Audi RS5 VS Lotus Exige
- Tight rear headroom
- Misses V8 growl
- Rear entry/egress
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
This car has some seriously big shoes to fill - think Ian Thorpe size, but bigger. It’s Audi’s new, second-generation RS 5 Coupe, the Bavarian maker’s mid-size performance flagship, sitting above the S5, and on paper it’s a clear step ahead of the model it replaces.
It’s powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 pumping out enough kilowatts to power a small town, and features a new eight-speed Tiptronic auto, sending drive to all four wheels via Audi’s latest generation quattro system.
Sitting on the VW Group’s MLBevo platform, it’s around 60kg lighter, and more fuel-efficient, yet able to blast from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds.
The thing is, the last RS 5 had something this new rocket ship doesn’t; a superbly sonorous, 4.2-litre, naturally aspirated V8 sitting in its nose.
I straight-up loved the out-going RS 5, bonding with it over thousands of kilometres here and overseas. Up and down Europe’s most challenging alpine passes, and in a previous life, knocking over a story where we drove through eight European countries in a single day.
This new RS 5 produces the same number of kilowatts as the old atmo hero, but adds roughly 30 per cent more torque. The question is, can it match or better its older counterpart on that most intangible parameter – charisma?
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
While it may not sound as good as the outgoing model, the new RS 5 is blindingly fast, outstanding dynamically and loaded to the gunwales with standard features and tech.
A step ahead on paper, and in reality. It’s a brilliant, and yes, a brilliantly charismatic package.
Has Audi done enough with the new RS 5 Coupe to out-gun its primo performance coupe competitors? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
In developing the look of this car, Audi says its design team took inspiration from the ultra-wide-body Audi 90 IMSA GTO racer from the late ‘80s, driven to glory in the USA by the legendary likes of Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Rohrl.
The RS 5’s cool, confident stance is the result, with the blistered guards, the detail vents clustered with the head and tail-lights, as well as other aero pieces echoing that track weapon.
At just over 4.7 metres long, the new RS 5 is 74mm longer (there’s an extra 15mm in the wheelbase), and a single millimetre wider than the previous RS 5, but it’s still a full 15mm broader across the beam than the current A5 Coupe. The new car also wears a flatter, honeycomb version of the brand’s signature ‘Singleframe’ grille, and sits on bold 20-inch rims.
The interior is luxurious, suitably racy, and black. The multi-adjustable RS sports front seats are trimmed in nappa leather with contrast stitching and quilting on the centre panels.
A typically broad centre console is highlighted by brushed-metal elements with flashes of carbon dialling up the premium look and feel.
The slick, 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display dominates the view straight ahead, allowing you to switch between screens depending on the mood you’re in and what you want to get up to. While the 8.3-inch hi-res colour ‘MMI touch’ display sits proud of the centre dashtop.
It's a subjective call, but I’m a big fan (no pun intended) of Audi’s approach to the front ventilation outlets, framed within a narrow, chrome-edged band, sweeping confidently across the dash.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
The RS 5 is a classic 2+2, providing generous space for the driver and front seat passenger, with those consigned to the rear still enjoying comfy accommodation, including adjustable ventilation control (with digital display), but tight headroom courtesy of the tapered coupe roofline.
Getting into the back is a moderate struggle, but once behind the driver’s seat, set for my 185cm frame, there’s surprisingly good legroom and decent space for your feet, but sitting fully upright meant twisting my head to an angle that would have any chiropractor rubbing their hands with glee.
Cabin storage runs to a lidded bin between the front seats (with additional space in front), an average size glove box, front-door pockets able to hold standard water bottles, netted map pockets on the front seatbacks, and oddments trays in the rear.
The cupholder count is strong, with two in the front and four in the back, and connectivity runs to two USB ports, an auxiliary-in socket, dual SD card readers, and two 12V outlets. There’s also a wireless charge bay for Qi-enabled devices if you opt for the ‘Technik package’ (more on that later).
Sensor control means the boot unlocks and opens automatically (if the smart key is detected) with a kicking motion under the rear bumper. Load space with rear seats upright is 465 litres VDA (10L more than the outgoing model), and the rear seat backs split-fold 40/20/40 to enhance flexibility and open up extra space for longer or bulkier loads.
