Audi S5 VS Lexus RC
- Plenty of power
- Grip galore
- A safety and tech fest inside and out
- Ride could be too firm for the city
- Limited headroom in the back
- Fixed four-seat setup means you can't squeeze a third in the back
- Smooth, effortless V6
- Better looking than before
- Tweaked chassis feels good
- Useless rear seats
It's inevitable that Audi's S5 will spend the bulk of its time pouncing between traffic lights in Australia's clogged and cramped CBDs, but it's hard to imagine a better place to enjoy the hard-charging antics of this stunning Coupe than the sublime twists and turns of Tasmania's perfect blacktop.
Based on the also-very-pretty A5 Coupe, the S-stamped version adds a powerful 3.0-litre V6 engine, a quick-shifting eight-speed gearbox and some suspension trickery that glues the sleek Audi to the road surface below.
It's the fastest, most powerful and lightest S5 to date, and it's cheaper than the car it replaces to boot. And better still, we had an entire island neatly wrapped in perfect ribbons of tarmac to put it to the test.
The second-generation version of the S5 Sportback is set to appear in May, while the new S5 Cabriolet will follow later this year. For now, the two-door Coupe will lead the charge.
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It's 2019 and the Lexus RC has been with us for four years which means it's time for a mid(ish)-life update. A glance at the specifications and tech details for its very low-key, late 2018 arrival suggests not much has changed. And let's be fair, it hasn't.
The mild refresh has brought a few changes in spec (in the right direction), price (the wrong direction, but few things are free in this life), and styling (you be the judge).
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The kind of car that pushes back the autonomous argument, the S5 Coupe is a fun and frantic blast from the behind the wheel. Addictively powerful, sharp to steer and with the kind of endless grip that turns a twisting road into your own personal amusement park, the S5 injects a ton of fun into back-country blasts. It might be a touch uncomfortable in the city, but that's a price we're willing to pay.
Does a V6 turbo Audi S5 trump the previous V8 version? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The RC's time on my drive was preceded by a cheaper, V8-powered Mustang, so it was fascinating to compare the Japanese approach to the American. They're not really competitors, obviously, but the Lexus' ability to cosset the driver while still showing a good turn of speed was an interesting counterpoint.
The 2019 RC350 isn't a step-change - if you want one of those, double your money and get the delightfully nutty RC F - but the changes inside, outside and underneath will certainly please the fans even if it doesn't bring in new ones in huge numbers.
Does anyone still even notice luxury coupes? If you do, is Lexus even on the radar?
Undoubtedly one of the better looking cars on the road today, the Audi S5 Coupe looks sleek and stunning from every angle.
Viewed front-on, the newly designed single-frame grill (it's now wider and flatter) looks slick and powerful, while a raised bulge in the bonnet (Audi calls it a power dome) hints at the performance lurking beneath it.
Side on, a body crease (so sharp it's like it's been cut with a laser) runs the length of the body, while the 19-inch wheels are perched at the furthest corners. Four burbling exhausts emerging from beneath the boot complete this perfectly painted picture of intent.
As a whole, I've always thought the RC to be handsome, but the headlights - as on the IS - always made me wince a bit. There's too much going on, which is weird because the rest of the car is very easy on the eye.
As is common with a mid-life facelift, the work all happens at the front and rear. There's a revised bumper, tweaked mesh pattern in the spindle grille, and a much better looking set of headlights - with much cooler LED daytime running lights and headlights. They're still a bit much, but they're not jarring.
The rear is a little cleaner but I reckon it didn't need much work. Along with new wing mirrors from the gorgeous LC coupe and new wheel designs, it's a subtle update, but a good one.
Inside is little-changed, which is good and bad. A new brushed-aluminium dash inlay, a new (naff) analogue clock, and not a huge amount else. The switchgear has a lovely damped feel, nothing clicks or snaps and it really is very serene indeed. Few cars can match a Lexus interior for feel and touch.
Some of the design decisions are confusing, though. A rotary dial to change driving modes looks more like it should be used to control the media system, and the media system's touchpad is really annoying.
Well, the hint is right there in the name. This might be a touch over 4.6m long, but that swooping coupe roofline eats away at your practicality, especially for rear seat passengers.
Up front, though, it's spacious and comfortable and built for purpose, with terrifically bolstered sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that's among the best in the business.
Shift to the back, and you'll find two seats (the middle one has been replaced by a weird plastic table), but there is plenty of legroom. Headroom, on the other hand, is a less positive story, with anyone who is 183cm (six-foot) or taller are sure to become well accustomed with the S5's roof lining.
There's a cupholder in each of the rear doors, matching the two for front seat passengers, and two ISOFIX attachment points in the back row. Backseat riders also get their own air-con controls, and a power outlet.
Boot space is what Audi claims is a class-leading 465 litres (up 10 on the outgoing car) and the rear seat is split 40/20/40.
As ever, a sports coupe is the not the place to consider starting your DIY career, but front seat passengers luxuriate with plenty of space. A good-sized glove box joins two cupholders in the centre console which also has a decent-sized bin for hiding things, as well as a sensible place to put your phone (no wireless charging, sadly).
Rear seat passengers have very little space for their limbs or heads but at least the seats are comfortable. Two more cupholders back there, but really, nobody will use them.
The boot is a very useful 423 litres.
Price and features
Audi's new S5 Coupe arrives with a sticker price of $105,800, which is a touch over its most obvious competitor - the marginally slower BMW 440i Coupe.
