Lexus GS VS Audi A4
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Classy cabin
- Looks terrific
- Great value
- No touchscreen - annoying!
- Squishy back seat with three on board
- Some hesitation at low speeds
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|
The current-generation Audi A4 range has copped it. It was only a matter of time before there was a Black Edition version, because it seems every car these days gets the special treatment.
And, no, it isn’t actually black - but it gets a bunch of black bits and heaps of additional extras, at not much more than the standard A4 sedan it’s based on.
|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?
There’s a good amount of value on offer with the Audi A4 Black Edition, not to mention a pretty flash cabin and sporty exterior design. I love the look of it, and that could be enough to get quite a few buyers over the line. For me, the wagon is the more appealing of the body types.
There’s no denying the A4 is often overlooked because shoppers gravitate towards the C-Class or 3 Series. Value-focused variants like this should help get people to look the A4’s way instead.
Would you take an A4 over a C-Class or 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section 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 current-generation Audi A4 range may have been on sale for a while now, but it still looks as stylish as the day it debuted, back in 2015.
The angular LED headlights and rigid LED daytime running lights help give this car a strong signature on the road, with confident lines running from the front of the car to the rear, where the LED tail-lights anchor the powerful look.
Of course, the Black Edition takes the stylishness to a new level, with metallic paint included, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels in Audi’s signature ‘Rotor’ design, plus there’s standard-fit sports suspension that lowers the car down by 20mm over the top of those rims. It looks mean.
Plus the black exterior design package (encompassing door mirrors, a lip rear spoiler and side sill trims) and dark privacy tinted windows at the rear, along with the four-ring decal on the rear doors. The front doors get acoustic glass for better sound deadening, and there are four-ring LED puddle lights.
The cabin sees some nice Black Edition additions as well - check out the interior pictures below.
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.
If you buy the Black Edition version of the A4, you get yourself some really nice additional bits and bobs, like colour ambient interior lighting front and rear, plus heated front seats and some S line sport interior trim elements like aluminium pedal facings, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Alcantara and leather trim with S embossing, brushed aluminium trim elements and additional adjustment to the front head rests.
The space on offer is pretty good - from a cabin storage standpoint, there’s little to complain about - bottle holders in all four doors, cupholders front and rear (the latter by way of a flip-down armrest) and there is a good storage area under the front armrest with a second USB port for charging - but you might find yourself using the cupholders for your phone, as that’s where the media USB port is. There are map pockets in the rear, too.
With two adults in the rear, there’s a decent amount of space - reasonable headroom, legroom and shoulder space.
But we had a few five-up trips in the car, and on one drive I decided to be a backseat passenger - I was in one of the outboard seats, and it wasn’t comfortable - there was a lack of leg and foot space, and the shape of the seat meant I was bending my neck inwards to avoid hitting the window / pillar on my side. This isn’t a car for five adults - but two adults and three compact kids could be fine.
I was pretty surprised at the boot capacity on offer in the A4 sedan. Personally, I’d go for the Avant wagon model in any instance, because I’m a wagon guy. But the sedan didn’t struggle with all the stuff I took with me on a four-day weekend trip (including supplies and bedding for four adults, two dogs and more!).
With 480 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up, the A4 sedan is bang-on against rivals like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 folding design, which allows a bit of extra flexibility, but they don’t quite fold completely flat.
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+.
When I told my extended family that this car was $63,900 plus on-road costs, they were beyond impressed. Some thought it was a $120,000 car - which shows they aren’t car people, but also tells you that it looks more special than its price tag suggests.
That $63,900 price is just $2500 over the odds for the ‘regular’ A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW) model it’s based on - and for that money you get $7000 of additional kit. See the sections above for what the Black Edition adds - it’s mostly visual.
You can get a wagon version of the A4 Black Edition, too. It’ll cost you $3000 more, with a list price of $66,900 for the 140kW front-wheel drive version.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the standard equipment on this spec of A4 is the S line styling package with sportier front and rear bumpers than you’ll see on lower-grade European-spec A4 models, and in addition to the LED exterior lighting all around, you’d usually get 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel, where our Black Edition has 19s.
Other standard inclusions on this spec include auto headlights and auto wipers, tyre pressure monitoring, drive mode selection, smart key entry and push-button start, gesture boot opening, electric front seat adjustment, leather-appointed seats (including some fake leather elements), a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, three-zone climate control air conditioning, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Plus there’s a 7.0-inch media screen (not a touchscreen) with a rotary dial controller, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (which was patchy at best during our test), two USB ports, two SD card inputs, and DAB+ digital radio.
