Lexus GS VS Audi RS3
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Lovely and powerful five-cylinder engine
- A joy to drive
- Still looks amazing after all these years
- Lacking some advanced safety tech
- Shorter warranty than some rivals
- About to be replaced
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|
You might have noticed that there are new rivals to the Audi RS3 sedan.
The Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan could be considered a competitor. Or maybe the new-generation Mercedes-AMG CLA35, or the even more expensive Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S. And you can’t forget the all-new BMW M240i Gran Coupe.
This is a segment with plenty of action. So where does one of the older players in this part of the market stand against its new competitors? Well, you might be surprised just how well it still stacks up, despite having first launched here more than three years ago.
There’s an all-new, powered-up RS3 expected in 2021, but the brand is seeing out the current model range with a new variant, the Carbon Edition, which is tested here. Is it still worth considering? You’ll have to read the lot to find out.
|Engine Type||2.5L 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 may be newer competitors, but it could be said that the Audi RS3 - despite being a seasoned player in its segment - is a sweet spot offering for those after a compact, sporty and eye-catching car. I'd certainly have it over its closest rivals, even if it is getting long in the tooth.
It is due for some big changes soon and you just know the next-gen model will step up the game big time in terms of interior design and improved technology. But as a swan song, the final versions of the current RS3 in Carbon Edition trim see it out on a high.
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.
I’ve long thought the Audi A3 sedan, and therefore the Audi RS3, is the most compellingly design small sedan of the modern era - possibly ever. Not many compact three-box models have the proportions and lines that this model has, and even seven years after the current-gen A3 launched this body style still looks gorgeous.
And in RS3 guise it cuts a striking figure, with the Carbon Edition adding plenty of eye-catching elements including different gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black exterior styling pack (logos and Audi rings in black), a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, and Carbon mirrors. The Carbon Pack also gets rid of the matt aluminium window surrounds in exchange for black finishes.
All told, it looks extremely sleek and surprisingly modern, given the age of the platform. The interior isn’t quite as up to date, though - more on that below.
But this particular test car had the RS design package inside, which adds a number of nice additions such as black armrests with red stitching, Alcantara trimmed knee pads on the centre console (also with red stitching) to stop you bumping your knees against hard plastic when you’re out on the track, as well as red surrounds on the air vents, red trim on the outboard seat belts, and floor mats with RS3 logos and red stitch.
In terms of size, it is still a compact and urban-friendly offering, with dimensions of 4479mm long (on a 2628mm wheelbase), 1802mm wide and 1406mm tall.
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.
I mentioned the interior is starting to look a bit old, and that’s because this design - while revolutionary back in 2013 when this generation of A3 sedan launched - hasn’t changed much over the years.
Sure you can now get it with the tech you’d want, like the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster which looks amazing, and the media system with the latest smartphone mirroring tech and wireless phone charging. But the screen itself isn’t touch-capacitive, and that means you have to use the rotary dial to go through menus - that’s not how smartphones were designed. You’re supposed to touch the screen.
So the concept of phone mirroring is flawed, here. It is good to be able to use your phone’s apps, but it’s not as easy to use as it should be.
Thankfully the media unit is teamed to an excellent, punchy sound system, and it’s the sort of car you’ll want to listen to your favourite albums in, rather than boring time-burning podcasts. It takes a certain drive experience to elicit that reaction - well, for me it does.
It’s a shame the dashboard design is looking rather plain by modern standards. The pop-up (even retractable) media screen is comparatively tiny, and while the ergonomics are good and all the buttons and switches feel of a high quality, it just isn’t quite as special feeling inside as the price tag suggests it should be.
Well, that’s until you see the sports seats. These are artworks, with beautiful stitching and superb bolstering and comfort. They really lift the ambience, and combined with the high-quality materials it feels sporty, but luxurious too. And the interior has the option of the black and red trim seen here, or black with rock grey stitching, or the blue-jeans-repelling Moon Silver with grey trim.
The seats are great, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to sit myself a little lower. I loved the feel of the part-Alcanatra steering wheel, too. There’s something about an abundance of Alcantara that just works (it’s on the door trims and the optional padded knee sections, too).
