© Photo by The Flash List
By now we have all seen the super bowl commercials with the RC 350 remote control car. I like it because it makes the connection between boys and their toys. The problem with adulthood is that we are forced to stop playing with toys and become responsible adults who can't play games anymore (unless you became some sort of toy maker, which most of us didn't).
For us old guys, the RC is the true sport coupe in the linage of the Berlinetta of the 50's or the Ford Mustang fastback of the 1960's with one exception. You can get in it and drive for 7 hours and feel refreshed. The RC 350 is technically classified in the car world as a 'luxury sport coup.' You can have all the fun of the aforementioned vehicles, but with all the comfort and refined style that a Lexus is known for.
If you are a family man, then you probably did the responsible thing by buying a vehicle that shuttles the children to all the different family events safely. But what about when you and your wife want to head out for a long weekend for some fun and adventure, say like watching a world class cliff diving competition or to the coast to watch a sand castle competition? Why not leave the family truckster at home and jump into the second car, which just happens to be a sexy luxury sport coupe.
Anyone Up for Cliff Diving?
That is exactly what my wife and I did. Well, not actually diving off cliffs ourselves; but I did have the opportunity to drive the Lexus RC 350 F Sport for a week, so we decided to take a few days off and head out to West Texas to watch the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Hell's Gate on Possum Kingdom Lake. We had heard that the Olympic-caliber divers put on an amazing show; and with Red Bull as the title sponsor, it was bound to feel like an oversized pool party.
Dive On In
We pulled out from our place on Thursday about lunchtime with the plan of arriving at the lake in time to grab a quick lunch and watch the divers go through their practice dives for the day. It was one of those amazing late May spring days that Texas is known for with light warm winds with a few puffy clouds and blue sky everywhere. It took us about 30 minutes to maneuver our way out of the hectic Dallas traffic and get on Interstate 20 south of Dallas.
We were finally heading west; so once I got to south Fort Worth and could see the traffic was going to flow consistently, I turned the Drive Select Mode knob to Ecomode, set the cruise, adjusted the cockpit to fit my 6'2" frame, and settled in for some fun and relaxation. My wife opened the sunroof to allow the warm spring sun to fill us with some desperately needed vitamin D and then turned on some 2004 Jimmy Buffett Live at Fenway.
We brought the king of the parrot heads along with us because it was that kind of trip, but also so we could try out the highly touted Mark Levinson surround system in the RC. The system is 835 watts of sound refined through a 12-channel digital amp that finishes up through 17 speakers throughout the RC. It was not a standard option with this RC model, but it was an option that I would gladly add if I was buying this car. The richness of sound is well worth the extra couple dollars a month; and at 835 watts, we had no problem hearing some of Buffett's Big 8 even with the sunroof open.
After a nice leisurely trip of about an hour, we arrived at the city of Hudson Oaks where we would leave interstate 20 and pickup U.S. Highway 180. From this point, it was about a 30-minute trip up U.S.180 to Mineral Wells and another 40-45 minutes to the lake. The car was doing really well. The highway mpg's tracked right in on point at about 29 mpg. I'll admit I was getting a little bored though because the car had made the trip so ordinary. It almost felt like driving a Formula One car through a school zone.
At about the time we were pulling into Mineral Wells, we received an email letting us know that, with the potential of rain storms all weekend similar to what the North Texas area had been getting the past few weeks, the promoters had decided to move the dive qualifications up to the afternoon (in a few hours time) and the finals would be Friday instead of Saturday. Because this event was being taped for later broadcast on FS1, the promoters wanted a pad day in case one day was rained out.
So we skipped lunch and hustled westbound out of Mineral Wells on U.S.180. The trip to the lake is about a 40-45 minute drive by highway, but only 15 minutes as the crow flies. As we left town, I closed the sunroof, turned the Drive Select Mode from the 'mild-mannered' Ecomode to 'let's-do-this' Sportmode, and then got up on the wheel. I was no longer interested in saving gas; I was about making time. I would finally get to see what this RC 350 F Sport could do. Cue the music from Iron Eagle.
When U.S. Highway 180 was built, it was designed to be one of the main roads you drove west out of North Texas. It's not quite as famous as Route 66, which 180 does connect up with somewhere in Arizona, but it's surely not chopped liver either. It will lead you to some pretty great places like Carlsbad Canyons in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, if you care to follow it that far.
This part of U.S. 180, which is in the Palo Pinto Mountains, was not cut straight through the landscape like an interstate. It will meander left for a while then back to the right. It will go straight as an arrow for a while and then slightly rise while sweeping around some ranchland properties full of bluebonnets, wild grasses, and even a few scraggly mesquite trees that are hemmed in with old rusty barb wire fences that had cut tree branches for posts.