The safety specification of the Audi A4 is decent - see below for more detail.
As for colour options for the standard A4 model range there are only two are no-cost options, 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White'. There are 12 other hues available in metallic and pearl finishes, including two red, two blue, three grey, one brown, one green, one white, one black and one silver (all $1420 extra). This Black Edition model has four colours to choose, all included in the cost.
Engine & trans
The A4 2.0 TFSI model we have is the front-wheel drive model, which runs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 140kW of power (at 4200-6000rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1500-4200rpm).
It is available only with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic.
There’s a second Black Edition version of the A4, which is the one with quattro all-wheel drive and a higher tune of the 2.0-litre engine (185kW/370Nm). That’s the one I’d go for, if the budget allowed.
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.
Over my week with the car, I did more about 1000 kilometres. A lot of the time I had the boot full, two adults and two dogs on board. But in other instances I had five adults on board, running from town to town on a long weekend holiday.
My fuel use on test was just 7.1L/100km, which I was very impressed with.
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.
This particular version of the Audi A4 range has always perplexed me a bit.
There’s another front-wheel drive model below it with a 1.4-litre turbo engine (with 110kW/250Nm), which I’ve driven and I liked quite a bit. And it costs about $5000 less than the non-Black Edition version of this grade.
Then there’s the model above it, which uses the same 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but has quattro all-wheel drive and more power (185kW) and torque (370Nm). To me, that version is a lot more appealing, although it does cost about $8000 more.
The 2.0-litre in this version, with 140kW/320Nm, isn’t necessarily short of grunt, with Audi claiming a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering, but it’s quick enough.
At low speeds the engine and transmission can be a little slow to act, with some turbo lag and dual-clutch transmission hesitation to contend with, but you do get used to it.
At higher speeds the gearshifts are clever and brilliantly slick, and the gearbox has a decoupling mode, which allows fuel saving because the transmission can be disengaged when you’re coasting down hills.
Even with the sports suspension and bigger wheels with low-profile tyres, the A4 was mostly comfortable when it came to handling inconsistencies in the road surface. There was some twitching over mid-corner bumps, but it never got out of hand, and around town with five on-board I had to ensure I slowed down for speedhumps, as it could be a bit sharp.
The steering isn’t as involving as a BMW 3 series, but it is light and easy to twirl, making for super easy low speed moves. At pace, there’s a reasonable amount of feel and feedback, but twister bends made for a little bit of understeer if you hit them with pace.
I didn’t particularly love the drive experience of this Audi A4, but nor did it upset me to any great degree. Sure, you get more handling purity in one of its rear-wheel drive competitors, but in regular day-to-day driving, it was decent. Just not overly exciting.
To be honest, my biggest testing gremlins were multimedia based. I had a lot of trouble connecting and reconnecting via Bluetooth, with audio problems aplenty. Plus the CarPlay system - when paired with a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen - is beyond painful.
It’s designed for a touchscreen, like a phone, strangely enough. That and the fact the screen looks out of date already, plus the reversing camera is pixelated… all of that let the drive experience down a bit.
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 Audi A4 four-cylinder range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2015, and that still applies today.
The entire model range has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and Audi’s 'Exit Warning' system that will warn/stop you from opening your door into the path of pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. Driver attention assist is standard, too.
Also standard is a reversing camera (with a pretty poor, pixelated display, it has to be said) and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a package that includes a 360-degree surround view camera system and semi-autonomous parking, at an additional cost.
There are eight airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain), and the rear seat has three top-tether points for child seats and two ISOFIX anchors.
Missing from the safety package is any form of lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and radar / adaptive cruise control. If you’re willing to spend an extra $1900 you can have that stuff in a bundle with high-speed AEB, auto high-beam lights, and a system called 'Collision Avoidance Assist' which makes the steering extra responsive to avoid potential collisions.
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 - like its German luxury car competitors - offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is fine, but many mainstream brands are bettering that level of cover.
Further, there’s a three-year service plan you can choose, which covers the first 36 months / 45,000km of servicing (with intervals every 12 months / 15,000km). It’s not a capped price service plan, per se, as you have to pre-purchase it, and it will cost you $1620 (price correct at the time of writing).
Roadside assistance is included at the time of purchase, and spans three years - just like the warranty.