Coupe Clash: 2017 BMW 230i & 2017 Lexus RC350 Reviews
Two door coupes are usually discretionary purchases; which one someone drops money on is oft as not based at least partially on style and performance. Their shelf life also tends to be shorter; as Coco Chanel is reputed to have quipped: “Fashion is what goes out of fashion.” This has been hastened by the megashift of buyers of all types to SUVs and crossovers; it now takes a truly exceptional one to hold its ground. While ostensibly a class apart, the BMW 230i and Lexus RC350 are basically battling for the same, shrinking pool of buyers. Which stands the better chance of holding its ground?
BMW 230i xDrive
Consciously harkening back to the classic E30 and earlier BMW coupes, the facelifted 2-series has evolved in a pleasing way, with less amorphous lighting graphics and a good, hunkered down stance over its Track Handling Package’s 18-inch wheels. Despite the stiffened, athletic chassis calibrations, the BMW’s ride is simply superb, never turning harsh, thanks to superbly calibrated adjustable dampers, and the 230i boasts reflexes that would do an E36 or E46 3-series proud. Steering is fast and accurate (if still lifeless), the chassis balanced and biddable. The Track brakes, comprised of uprated, four-pot front calipers and bigger rotors are stout and offer excellent progression. The 2-liter, 248hp turbocharged engine runs strongly, ripping through the auto’s tightly stacked eight ratios on its way to 60mph in 5.3 seconds and getting excellent real-world fuel economy in the process, especially on the highway, where mid-30s mpg was easily achievable. The 230i name reflects a switch to a new family of engines, named B46 in this model, which feels stronger than its rated horsepower and 258lb-ft of torque. Where the 230i falls down is in other daily use stuff; some of the interior moldings seem beneath the hefty price, the iDrive 5.0 system often crashed and wouldn’t reliably work with any Apple device, and it is missing driver aids like radar-based cruise control and blind spot monitors. Finally, it simply doesn’t offer enough performance to compete with many other dynamically superior machines, like the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE and Ford Mustang GT. Who ever would have thought American pony cars would out-handle a vaunted German thoroughbred?
Lexus’ radical styling flourishes reach a new level of audacity on the refreshed RC, with a toothier maw and squintier lights. More scoops and swooping forms have people mistaking it for the all-new LC flagship luxury coupe, but the somewhat ungainly proportions are a hindrance to long-term love. Inside the RC350 cockpit (smaller than the BMW 230i’s in many dimensions), one finds more cohesive styling, terrific quality, a great driving position, seats and instruments. But practicality really suffers, with no good place for a phone and a truly terrible interface for the larger, higher gloss infotainment screen. The chassis acumen of this machine can certainly be compared to the best; the Lexus is flat and composed and has a better steering rack than most—and it rides well, thanks to its adaptive sports suspension. What it also has is too much heft for the otherwise enthusiastic 306hp, 3.5-liter V6. Its unboosted, 277lb-ft of torque doesn’t arrive until high in the RPM band, and cant quite motivate its porcine body in the way we expect of modern sports coupes, meaning the RC350 never really feels fast. This is exacerbated by the 8-speed automatic’s unwillingness—even in sport or manual mode—to swap cogs as quickly as the best trannies from Europe or America. The Infiniti’s Q60 has 300hp and 400hp twin-turbo versions—both of which make the RC350 feel slow—and (subjectively to this observer) more cohesive, yet equally bold styling. And the new Audi A5/S5 has a much better resolved cockpit that is roomier, has significantly better interfaces, and it comes in more practical and arguably better looking, five-door coupe form, as does BMW’s recently refreshed 4-series.
Based on the pace of change in consumer tastes and technology, it is hard to see either the BMW or Lexus holding onto market share. Both are actually really nice driving cars that both have very honed chassis—but that simply may not be enough to keep buyers from flocking to crossovers or more recently released coupe competitors.
EPA ratings: 24/33mpg BMW; 21/26mpg Lexus
0-60mph: 5.3sec BMW; 5.7sec Lexus
Price as tested: $50,070 BMW; $57,198 Lexus
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