There are four cargo tie down points and a luggage net supplied, plus a first-aid kit in a netted cubby on the passenger side, and another netted storage space (taking advantage of the space behind the rear wheel tub) on the driver’s side. The spare is a space saver.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
Cost of entry to the Audi RS 5 Coupe club is $156,600 (before on-road costs); exactly $900 less than the most recent price for the superseded car.
And what’s more, according to Audi, the vast majority of first-gen RS 5 Coupe buyers hit the options list hard, to the tune of around $24k-worth of extras on average (some people would buy another small car with that cash).
So, to surprise and delight prospective buyers of this new version, a whole lot of extra fruit has been piled onto the car’s standard equipment list… and yes, it’s loaded.
Headline inclusions are three-zone climate control air (with ventilated glove box), ‘Dynamic Ride Control’ (with adaptive damper control), LED headlights (including LED DRLs), the nappa leather trim (door and side panel trim inserts in Alcantara), plus a panoramic sunroof (electrically tilting and opening, with electric sun shade).
Then, the RS sport front seats are a story in themselves. Electric adjustment (with memory for the driver) is a given, but they’re also heated, feature pneumatic side bolster adjustment, electric lumbar support, a massage function, and manual extendable thigh support.
But wait, there’s (a lot) more. The base price also includes an extended upholstery package, with the lower part of the centre console, door armrests and door pull handles trimmed in ‘man-made leather’, adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ (including traffic-jam assistant and distance indicator), keyless entry and start, heated, folding and auto dimming exterior mirrors (with memory), plus LED tail-lights with dynamic (scrolling) indicators.
There’s also privacy glass (dark tinted rear and rear side windows), a headlight washer system, an RS sport exhaust (with gloss black oval tailpipes), an anti-theft alarm (with interior monitoring, tow-away protection and tilt sensor), interior ambient lighting (with 30 selectable colours and five colour profiles), a frameless, auto-dimming interior mirror, plus door-sill trims with aluminium inlays and illuminated RS emblems.
Okay, deep breath. Also included are ‘Park assist’ (helps steer the vehicle into parallel or perpendicular spaces), 360-degree cameras (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle for easier manoeuvring), auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ (digital configurable colour instrument cluster), stainless-steel-finished pedals, and a flat-bottom, multifunction RS sport leather steering wheel.
And now we get to the multimedia, including ‘Audi connect’ (Wi-Fi hotspot and Google services), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a Bang & Olufsen ‘3D Sound System’, with no less than 19 speakers, and 755 watts delivered via a 16-channel amplifier.
It also features DAB+ digital radio, ‘MMI navigation plus’, including an 8.3-inch high-res colour display, 10 GB flash memory, and integrated voice control.
That’s a motherload of stuff, and doesn’t even consider the laundry list of standard active and passive safety tech covered in the safety section below.
If all that isn’t enough, there are a series of individual options on offer, like a carbon-fibre roof ($4900), ceramic brakes ($11,900), and milled-finish 20-inch alloys ($1600). Or feature bundles, including the ‘Technik package’ (colour head-up display, ‘Matrix LED’ headlights, and more), and ‘RS Design package’ (‘Audi phone box light’ wireless charging for Qi devices, an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, extra leather, lots of red stitching, and multiple RS logos).
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
The RS 5 Coupe’s 2.9-litre V6 is based on the S4’s 3.0-litre unit, featuring a shorter stroke, and two turbos rather than a single, twin-scroll unit.
It’s an all-alloy design, featuring direct injection, variable inlet valve adjustment, continuous camshaft adjustment, and drive-by-wire throttle control.
With the turbos sitting inside the engine’s 90-degree V, the distances from the exhaust side to the turbos and then from the turbos to the inlet side are short, so they spool up quickly and boost power rapidly.
Maximum torque of 600Nm (+170Nm) is available from just 1900rpm all the way to 5000rpm, with maximum power of 331kW taking over from 5700 to 6700rpm (the latter number being the rev ceiling).
