Lexus GS VS Audi A4
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Beautiful inside and out
- Terrifically comfortable
- Excellent tech
- a bit restrained
- warranty looking short
- not very emotional
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Audi's A4 is one of those cars that everybody likes. Despite wearing a German badge, it doesn't feel the need to bellow about itself. If anything, the A4 is so subtle you have to check it's not either its smaller sibling the A3 or its larger one, the A6.
In 2019, the A4 has a bit of a blue on its hands - the new BMW 3 Series is a belter of a car. The rivalry is now freshly-fired, with the 3 lifting its game in every single area, including the interior. And the C-Class is still going strong.
The A4 isn't a whole new car, though, it's the mildest of mild refreshes of a model we've had here for just over three years.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
The 2019 Audi A4 is a classic case of failing to break something that wasn't broken. It's a pretty suave, elegant looking thing and that philosophy extends to the technology and the drive experience. It's such an easy to car to look at, live with and drive.
At this price point, you probably want a car to move your heart a bit, and that's where the A4 might fall short for some. But it's awesomely comfortable, quiet and powerful, shrugging off whatever you can throw at it.
It stands apart from its rear-wheel drive rivals with its quattro all-wheel drive and the elegance of its design.
Does the A4 have what it takes to combat the resurgent 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
The update to the A4 hasn't changed much, so it's as it was - calm, cool and sophisticated. The new, wider grille is an improvement - when you see the two grilles side-by-side, the bigger one just looks better and the front and rear bumper detailing is different. Nothing major.
Current Audi design thinking is starting to carefully add curves, but the nearly four-year old design of the A4 is resolutely straight-edged.
I don't mind that, but if you're looking for a bit more 'look at me', you'll have to go to the S4 or RS4. Even S line doesn't do a huge amount to toughen up the A4's visual appeal apart from the very cool design of the new for this year Audi Sport wheels.
The horizontal themes and gentle stacking of visual elements is calming and the materials are superb. Run your finger along the climate controls and enjoy the visual and tactile quality. Just a little thing, yes, but it's a lovely cabin. The ambient lighting is also nifty if you have it fitted.
And I'm still a big fan of the jet-fighter style transmission selector.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
As a mid-size sedan, it's not especially roomy, but is fine for four adults. The rear seats are comfortable with decent head and legroom, but you won't want to be much taller than six feet before you'll feel the pinch. Having your own climate control zone in the back is rather nice, though.
There are two cupholders in the front and another pair in the rear, and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.
The centre console is relatively shallow and topped by an armrest and that's where the USB ports are to connect your phone to the MMI.
The glove box is cooled, so it's a good place to keep your Mars bars, I guess.
Like all the mid-size German sedans, the boot is a suspiciously uniform 480 litres (I'm guessing it's probably more than that) and is a usefully clean shape.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line is a fairly long name and, obviously, wants to give you an idea of exactly what kind of car it is. The 45 TFSI bit I'll explain in more detail later, but it means a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, the quattro bit indicating it drives all four wheels and S line means some shiny wheels and other bits and bobs.
Starting at $70,300 before on-road costs, it's clearly head-to-head with the BMW 330i. Out of the box, you get 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, three-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a comprehensive safety package, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, the 'Virtual Cockpit', electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, power everything and a space-saver spare.
A 10.1-inch screen graces the dashboard and is controlled by a rotary dial on the console. Audi's 'MMI' system include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (without any of BMW's subscription nonsense), DAB+, CD and DVD player. MMI is an excellent system and coupled with the digital dashboard Audi calls Virtual Cockpit, it's a bit sci-fi inside.
'Our' car had a bunch of individual options: sunroof ($2470), metallic paint ($1950), nappa leather ($1950 and very nice, if you must know), a colour lighting package ($520) privacy glass ($1105) and heated front seats ($780)
The $1300 S line Sport package switches the 19s for Audi Sport five-spoke design with titanium look, dashboard and headlining in black, various aluminium trim bits and perforated leather, sport front seats with Alcantara and leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The $2470 'Assist Package' adds adaptive cruise with stop and go (it'll keep you moving in traffic semi-autonomously), active lane assist, pre-sense front (senses you're about to, or might, have a crash) collision avoidance assist, auto high beam and turn assist (tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic).
The 'Parking Assistance Package' brings 360 degree cameras and auto parking for $1235.
The 'Technik Package' adds the excellent matrix LED headlights a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System and head-up display for $5600 - that's a fair bit, but the matrix LEDs tend to be very expensive on their own.
All of that adds up to a hefty $89,680 as tested.
Engine & trans
The A4 45 TFSI translates to Audi's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing a not inconsiderable 185kW/370Nm.
Using Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, all that heads to all four wheels through the company's famed quattro system. You'll see the ton in just 5.8 seconds.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
The official combined cycle figure is listed at 6.5L/100km, and do you know what? I reckon you could get pretty damn close to that.
My week was almost exactly 50 per cent highway and 50 per cent urban battling and the outcome was an indicated 7.7L/100km.
If some of it had been of a less enthusiastic nature, I'm confident that number would have dipped under 7.0L/100km. Not bad.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
I had forgotten how quiet and smooth the A4 is. It may be that this mild 2019 update has further suppressed pretty much every sound, making this cabin the calmest in the class.
The A4 took us up to the Blue Mountains in virtual silence, only the garbage surface of Sydney's appalling M4 motorway ruffled the interior calm.
On that same motorway is one of the laziest pieces of road engineering, a join to a bridge that can sometimes be a bit hair-raising in softly-sprung cars and downright insulting in stiffer cars.
The A4 handled the resultant heave with exceptional ease and comfort, but watching the other cars ahead was as amusing/terrifying as ever. It made me appreciate how well sorted the A4's springs and dampers are.
And the same impression came from winding our way up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, with its variety of surfaces, corner types and inclines.
The body control is impressive but the ride is super-refined, remarkable given the huge 19-inch wheels.
The 2.0-lite TFSI is impressive in just about any Audi it's installed in, and in this latest A4 it's even quieter and more remote. The stop-start is unobtrusive and as you cruise to a stop cuts out at higher speeds than most.
There is little to complain about - while the steering is certainly a big improvement over the previous (B8) A4, it can feel a little artificial and light.
The quattro drivetrain is entirely fuss-free but does take the edge off the handling, especially relative to the more natural steering feel of the 3 Series.
Not everyone's worried about that sort of thing, and that's perfectly reasonable.
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
The A4 ships with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensors, brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, exit warning, active safety bonnet, driver attention detection and brake force distribution.
There are also three top-tether anchors across the back seat and two ISOFIX points.
The A4 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars, the highest available, in February, 2016. This car had a few extras and all were welcome, but had no effect on the ANCAP rating.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
Audi is stubbornly sticking with a segment-competitive three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and chucks in roadside assist for the same period.
If you keep servicing your car at an Audi dealer, you get another 12 months of roadside with every service.
Audi likes you to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km and you can either take your chances on the day or pre-pay up to three years/45,000km of servicing for $1710 or five years for $2700.
As you can see, the longer plan is better value for money (both are substantially cheaper than the diesel service plan).