You then will find yourself climbing up, up, up between two mountainous jagged rock formations that are only wide enough for two lanes with a sliver of a shoulder on each side. When you finally reach the summit of one of these straight-up climbs, you are rewarded with a horizon-line view that could make you think maybe the earth just might be flat.
Of course, you can't enjoy the view too much because you have to head back down. Sometimes you would dive straight back down to the earth's floor and other times you would wind back down with sweeping blind corners and hills that, when timed correctly, would make your stomach tickle.
The RC did not disappoint at all. I had a pretty wide grin that was not going away anytime soon. I felt very confident and safe settled into my cockpit with everything at my finger tips including my paddle shifters. The car was on a rail because the suspension is tuned to hug corners; and with the added feature of rear wheel steering, I was pretty sure all 19" of tire was gripping tight through any corner I came upon.
The best way to describe what it felt like is to imagine being on a roller coaster for about 25 minutes straight (minus the headache-inducing g-forces). It was so much fun that I was ready to turn around and do it again, but we had a world-class cliff diving competition to attend.
One Last Leg
The final 10 miles of the trip would be on legendary Texas Highway 16. It was proposed back in 1917 and was designed as one of the major north/south highways of Texas. It is 542 miles long from end to end; and fortunately or unfortunately depending on your view, I only needed to drive 10 miles of it.
As much as U.S. 180 is a roller coaster ride, Highway 16 is pretty much a straight-line road with a few elevation rises that make you think you are going to take off. This is where I could feel how stable and straight-as-an-arrow smooth the RC is. I was doing 75 mph on a Texas Highway asphalt road, which is considerably different than doing 75 mph on a concrete Interstate highway, but it felt like I was doing 30mph. It was almost scary smooth. *Disclaimer: There were no speeding laws broken anytime during this drive through the hill country I'm sorry to report. I am happy to report I had to make that drive three more times. If I owned an RC, I would like to buy property out there just so I could make the commute twice a day.
Fortunately for the event, the storms never materialized during the day; so the divers, both male and female, had great weather for the competition. Overall, the cliff diving event was a perfect 10. For anyone interested in something a little different, this event is worth the drive out there. To see the competition you will need a boat though and any boat will do. We saw pontoons, ski boats, and bass boats as well as big yachts.
If you don't have a boat, beg or borrow a friend's to be there next year.
We met a lot of great people from competitors to judges which included Gold Medal Olympian Greg Louganis.
Oh by the way, some crazy storms did come later that night, so we protected the vehicle in this car wash.
Unexpected Full Twist
Because the diving event was moved up and finished on Friday afternoon instead of Saturday afternoon, we gained an extra weekend day for more fun!
Each year, the AIA sandcastle competition is held at East Beach in Galveston, Texas. There are roughly 60 architectural firms from the Houston area that come together to design and build sandcastles for mostly bragging rights for the year. It's a great event with music, food, and libations; and the proceeds go to charity.
This year, the sandcastle competition happened to be the same weekend as the cliff diving event, so we had originally been forced to decide which event we would attend. We ended up choosing the cliff diving event because we had been to the Galveston event several times in the past and we were interested in a new adventure. But as it turned out, we didn't have to choose between the two since the cliff diving finished up a day early.
Surprise It's Raining Again
While we slept on Friday night, another storm rolled through Mineral Wells and was just coming to an end as we were waking up. To make the almost-six hour trip to Galveston possible, we had to be up really early so we could swing by our place in Dallas. We had to unpack our current clothes and repack beach clothes as well as clothes for our favorite dinner spot in Galveston.
Before we left, I turned on the hotel TV, found a news station out of Dallas, and could see that we would be chasing the storm back to Dallas and eventually catching up with it. The good news is that the storm was moving west to east and not north and south; so when we made the turn to go south to Houston, we would eventually drive out of the rain.
We quickly got ready and headed downstairs to grab a quick bite and were pleasantly surprised by the wonderful breakfast spread the Best Western was providing for their guests. It was the cherry on top of the great service we had received the two days we were there. The staff really went above and beyond to make sure we had a great stay; and because of their Texas hospitability, we will be staying there again when we are out in that area.
It's 370 miles to Galveston
So, in the style of The Blues Brothers who said,
We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses, we decided to
The trip is what you might expect it to be when you're chasing a rain storm that had been busy for roughly five hours before you got up. The roads, grounds, and creeks were soaked, saturated, and full. There was also a chill in the air that made you think it was a late fall day instead of a late spring day (and it didn't help that it was still dark out).
