Audi S5 VS Lotus Exige
- 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
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
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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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.