Of course there is dual zone climate control, seat heating and rear seat air-vents, and the aforementioned wireless phone charger is hidden in the centre covered armrest, and that also has twin USB ports plus a auxiliary jack.
Most other newer models have those ports and charge pads in front of the gear selector, but in the RS3 there’s not much usable space there. You can fit a wallet, but not much else, and behind it there are twin cup holders, and there are bottle holders in the doors.
Back seat space is okay but not great. My knees were hard up against the seat in front when it was set for my 182cm (6’0”) frame, and my head was scraping the lining as well. If you’re taller, you’ll also have to watch your noggin getting in an out as the door apertures are quite small.
There’s also limited foot space because of the transmission tunnel reaching from front to rear. But the seat comfort is very good.
The back seat amenities comprise a 12-volt outlet but no USB ports, and in the doors your find bottle holders while there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders as well, plus twin mesh map pockets.
While adults might find things a bit squishy in the rear (don’t expect things to be much better in any of its rivals!), there are dual ISOFIX outboard seat anchors, and three top-tether child seat points.
Boot capacity is small at 315 litres, especially for a sedan. That’s 20L less than the Sportback hatch’s rear capacity, but you can fold down the rear seats if you need extra room, with 770L available.
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 list price of the regular Audi RS3 sedan is now $86,500 plus on-road costs, which means it’s a bit pricier than when it first launched (at $84,900). That comes down to currency fluctuations over the past few years, as nothing has really changed over the period since launch in March 2017.
It’s worth noting there is a new addition to the 2020 RS3 sedan range - the RS3 Carbon Edition, as tested here - which lists at $89,900 (MSRP) and has no mechanical changes compared to the standard model, but gets a number of design changes which we’ll cover off in the next section.
That means it is considerably more expensive than the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe ($72,990) and even the Mercedes CLA35 ($85,500), though the RS3 has considerably more grunt than those cars - in fact, it’s closer in terms of engine specs to the CLA45 S, though that model lists at a huge $111,200. More on horsepower below.
And of course, the RS3 sedan is only one part of the RS3 range - you might also be interested to look at the Sportback hatch version, which is more affordable ($83,800). You can get it in Carbon Edition trim, too, at $87,200.
What do you get in the RS3? Standard equipment includes: 19-inch alloy wheels in matt titanium, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators, matt aluminium window surrounds, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a body kit, rear spoiler, auto headlights with auto high-beam, auto wipers, heated side mirrors with passenger’s-side auto-dipping when reversing.
Further standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic assist, Audi drive select with four different modes (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual), electric front seat adjustment, front seat heating, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, 7.0-inch media screen with MMI touch dial controller, sat nav, Audi connect online services and Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, wireless phone charging, two USB ports and DAB digital radio, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.
For a full breakdown of the standard safety inclusions, see the safety section below.
Our test vehicle had Nardo Grey paint, one of several no-cost optional colours that also includes Mythos Black Metallic, Kyalami Green, Daytona Grey Pearl, Tango Red Metallic, Florett Silver metallic and Glacier White metallic. Two Crystal Peal colours will cost you an extra $728: Ara Blue and Panther Black.
Our car further had the RS design package for $1950. More on that in the design section below.
Engine & trans
Unlike all of its rivals, the Audi RS3 gets an engine with five cylinders instead of four.
Yep, it’s a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 294kW of power (at 5850-7000rpm) and 480Nm of torque (from 1950-5850rpm). As you can see, the power band is linear - despite the uneven number of cylinders.
How does it compare to those rivals I mentioned earlier? The A35 sedan and CLA35 both have 225kW/400Nm, so you can see why I said it was a mismatch. The BMW M235i is closer, at 225kW/450Nm despite being a lot cheaper. And the CLA45? It punts them all on engine performance, with 310kW/500Nm.
Hey, there are rumours the next-generation RS3 will have as much as 331kW. So maybe wait for that car, if you’re really interested in horsepower heroism. But trust me - there’s ample grunt on offer here.