We jumped into the RC, and the first thing we did was turn on the seat warmers and then the heater. Before we knew it, the car was warm and toasty and the wrap-around seats allowed us to keep a lot of the body heat that was created from the seat warmers. Just before we pulled out, I made sure the traction control switch was on, then set the Drive Select Mode for Ecoboost for less torque and better traction, and away we went.
I'm glad we were able to drive home in these conditions because it allowed me to appreciate how well balanced the RC is in all weather conditions. It is easy to say it runs straight as an arrow on dry straight surfaces, but I can now say it runs just as straight in some pretty sloppy conditions. I was on a rail again, but this time it was the log ride instead of a roller coaster. We got back to Dallas in about 90 minutes (same as the trip out there), so the heavy rain made no difference to the car whatsoever.
Outrun the Rain
We repacked and reloaded the car in less than 30 minutes and then stopped by the gas station to top off the gas tank before we left Dallas. I wanted to clear the travel computer so I could get a true interstate mpg number since we would be traveling for almost 5 hours.
It took us almost two hours to get beyond the rain; but as we rolled into Corsicana, the rain was letting up and we could see some blue sky off in the distance in front of us. By the time we stopped at Buc-ee's in Madisonville, we knew it was going to be another sunny spring day worthy of rolling open the sunroof. I snapped a few pictures of the car, grabbed a drink and some cashews, and we were off and running again.
A stop at Buc-ee's in Madisonville.
Texas Coast Here We Come
As we were approaching Conroe just outside Houston, I thought it would be a great time to check on the gas mileage before I got into the Houston traffic. It was 29 mpg again which I thought was great because I was running a tick or two above the speed limit most of the time ... nothing reckless, but just fast enough to consistently change the vehicle scenery around me.
I believe the reason for good gas mileage has to be the 8-speed transmission. It is the hidden secret on this car. It will give you the all the speed and torque when you want it and then settle back into an almost-standby mode while you just go back to cruising down the highway. Flip it to Sport and it smoothly jumps up, switch it back to Eco and it will get you every last drop of gas it can.
The V6 in this model is very capable. I felt very confident with the RC's ability to produce more than enough speed for any situation I found myself in. When I needed a great launch to get on the interstate, I flipped the mode from normal to sport, got the job done, and then turned it back to eco or normal and went about my business. It is naturally-aspirated and has a 24-valve dual overhead cam with direct port injection. It creates 306 horsepower naturally which means there is no unnecessary stress on parts. That is why the car is reliable and durable and will have a great resale value.
We arrived in Galveston a little after 2:00 pm; and instead of exiting at 61st Street to drive Seawall Boulevard as per our usual, we stayed on Broadway and drove the length of the island before stopping at Stewart beach.
The AIA SandCastle Competition is a popular fund-raising event for AIA Houston and ArCH Foundation as well. It is one of the top five revenue-generating events for the City of Galveston; so as sandcastle spectator veterans, we knew it would be hard to find a parking spot at East Beach at 2:00 in the afternoon. We ended up paying $10.00 for a remote parking space and then walked roughly 2.5 miles along the beach that leads to East beach. When we finally arrived at the competition, we could see that most of the parking lot was swamped under water from the spring rains. That's why if you do decide to visit this event, pack your beach umbrellas and plan on arriving at 10:00 am to make a day of it.
The event was a great as usual. There were thousands of spectators with cameras and Gopros walking end to end watching the builders do their best to conquer the slowly-drying sand. To get a sense of what the event is like click here to see pictures we shot a few years ago.
The AIA SandCastle Competition is held annually in Galveston, Texas.
After a few hours on the beach, we slowly worked our way back to the car. One of the big benefits of parking at Stewart Beach is that they have public restrooms and shower facilities which allow you to freshen up after your day at the beach. As I was walking to the RC across the hard packed sandy parking lot, I noticed other people looking at the car again. If I had a dollar for every time someone slowed down to look at or comment about the car that weekend, I could have eaten my dinner for free.
Off to Our Hotel
We were then off to our hotel which was a short seven-minute trip from the beach across the island to the downtown area. We were staying one night at the Wyndham-owned, European-styled Tremont House in the heart of the Historic Strand District. The hotel dates back to 1839 when the city of Galveston was first founded, and it was considered to be the grandest hotel in the Republic of Texas at the time. We pulled up to the hotel valet stand which was located right on Mechanic Street, and we could see that there was some commotion among the valet guys. I have had enough cars valet parked over the years to know exactly what was going on. The 20-something-year-old guys were bartering/arguing about who was going to park the RC.
