Lexus GS VS Audi A6
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Smooth everything
- Good equipment
- Understated looks
- Twin clutch transmission a bit dithery
- Soft ride means un-involving drive
- Dull steering
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 gamely continues to sell their 5 Series competitor, the A6. The high-rider A6 Allroad takes most of the attention, but if you keep an eye out, you'll see an A6 sedan every now and again.
Look even closer – really close – and you'll see that there's been a recent upgrade.
|Engine Type||1.8L 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?
In many ways, the A6 1.8 is the very epitome of the Audi experience - quiet, composed and very stylish, it doesn't shout about itself. It's hardly a big seller but it does give those who wish for a big executive sedan from Ingolstadt everything they could need.
Would an A6 tempt you away from a 520i? 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 A6 is one of Audi's subtlest pieces. It's a fine looking car but it doesn't really stand out in this base-spec, which is of course perfectly fine if that's what you're after.
Rolling on 18-inch alloys, it's a classy-looking thing, with Audi's trademark design language of creased sheetmetal, prominent front grille and distinctive daytime running lights. The new twin LED DRLs are more distinctive still, marking out the A6 from the rest of the range.
Inside is also very standard Audi, with a clean dashboard design and a screen that disappears into the depths of the dash when you lock up or if you want it out of the way.
Inside there's tons of room and it's a very comfortable cabin to spend time in. The driver gets plenty of adjustment and you sit reasonably low, snug between door and high-set console. The dashboard is the usual model of clarity although the optimistic speedo raised a few smiles. Despite it being tightly packed, it doesn't matter as the updated central screen can show a digital speed readout.
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.
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+.
Standard is cruise control, parking sensors front and rear with reversing camera, blind spot sensor and rear sensor for cross traffic, xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, climate control, electric front seats, leather trim, DAB radio and satnav.
There's a tremendously lengthy options list but as is the Audi custom, you can get the greatest hits in a couple of packages. Our test car had the Technik package ($5800) which added park assist, around-view camera, adaptive cruise with stop and go, autonomous emergency braking and four-zone climate control.
It also adds Audi Connect, which puts Google Earth overlays on the sat-nav maps, lets you search Google for points of interest and act as a wifi hotspot in the car (which needs its own SIM card; it doesn't like most smartphones).
Metallic paint is a supremely cheeky $2280 bringing our test car to $87,980.
The ten speaker stereo has the usual bluetooth and USB ports and is run from an 8.0-inch motorised retractable screen. Audi's MMI controls the show and there's the added bonus of DAB to go with it. The A6 actually has two USB ports, with a high-power port for faster phone charging. The big news is this upgraded A6 doesn't need the silly proprietary cable that the A4 still needs.
The MMI interface is very good and has gotten better and better over the years as Audi's designers have played with the mix of rotary and shortcut buttons.
Engine & trans
Behind the A6's mildly modified snout is the 1.8-litre TFSI mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Basically, it's the same setup as some A3s and A4s. In the A6, it produces 140kW and 320Nm.
At 1645kg, you'd imagine fairly weedy performance but a 0-100km/h time of 7.9 seconds says otherwise. Fuel economy is a claimed 5.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but expect somewhere around 8.0L/100km in the real world. Which is still reasonable going for a petrol-powered car this big.
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.
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.
Settling in behind the wheel of a big car with a small engine, even by today's standards, rarely promises much. The A6 is a relaxed kind of car to punt around, especially in Eco and Comfort modes.
The steering is quite remote, with artificial-feeling weight when you pile on some speed.
The idea, it seems, is to isolate occupants from the outside world and this is very successful. The ride is supple and the handling competent with mild, controlled body roll and a natural tendency to eventual understeer.
The seven-speed dual-clutch is perhaps not the the most obvious choice and seemed a little unsettled when you ask for a rapid clutch take-up from standstill. BMW's choice of eight-speed ZF auto would have been preferable, but it's no deal breaker.
Rear passengers have plenty of space to lounge around and it's also very quiet back there. Acres of shoulder and leg room give a good feeling of space and it almost feels as good as an A8.
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.
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.