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 claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Audi RS3 is 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which is reasonable for a car with this level of performance.
On test, across a mix of driving, I saw a return of 9.1L/100km. Not too bad.
The fuel tank capacity is 55 litres, but you need to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded petrol.
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.
There’s something really special about a five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
The way that it builds pace and drama in such a linear fashion despite being inherently unbalanced is awe-inspiring.
The sound of your acceleration is actually more dramatic outside the car than in. When you’re driving and pushing the throttle hard, you’re rewarded with a muted roar - the sort you hear in movies when the kidnappee has been gagged with a cloth but can still make enough noise to get curious attention.
Outside the car it’s more prevalent, as the sports exhaust and heavy breathing air intake combine for plenty of road presence.
Audi has quite a history with this type of engine. And teamed with the brand’s “quattro” all wheel drive system and dual-clutch automatic transmission, the acceleration on offer is simply addictive.
The transmission is smooth and snappy when it shifts. In the sportier driving modes - with Dynamic selected, or in S on the transmission - the revs will rise and hold, before the transmission rapidly snaps to the next gear.
In more sedate driving - in Comfort drive mode in D - you will notice a little bit of low-rev turbo lag and transmission spool-up from a standstill. But if you do suddenly plant your foot on the throttle, it responds mightily no matter the mode.
For me, the five-cylinder engine offers a more entertaining experience than its closest high-power four-cylinder rivals. It’s quick, tremendously enjoyable to accelerate in, and just a whole lot of potentially-licence-risking fun.
The adaptive magnetic ride suspension is firm but that’s to be expected of a sports sedan with this level of intent, and in Comfort mode it actually settles pretty well. Even over repetitive pockmarks it never felt like things were getting clumsy or that it was tripping over itself. In fact it’s a beautifully composed car even in the most sporting drive mode, Dynamic, and over my drive it never felt like it was doing the wrong thing despite some challenging road surfaces.
There was immense grip and traction in tight twisting corners, and while the steering mightn’t be as pinpoint accurate in Dynamic mode as I’d like, it was still really easy to sew together a series of bends without ever feeling like things were getting out of hand.
I actually preferred to set up my own Individual driving setting, with Comfort steering and suspension but Dynamic everything else. In regular Dynamic mode the steering is a little heavy and dull while in Comfort mode the steering is lighter and makes the car feel a little bit more agile.
All told, I didn’t want to stop driving the RS3 - even after 700km. It bodes well for the next-generation model, that’s for sure.
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 RS3 runs with a five-star ANCAP crash test rating that was awarded to the regular Audi A3 range way back in 2013, and things have changed a lot since then. But so has the safety offer in the A3/S3/RS3 line.
The RS3 has auto emergency braking (AEB) which Audi calls Audi pre sense front which includes low-speed pedestrian detection - but unlike other versions of the tech that run under the same banner, the one employed in this generation of A3/S3/RS3 doesn’t have cyclist detection - the next-gen model is certain to. Also missing is a surround view camera and front cross traffic alert, among others.
It does, however, have adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic function, not to mention Audi’s active lane assist tech which can keep you in the centre of your lane, as well as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert.
In the RS3 you get seven airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front side, full length curtain), and as mentioned above, there’s a reversing camera alongside front and rear parking sensors.
As mentioned, the game has moved on a bit - and we expect the next-gen A3/S3/RS3 to get considerably more safety technology, even if this existing model’s offering isn’t terrible.
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 offers buyers the option of choosing a pre-purchase servicing plan, rather than offering a conventional capped price service plan.
That means you’ve got the option of a three-year/45,000km service plan, at a cost of $2320, or a five-year/75,000km plan at $3420. It covers most standard items, excluding brake pads or discs and wiper blades. Compared to AMG rivals, those prices are actually pretty sharp.
As you may have guessed, service intervals are pegged at 12 months/15,000km.
The brand hasn’t really kept up with rivals such as Genesis and Mercedes-Benz (both of which offer a five-year warranty), and as such Audi still offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan at the time of publishing. That warranty cover also includes roadside assistance at no cost.