Lexus RC350 F-Sport is fun but has one big drawback

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The Lexus RC350 F Sport has available all-wheel drive, which makes it a little easier to live with.

2018 Lexus RC350 F Sport AWD: Quite a fun little sporty car …

Price: $57,399 as tested. The F Sport package added $3,700 for heated and ventilated sport front seats, blind-spot monitor, and more safety features; moonroof, $1,100; more mentioned throughout.

Marketer’s pitch: “Even more ways to stand out.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “striking exterior, plush ride, spacious front seats” but not the “cramped rear seat, infuriating infotainment touch pad, lackluster acceleration.”

Reality: … with a troubling feature that makes it a nonstarter.

What’s in a name? I thought for sure that the fleet company had made a mistake. I’d already been in a Lexus RC. Oh, well, Mr. Driver’s Seat said to himself, even though it’s a 2017, if it hasn’t changed much I can call it a 2018.

But, lo, this is not the same car at all. I had been in a Lexus RC-F, and this is a Lexus RC350 F Sport. Though they sound the same, this baby is $23,000 cheaper.

Under the hood: Well, here’s the obvious difference. The RC 350 gets Lexus’ 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, where the other one gets a 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8.

Them’s a lot of horses. Real racers will know. But if a guy like me can’t really tell the difference after a week, is it worth the extra money?

Shifty: This RC350 AWD only has a six-speed shiftable automatic mated to the engine, where the RC-F and RC350 RWD get eight gears. Six is actually far more shiftable, though, and one can shift the lever or the paddles.

Neither transmission called attention to itself, which I think is fine. Shifting was delightful, of course.

On the road: The handling in the RC350 was sporty and fun, but a snowy week meant I was limited in how much I could kick it around bare corners and yeehaw through country curves.

Driver’s Seat: Both are equally hard to get into, because the coupés are equally low slung and sporty.

As sporty cars for athletic drivers, neither coupé offered the Lexus “Ahhh” from their seats. Rather than luxurious but supportive, both RCs’ seats are firm and grippy.

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The 2018 Lexus RC350 F Sport differs from the RC-F mainly in the engine size — and in the price.

Friends and stuff: The backseat remains a not-so-terrible place, with some room to move your feet once you’re there. But getting there can be exceptionally challenging.

A console in between the front seats offers plenty of storage for the cars’ size. Cupholders are on the narrow side, though.

Sounds like fun: Lexus makes a killer exhaust note …

Sounds like sadness: … which is good, because the company also makes a stereo that takes the notes from your songs and turns them into tin and crinkle paper. No, it’s not the worst I’ve heard, but the Mark Levinson stereo remains the worst I’ve heard in this price range. The only Toyota product I’ve experienced with a stereo that had sound worth a darn has been the 2018 Highlander.

And this is after paying $2,550 for the privilege of 17 speakers, 835 watts, and surround sound. I have a 10-year-old $35 stereo in my basement with richer sound, and one of the speakers is half-broken.

Finally, the touch-pad controls are simply evil. I’ve tried it before, and I’ve made it work, but it’s just too difficult to use on the fly.

Keeping warm and cool: The RC350’s slider temperature controls also fit in the category of what not to do. They look neat, but they want too much of a driver’s attention.

Blower speed and source are controlled by buttons, which is a step up but still not as clear as simple dials would be.

Night shift: I found the Premium Triple LED headlights ($1,160) worked just fine — not always a given in these days of creative front ends — and the interior lights didn’t interfere with driving.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 21 mpg in a not-so-sporty week of driving. Feed the Lexus premium, natch.

Where it’s built: Tahara, Aichi, Japan.

How it’s built: It gets a Consumer Reports predicted reliability rating of 5 out of 5, as it has in other years tested.

In the end: The RC350 proves that good things can come in less expensive packages, although I wouldn’t call $57,000 a bargain by any stretch. But only buy it if you can drive without tunes; the stereo is too difficult to live with.