Life Goals & A Lexus RC F
I don't really consider myself to have a set path in life. So far following my passions and nurturing good relationships has brought me happiness and generated some truly great opportunities. I do have two goals that have remained pretty consistent though: to see as much of the world as I can, and to drive as many different cars as possible.
Earlier in the month I found myself on a plane heading from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania to both cover the 2014 Targa Tasmania and put some test kilometres on the new Lexus RC F. Being a chronic over-thinker, I spent most of the flight scheming and stressing over how to get the most from the jam-packed four day schedule. It was far too early for a calming scotch, so I instead drank in the early morning view as the plane descended towards our destination.
Coming in low over the Eastern coastline on our final approach to Hobart Airport it was hard not to get excited about the days ahead and the experiences yet to be had. Exploring a new corner of this beautiful country in a 470hp V8 - actually, does it get any better?
Lexus Australia had kindly left the car at the airport for me to collect. After withstanding the valet attendant's barrage of questions relating to its value and power output, and convincing him that I was, in fact, the person intended to collect it, I tossed my gear in the trunk, settled into the red leather driver's seat and set the GPS for Hobart's town centre.
Initial impressions of the RC F were good - there was the typical Lexus quality to all surfaces and componentry, and the seating position was easily adjusted to to my slightly taller-than-average frame. Styling is subjective of course, but the understated aggression of the coupe was further accented by a metallic grey exterior that would allow the Lexus to blend in to the crowd when necessary. On closer inspection, muscular creases in the bodywork and digital details are revealed that people are sure to either love for their unique Japanese flavour or deplore for their brutal modernism.
I'd read all the reviews (including Dino's from earlier in the year) and driven an RC350 loan car a few weeks prior, and as a result my expectations were fairly well set. Cruising around the quiet streets of Hobart I could've been in an RC350 as the visual similarities are strong and the car exhibits a very subdued personality at city speeds.
What myself and my co-driver were really keen to do was cover some serious kilometres, because between picking up the Lexus at 8:00am and checking into the hotel in Launceston at night our schedule was completely free!
/>By the accounts of friends who had previously visited 'The Apple Isle', the highway from Hobart to Launceston is an efficient and fairly scenic route. But efficient travel was not what we were here for. No, for us it was time to get off the beaten track and find some real driving roads!
I firmly believe the best way to see Australia is by car and Tasmania is no exception. I've been gradually sampling Australia's great drives over the past few years and was pretty excited to be ticking another one off the list in the name of 'work'. Even beyond the obvious pleasure of driving for us car enthusiasts, traveling by car allows you the freedom to discover places far from where any train station or tour bus would ever pass. If something catches your eye down a dirt road there's absolutely nothing to stop you from chasing the rabbit down the hole and seeing what you find.
The island state of Tasmania sits 240km south of the Australian mainland across the infamously treacherous Bass Strait. Despite being Australia's smallest state, 'Tassie' as it's affectionately known, is actually the 26th largest island in the world and is surrounded by over 300 significantly smaller islands. Almost 45 per cent of the state is made up of national parks and world heritage sites which makes it a beacon for mainlanders and tourists from farther abroad looking for an escape from the big smoke.
In our four days of driving we traced out a route covering about half the state and exposing us to ever-changing scenery rushing past the car window. Windows XP wallpaper-esque grassy slopes would give way to lush, damp temperate rainforests in a matter of hours.
With two keen photographers on board we were constantly on the lookout for interesting spots to snap photos, with the RC F proving to be an obliging and continuously interesting photo subject. It got to the point where we'd consciously have to stop ourselves from stopping - there was driving to be done and that abandoned petrol station or scenic lookout would have to wait.
The Road Less Travelled
A sight we definitely didn't stop for was this little yellow sign on the shoulder of the road - a warning to most but a shining beacon to any of us Speedhunting folk!
Wherever you are in Tassie, you don't need to look far for these stunning stretches of tarmac that were surely built for the sole purpose of entertaining drivers and riders. In fact, merely hours into our first day I had already proclaimed with great confidence "that's the best road I've ever driven" after climbing one particular back road that snaked its way from valley floor to ridge-top in spectacular fashion.
Before that day was done I had to renew my statement once more after discovering a heavenly sequence of cambered hairpins just south of Launceston, then once more on the last day of the trip heading back into Hobart via the Eastern coastline. I'm thoroughly convinced the roads here were penned by an out-of-work racetrack designer who was hoping to keep his skills sharp.
