy with the idea of switching the traction control off entirely to inject a little more energy as the V8 soundtrack is so wonderfully encouraging. The word ‘Expert’ flashes across the driver information screen as I do, an unexpected – but no less welcome – ego boost. The RC F obviously knows I’m not that expert though, since there’s still an underlying threat of nannying and, much like the steering, I do wonder exactly how much of this drive is being done by the driver assistance systems rather than myself. A thought that had not occurred in the BMW. It’s at mid-range rumble then (gotta love that sound) that I complete my run and head back to discuss the day’s takings with AJ, the three-legged M4 still looking a forlorn sight.
Despite our grievances with the RC F, we are both impressed. Electronic nannying proves irksome as does a seating position that could/should be lower, and I do think the Lexus is missing some joie de vivre, despite the orange paint. On the move though and in the high revs (providing the transmission lets you hold onto them), there’s a formidable soundtrack that seems to amplify the RC F’s balance and poise through the turns. That we had both anticipated some more lairiness shouldn’t take away from the fact that through the corners, the RC F is a beast. A few niggles to tweak and the RC F could prove a serious contender.
For my money though – despite it effectively leaving us marooned – the BMW M4 Convertible is today’s winner. Offering oomph in almost hilarious quantity as well as beautiful balance through the turns, a soupçon of lairiness from the rear end and barely any lean or understeer to ruin momentum, it’s a testament to not only BMW’s M-Division but the sector as a whole. The RC F may have fired a warning shot, but there’s still a long way to go.
- Technical specifications available on page 3