The guy who won the debate came over, and his first words were,
What is this car? He then proceeded to tell me that there was a Corvette Club convention staying at the hotel and that the RC 350 F was easily in the top 10, if not top 5, cars of the hundreds of cars they had parked that weekend. I casually wrote my mileage down before heading into the hotel to check in. I'm no fool ... I've seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off once or twice.
We walked into the hotel, and the place was absolutely stunning with a 1920's speakeasy vibe to it. The bar was immediately accessible; and because it was almost six o'clock, there was a jazz band was playing for the happy hour guests. They gave us the key to our room, and off we went to find the elevator so we could shower and head back out to our favorite place to eat at in Galveston. We got on the elevator; and since it is glass, so we could see the amazing hotel as we rode up to our floor. We opened the door to our room to find a mixture of old-world high ceilings, decorative crown molding, and beautiful wood floors alongside new contemporary lighting and fixtures. It had a comfortable refinement to it.
After getting dressed for dinner, I called down to have the valet bring the car back around. As we waited for the car to arrive, the other valet guys remembered us from earlier and wanted to talk about the car. I asked them what it was about the car that had caught their attention, and they said it was the body lines and the how the overall profile of the car not is too low but rather almost at muscle car height.
We drove over to Gaido's, an iconic island restaurant that has been around for over 100 years. It's a great place to go when dressed up for dinner after a vacation day on the beach (think Kellerman's in the Catskills from Dirty Dancing). The atmosphere is very relaxed and adult, but not stuffy. You'll likely hear laughter and plenty of lively conversation going on, as everyone seems to be talking about the great day they had or will have the next day. The best way to experience a wonderful night at Gaido's is by having a before dinner drink, a four-course meal, and then an after dinner drink. The great food, fresh and cooked to perfection, is why they have stayed open for over 100 years. They still take reservations each weekend night, and I would highly recommend getting one unless you don't mind waiting an hour for a table. It's always the first thing we do when we get on the island.
I'm not sure how many times I can say that the RC 350 F Sport is a really comfortable and fun car to drive. I am 6'2" with a lot of that length in my legs; so when I climb into a car, I need a lot of room under the steering wheel. This cockpit design gives me that. The foundation to the cockpit design is the sport-styled seat with its high side hugging bolsters. The seat only adjusts ten ways, but I learned something about seats with this car. If the seat has a great foundation to start, then the number of adjustments that you need to make it comfortable can be minimal. I spent thirteen hours over four days in the car, and not once did I get a backache. And for me, that is rare. I always felt refreshed when I arrived at whatever stop we made whether long or short trips.
The Lexus RC350 F Sport a great-looking luxury sports coupe that will give you an inspired driving experience without breaking the bank.
Surprisingly, I drove the Lexus RC 350 F Sport a total of 874 miles and sat in the driver seat for a total of 13 hours over 4 days. I drove the RC through the mountainous Texas regions with numerous elevation changes all the way down to hard-packed sand at the beach. I drove the RC in perfect bluebird conditions and in heavy rain storms that had most drivers running their flashers and pulling over. I drove it on short trips less than 2 hours and a road trip of almost 5 hours.
I could not have asked for any more from this car during those four days. I probably put the RC through more diverse situations than probably 80% of the people that will buy an RC. For the majority of Lexus owners, the 308 horsepower will be plenty; and the handling (specifically the rear end) tracks with the front end to provide confidence in all cornering situations.
The body styling of the 350 is bold, sporty, and aerodynamically styled. It attracted attention everywhere I went. Guys would come up and ask
What is it? or
Is it new? and then some form of compliment would follow like
It looks great, or
I really like the grill, or
What kind of horsepower does it have? If you're looking for a great-looking luxury sports coupe that will give you an inspired driving experience without breaking the bank, go drive a RC350 F Sport and see for yourself. I'm pretty sure it will not leave you wishing for more.
The test model driven on this trip retails for $54,220. That includes the extra options for the F-Sport package, a high-end Mark Levinson audio system with seventeen-speaker surround sound, and a variable gear ratio steering system. This car at base is $42,790; and either price is a great deal considering you will be buying a sport luxury coupe for roughly $50,000 with a great resale value because it is a Lexus.
So do yourself a favor and go drive one.
US News and World Report: Number 1 upscale small car
Kelley Blue Book: 2015 Best resale value award: Entry-Level Luxury Car
IntelliChoice: SmartChoice Repair costs award winner in Premium Sporty/Coupe class
IIHS safety awards: 2015 Top safety Pick
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