The good news, though, is that you'll want for little, and can easily avoid Audi's infamous options list. Expect 19-inch alloy wheels that display the bright red brake calipers, illuminated door sill trims, nappa leather sports seats that are heated in the front, and offer pneumatic bolster and lumbar support, plus carbon detailing in the interior.
In-cabin technology is taken care of via Audi's awesome 'Virtual Cockpit' (a huge digital screen that replaces the traditional dials in the driver's binnacle - the Google Earth-overlayed navigation is particularly outstanding) along with a second, centred screen that feeds a 10-speaker stereo.
While you can have an RC300 in the mid-sixties, the F Sport starts at $77,529, $200 extra than before. On the face of it, it doesn't look like amazing value, but get a Euro competitor and you'll be paying more.
You get 19-inch alloys, a 17-speaker stereo, four-wheel steering, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, electric heated and ventilated front seats, leather everywhere, a limited-slip diff, variable ratio steering, adaptive dampers, keyless entry and start, and an improved safety package.
The 17-speaker stereo is a treat but the media system is not; controlled from the console by a touchpad, it's hard to use and a pain to navigate. It has Bluetooth and USB connectivity with terrific sound, but it requires patience to operate - which includes the time to get the required qualifications (okay, slight exaggeration). And there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to take the edge off. Pity.
Engine & trans
The S5 Coupe's engine is an absolute peach, with a thick and steady flow of power that can make you forget a V8 version ever existed.
The turbocharged, 3.0-litre V6 is good for 260kW at 5400rpm and 500Nm from 1370rpm, channelled through a sensational eight-speed automatic gearbox and on to all four wheels. It's enough for a 4.7sec zero to 100km/h time and a limited top speed of 250km/h. But the sprint is only half the story, with the engine's mid-gear acceleration offering an insanely addictive rush of power when overtaking.
The RC350 packs Lexus' creamy 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6, a step up from the RC300's turbo four-cylinder. Power remains at 232kW/380Nm, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed torque-converted automatic.
The RC350 cracks the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds, which isn't bad considering it's a hefty beast at over 1700kg.
The RC300's turbo four spins up 180kW and an impressive 350Nm if you're keen to save a few dollars upfront and on running costs.
Lexus says the 350 will manage 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle but I scored a rather less convincing 12.8L/100km. Again, that's probably not bad considering its weight. The tricky dash display had me thinking it was an amazing 7.8L/100km, but it was km/L...
There is no stop-start, cylinder-on-demand or battery regen tech to save fuel - features its European rivals all have at least one of.
Addictive. The power delivery from that S5's V6 is rich and constant, and there's useable urge lurking all over the rev range. The sprint from 0-100km/h is enticing enough, but it's the way the car climbs from 90km/h, 100km/h or 110km/h when you plant your foot, a surging wave of power kicking you in the base of the spine as the S5 Coupe blasts you into the future.
The steering tune is bespoke to the S5, and it's the only model in the A5 range that arrives with adaptive dampers as standard fit, allowing you to dial firmness into the suspension, as well as tightening up the steering, gearing and throttle response.
As a result, it is an absolute joy to pilot through bends, sitting low and flat throughout before making use of its all-wheel drive to hurtle out the other side. It's the stuff involuntary smiles are made of, and you're unlikely to ever tire of it.
For day-to-day use, however, it sits just on the firm side of comfortable, which might grate on pockmarked city road surfaces, but the engine, exhaust and steering weight are all muted enough to ensure it can double as a quiet and composed commuter.
As it has ever been, the RC350 is one smooth, smooth ride. Even the way the doors open is relaxing: swinging wide open like the hinges are made of butter, (except butter that doesn't melt or sag). Look, I'm trying to avoid saying smooth again.
Engine start-up is barely audible and while pottering about the engine remains just as subdued. It's up to the digital dashboard, with its instruments clustered into a single dial with a digital speedo, to let you know what's going on. Few cars outside of the Lexus stable are this relaxing to drive.
What I don't remember from the last time I drove an RC was all-wheel steering. Either I wasn't paying attention or Lexus snuck it in - but it really makes a difference. It's not as aggressive as, say, the bonkers RC F or Renault Sport Megane, it's just there to help bring the heavy car around. It also seems better sorted than the same system in the bigger LC500. And the steering's variable rack works well with it as a partner, too.
The RC's adaptive suspension is so good at what it does. It never over-tightens the suspension but does make a difference in Sport+. It's not really in the 350's nature to take it out for a good thrashing, but it's certainly capable - if held back a little by its portly kerb weight and soft brake pedal feel.
Audi has thrown just about everything it's got at the S5 Coupe, and the safety list is extensive. Expect six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), which join a reversing camera, parking sensors, forward collision warning with AEB and pedestrian detection, a rear-impact sensor, cross-path assist and a driver fatigue detection system.
The entire A5 range was awarded the maximum five star ANCAP safety rating.
The RC comes with eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, active bonnet, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB and forward collision warning.
There are two top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX fittings in the back.
ANCAP has not tested the RC but it scored a 'Good' rating from the US IIHS test regime.
Unlike parent company Toyota, Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty. Also unlike Toyota, you don't get an absurdly cheap deal on servicing, and there's with no capped-price regime. Lexus wants to see your car every 12 months or 15,000km.
To soften the blow of no capped-price servicing, Lexus will either give you a loan car or, even better, come and fetch your car from you before returning it vacuumed, washed, and serviced.
You also get a fairly comprehensive four years of roadside assist and a few other perks.