The transmission is an eight-speed auto, taking over from the first-gen RS 5’s seven-speed dual-clutch because of the new car’s additional torque.
It feeds power to all four wheels via the latest iteration of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, with drive normally distributed 40/60 front to rear, but able to go as much as 85 per cent rear and 70 per cent front, with torque vectoring via the ESC system, and drive managed by a self-locking centre diff, and an electro-mechanical sport diff at the rear.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.8L/100km, the RS 5 emitting 199g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over 500km of twisting, central Tasmanian roads on the launch drive program, we averaged a dash-indicated 12.4L/100km, which represents some intense periods of ‘spirited’ driving, with a best of 11.9L/100km recorded on one slightly more sedate 120km city and outer-urban section.
You’ll need 58 litres of 98RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
First impressions are dominated by the V6 twin-turbo engine’s mountainous torque. In fact, it’s less a peak and more of an imposing plateau, with 600Nm available across a broad spread from 1900rpm to 5000rpm.
Maximum power takes over from 5700 to 6700rpm, so from go to whoa there’s monumental thrust lurking under your right foot. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, which is six tenths faster than the previous V8, with the RS 5 able to surge on to an electronically controlled top speed of 250km/h (280km/h with the limiter optionally removed). This car is a rocket.
The eight-speed auto is smooth yet quick and positive. And in terms of the speed and definition of shifts, you’re not really losing anything relative to the seven-speed dual-clutch in the old RS 5.
Suspension is a five-link design front and rear, the first-gen RS 5 using a trapezoidal link set-up at the back. This car’s lighter engine (a hefty 31kg down) improves balance with less weight on the front axle improving steering response and agility. Even at 1.7 tonnes, the car feels agile, planted, and puts its power down with reassuring authority. Damping is outstanding.
Rubber is high-end Hankook Ventus S1 evo2s, and despite their 20-inch size, they are surprisingly compliant and quiet. And speaking of noise, the previous car’s atmo V8 was raucous music to any performance enthusiast’s ears, and somehow Audi’s managed to tune in its characteristic, guttural growl for this V6, mainly using flaps in the exhaust. Not quite as free and angry as the V8 it replaces, but satisfyingly gruff all the same.
The engine and exhaust noise won’t be an issue if you’ve never heard the old one. This car sounds great, and the mid-range is so beautifully meaty, that on a twisting B-road a smile naturally appears on your face.
‘Drive Select’ allows tuning of the engine and gearbox, suspension, sport diff and exhaust. But beware the ‘Dynamic’ suspension mode, if you have fillings they’re likely to rattle free. Best left for track days.
The (electro-mechanical) steering feels great, with linear response, and road feel is also good. Overall, the RS5 Coupe delivers a truly involving drive experience.
The brakes are pretty much professional grade, with big six-piston calipers up front and two-piston floating calipers at the rear. Rotors are ventilated and perforated all around (375mm front / 330mm rear).
If you’ve got a lazy 12 grand burning a hole in your pocket you can add the carbon-ceramic package, but the standard brakes are fantastic, and you’d have to be a dedicated track-day fanger to need them.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
The RS 5 Coupe doesn’t leave much on the table when it comes to active and passive safety.
Attention assist, ‘Audi pre-sense city’ (with AEB and pedestrian detection), ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and Brake Assist are all standard.
There’s also a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, adaptive cruise control (including a distance indicator and speed limiter), active lane assist, ‘Audi parking system plus’ (front and rear with visual display), ‘Audi pre-sense front’ (provides collision mitigation up to 250km/h), blind-spot warning, collision-avoidance assist, rear cross traffic assist, turn assist (monitors oncoming traffic when turning right at low speeds), an exit warning system (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors), and auto high beam.
And if all that’s not enough to help you avoid a crash, there are six airbags on board (front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front passengers, and head-level curtain airbags for front and rear).
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.
Audi provides a three year/unlimited warranty, with three years paint cover, and a 12-year rust perforation guarantee. ‘AudiCare’ 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The recommended service interval is 15,000km/12 months, and the ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plan’ is available to cover scheduled servicing for three years/45,000km (whichever comes first).