The cherry on top of this asphalt cake is that Tasmania's relative remoteness and sparsity leaves the cross-country touring routes relatively free from traffic. Of course, when overtaking was occasionally required the 5.0-litre happily obliges with 467 horses to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
The engine is the star of the RC F show and above every other element of the car has made the strongest impression on this writer. It's been said before, but I will echo the sentiment that the eventual replacement of these high-revving powerplants by the torquey and emissions-compliant turbo units will be a sad day. While you don't receive the instant shove in the back that a turbo (think R35 GT-R) delivers, the way the engine builds to a powerful crescendo is absolutely intoxicating and engaging beyond what the VR38DETT could ever imagine. Even compared to another very special atmo' V8 in an Aston Martin Vantage I drove a few years back, the Lexus V8 entices the driver to explore the upper rev ranges and does a much better job of rewarding him once there.
As is the case with any current-day performance car, the right sequence of switches, toggles or knobs must be adjusted to electronically configure the driving mode and extract the best from the car. By day two of the trip this was starting to make sense, but initially had me rather confused trying to find the sweet-spot between drive modes, auto/manual shifting, traction and differential settings. To save you my initial frustration apply the following: for cruising or 'A to B' transit don't touch anything and stay in normal mode - the car is smarter than you.
For the winding ribbons of Tasmanian tarmac 'Sports+' with manual shifts is the best bet, but leave the differential and traction settings alone unless you have a particular disregard for the welfare of Michelin Pilot Super Sports or your family name is Tsuchiya. The car is still smarter than you but offers up a much greater sensation of control and involvement, ultimately resulting in a more rewarding drive experience.
The RC F is pure aggression in Sports+ mode, the 8-speed auto delivering brutal rapid-fire downshifts and a tightened dynamic platform (steering and suspension primarily) that had my co-driver and I grinning like teenage boys uncovering a stash of contraband. The beauty of these systems is that cosseting Lexus comfort is only a flick of the wrist away - which was an ideal match for our dual-purpose trip to Tasmania. The sacrifice, however, is a reduced level of feedback from the car especially as far as steering is concerned.
As I'm far from a 'real' motoring journalist who commutes to work in an Ariel Atom and uses the loaner Audi R8 for rainy days, it's hard for me not to get excited about driving a 470hp sportscar and gushing positivity to anyone who will listen. Simply speaking as a driver though, I did feel there was a few aspects of the RC F that left a little to be desired. Firstly, the windscreen was a little bit too narrow for my liking - the A-pillar sometimes obscuring the view into long right-handers and leaving me feeling a little removed from the environment.
Secondly, the car's weight. This has been a sticking point for quite a few journos who have taken issue with the near 2-tonne figure on the scales and the resulting lackluster performance on track. To be honest, the heft only really troubled me driving at or beyond 9/10ths where the car lacked the mid-corner adjustability that would come from being slightly lighter on its feet and could push into understeer.
Fit For Purpose
Following the Targa Tasmania schedule meant early mornings and late nights, with plenty of distance covered in between. Although it felt a little bit wrong to use such a machine for this purpose, the RC F became quite the workhorse while we were on the trail of the rally. It swallowed up camera gear then catapulted us towards our next location repeatedly and without complaint. The cosseting interior became somewhat of a haven, and when driven in a relaxed manner the long drives were restorative rather than draining, which reinforced for me the RC F's proposition of being a highly capable grand tourer.
If you're quick enough you can drive onto the rally stages behind the course clearing car and basically have free reign of the road as it's being progressively reopened to the public. While doing so we even managed to get some enthusiastic waves from schoolkids lining the course who must've thought we were competitors. I waved back of course, but did feel slightly guilty...
We did our part contributing to the local economy mainly through the petrol stations located along our touring route. When kept in the upper rev range the Lexus V8 loves to drink premium unleaded and the digital fuel gauge can tend to move downwards at a frightening rate. This particular fuel station was actually in its second to last day of operation - come the weekend, the owner was closing up to enjoy his retirement in the beautiful Tasmanian countryside.
The car turned plenty of heads during our trip, not least because of the two shady characters driving it. Even amongst the tough motorsport crowd at the Targa events the Lexus badge clearly held some cred, and an obliging popped hood would attract silent nods and stroked chins. There's not much to see in engine bays these days, but people still feel the need to look - an amusing relic of times past.
Before long we were parting ways with the Targa route to briefly explore the Eastern coastline before finally returning to Hobart. This part of Tasmania is no exception to the natural beauty that pervades every corner of the state.
Although the sun was setting on our too-short Tasmanian experience, I'm thankful for the opportunity to scratch the surface and experience an amazing place thanks to an equally amazing network of roads. All good things come to an end, but this trip was over far too quickly and only left me wanting more of Tasmania and its breathtaking natural beauty.
As for the car? Well I've added it to my exclusive 'want' list that just seems to get longer and longer the more cars I drive. Now to start planning the next road trip!
That's the funny thing about exploring - each journey only serves to grow the hunger within, never satisfy it. Let me know in the comments below what your dream drive involves!