Lexus RC F vs. BMW M4: Which luxury hotrod belongs in your heated garage?

In 1985, BMW launched the original E30-generation M3, and put a target on its back.

The M3 offered the ferocious performance in the body of a practical two-door coupe, and it’s proved an irresistible combination ever since.

Over the years, the M3 has accumulated quite a rogue’s gallery – from the Mercedes-Benz 190E 16V Cosworth to the Audi RS4 – and they keep coming.

In 2008, Lexus launched the IS F, a bulked up V8-powered sedan that had the M3 in its sights, and at the recent 2014 Detroit Auto Show it unveiled a two-door successor called the RC F.

Across Cobo Hall from Lexus’ stand was the latest two-door BMW M model, now wearing M4 badging. The battle lines have been drawn.

Exterior design

Both of these cars are hot-rodded versions of “ordinary” luxury coupes, so designers were faced with the task of enhancing what was already there, without making the end results look like something from Fast & Furious.

You really do have to like the boy-racer look to appreciate the M4 and RC F, with their flared fenders, gaping front air intakes, and massive exhaust outlets.

The M4 is no shrinking violet, but it’s definitely the more restrained of the two.

That’s mostly down to the base 4 Series coupe’s minimalist styling, which looks handsome without taking any chances. Add more aggressive front and rear fascias, a hood bulge, and unpainted carbon fiber roof, and you’ve got an M4.

Lexus took a lot of risks with the RC coupe, which wears the same manic styling as the IS sedan it’s based on.

Those extroverted cues are compounded by styling elements taken from the departed IS F and the LFA supercar, including flared fenders and unusual stacked quad exhaust outlets.

In the end, neither car is classically pretty, but both will attract plenty of attention on the street. 

The BMW will appeal to buyers who want a degree of subtlety, and is a bit more dignified than its Japanese rival.

The Lexus lets it all hang out – as any good performance car should – and proves that sporty coupes don’t need to be stealthy.

For trying something new, Lexus gets the nod here.

Interior design, comfort, amenities

Like the exteriors, the interiors of the M4 and RC F are upgraded versions of what you’ll find in the respective base models.

For the BMW, that means a traditional-looking cabin with a console-mounted rotary infotainment controller, and the company’s baffling automatic shifter.

The Lexus’ interior is essentially carried over from the IS, with a slightly more expressive design, augmented with a new sport steering wheel. 

The F model also features the same multifunction binnacle as the LFA, which slides sideways to reveal secondary information. This can be a bit distracting.

Both interiors’ familiarity will probably make fast driving easier, but neither is particualrly remarkable.

This round is a tie.

Powertrain

When it comes to powertrains, BMW and Lexus seem to be moving in opposite directions.

The last M3 coupe was powered by a 4.0-liter V8, but the new M4 has a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six under the hood, producing 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.

Instead of making its engine smaller in response to the clarion call of efficiency, Lexus stuck with a 5.0-liter V8 for the RC F. Final figures aren’t in, but Lexus says it will produce more than 450 hp and more than 383 lb-ft of torque.

The M4 will be offered with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed M DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Lexus gets an eight-speed auto, and both cars are rear-wheel drive.

Enthusiasts will definitely appreciate the availability of a clutch pedal in the M4, and the M DCT’s twin clutches will probably shave precious tenths off lap times.

So while the Lexus has more power than the BMW (albeit less torque), the M4 will probably be a more engaging drive.

Factor in the M4’s likely better fuel economy, and the Bavarian brigade wins this round.

Performance

This is what the M4 and RC F are all about. It’s what makes M and F more than just random letters.

BMW says the M4 will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with the M DCT dual-clutch gearbox (4.1 with the manual), and its top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

Lexus hasn’t released any hard numbers for the RC F, but 5.0 liters and eight cylinders should allow it to keep up with the beast from Bavaria.

Both cars deploy a significant amount of gadgetry in the pursuit of speed.

In addition to its dual-clutch transmission, the M4 has an Active M Differential that electronically metes out power to prevent the rear tires from getting vaporized.

There’s also M-tuned electric power steering, and Adaptive M Suspension set up with input from DTM drivers Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock.

Lexus doesn’t have any factory race drivers at its disposal, but it did give the RC F its own fully-independent suspension system with monotube gas-filled shocks.

The RC F also has its own trick differential, the Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD), which has three traction modes.

How all of these systems work together will be the key to each car’s success.

Four previous generations of M3 have given BMW plenty of experience, so it’s the odds-on favorite until we can get behind the wheel of both cars.

Cool factor

Both cars are likely to get plenty of attention thanks to their powerful engines and anabolic looks, but there may be a difference when bystanders see the badges.

Even with the new M4 designation, the successor to the M3 coupe is, to say the least, a known quantity. It’s a legend among gearheads, and even the less car-obsessed have probably heard of a BMW M3.

Tell your friends you’re driving a Lexus, and they’ll be impressed by the car’s sticker price more than anything else. The RC F is a brand new and–despite the IS F precedence–still a new type of car for the brand.

So people might not appreciate the RC F for what it is at first glance.

The M4 has street cred, and decades of racing heritage leading right up to today’s DTM cars, which is all pretty cool.

While the M4 is the cooler car, the RC F might be the perfect car for high-speed nonconformists.

In cool factor, then, the RC F takes the checkered flag.

Mobile

Why Honor’s new screen is the hole-y grail in quest to ditch the notch

Honor will release a smartphone with an in-screen camera in the new year, a trend which is gathering momentum in the industry. Honor said it has cracked the formula, and explains what's special about its All-View Display.
Product Review

Inside Maserati's Levante SUV beats the heart of a Ferrari

Maserati’s luxury SUV gets a shot in the arm by way of Ferrari-derived V8 power, but is it enough to go toe-to-toe with the established players in the high performance sport-utility segment? Let’s find out.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.
Cars

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Cars

Infiniti previews its leap into one of the hottest industry segments

Infiniti has released a teaser image to preview a concept it will unveil at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The yet-unnamed design study is an electric crossover shaped by Infiniti's newest design language.
Cars

What’s next for in-car entertainment? Audi believes it knows

Audi is bringing two technologies to CES 2019. The first turns a car -- a luxury sedan, in this case -- into a drive-in movie theater. The second is presented as a new entertainment format that turns the journey into the destination.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

The all-new 3 Series proves BMW can still build a compelling sport sedan

Seat time in the entry-level BMW 330i ($41,425) and M340i xDrive ($54,995) will test the German automaker’s commitment to driving dynamics, powertrain refinement, and cutting edge technology.
Cars

California wants all-electric public bus fleet on its roads by 2040

California approved a regulation that targets an all-electric public bus fleet for the whole state by 2040. The effect of the full implementation of the regulation is equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road.
Cars

1,000-mph Bloodhound supersonic car project finds a last-minute savior

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has found a buyer. The project was going to be disbanded after running out of funds, but its assets were purchased by British businessman Ian Warhurst.
Cars

Ford’s prototype Quiet Kennel uses noise-canceling tech to keep dogs stress-free

Ford is ending 2018 by venturing into the doghouse market. The company's European division has built a kennel equipped with active noise-canceling technology and soundproof walls that help dogs sleep through fireworks.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.
Cars

The best compact cars pack full-size features in fun-size packages

The best compact cars on the market rival their counterparts in many ways, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Here, we've rounded up some of the better options available, including an SUV and an electric alternative.