Lexus GS VS Audi RS3
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Tough styling
- Great engine
- Excellent handling
- Firm ride could be hard to live with
- Small dash display screen
- Interior too similar to regular A3
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|
BMW has its M-stamped cars, Mercedes has its AMG models and Audi has its performance-focused RS range. All three are taken very seriously, and rightly so, because the vehicles that wear those badges are the most hardcore road cars the three big German brands produce.
Even the smallest and most affordable (though the latter is relative) of them aren’t to be underestimated. Take the Audi RS3 Sportback, for example, which received an update at the end of 2017 that introduced a more powerful five-cylinder engine and new styling.
So, is the RS3 Sportback, with its almost 300kW and all-wheel drive, the ultimate hot hatch? Does it do anything better than its RS3 Sedan sibling? Or is it as unbearable to live with as a German flatmate who has recently discovered body building, spray tans and steroids?
|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?
The RS3 Sportback is going to take some commitment; the ride isn’t comfortable on less than great roads, but the performance payoff is outstanding. And at the same time, you have the convenience and practicality of a regular Audi A3 Sportback.
Like all RS models it’s a good compromise - just hardcore enough to be taking seriously, but just soft enough to live with every day.
What would you rather, the Audi RS3, a Mercdes-AMG A45, a BMW M140i or a Golf R? 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.
Hell yeah, there is. The RS3 Sportback is the hatch version of the RS3 Sedan, and it looks like a serious weapon - impressive, given it’s based on the incredibly sedate-looking A3 Sportback. Audi is magnificent at doing the Clark Kent-into-Superman trick, transforming its regular models into RS heroes.
There’s that big gloss-black grille with its quattro lettering and the splitter which wraps around under it, making the hatch look wide and low. Check out the images; it looks like an evil hover-car from the front.
The RS3 Sportback looks just as potent from the back, too, with its gloss-black and finned diffuser, meaty tail pipes and a roof-top spoiler that’s so sharp-looking it would surely be confiscated from your carry-on luggage. That front-three-quarter shot shows off the widened wheel arches best, too.
Our test car wore the optional 19-inch anthracite black alloys with the five-arm design (part of the $5900 'RS Performance Package 2'), but I think the standard 19-inch alloys with the matt-titanium finish look tougher. Red brake calipers are standard, but the back matt roof rails are an option.
Our car’s 'Ara Blue crystal' paint is a $2015 option, and so is the 'Panther Black crystal'. The only paint colour you won’t have to pay for is 'Nardo Grey', and while the rest are optional, they cost less than the crystal colours (at $1495), and include 'Catalunya Red', 'Floret Silver', 'Glacier White' and 'Mythos Black'.
If only Audi was as good at transforming interiors as it is a car’s outsides. Although the RS seats look great, the rest of the interior is almost identical to a regular A3 Sportback. I’m serious, I’m staring at a shot I took of the 1.4 TFSI Sportback’s cabin and another I took of the RS3 Sportback’s side by side, and they are pretty much the same, apart from the carbon inlays (part of the optional RS Performance Package), the Alcantara steering wheel and door trim, and the ignition button.
Compared to a regular A3 Sportback, the RS3 version is 22mm longer at 4335mm end-to-end, 15mm wider at 1800mm across, and sits 15mm lower to the ground at 1411mm tall.
What are the RS3 Sportback’s rivals? As a model comparison, there’s the Mercedes-AMG A45 - which looks like it’s ready to bite you - and there’s BMW’s M140i, which is low-key looking but never to be underestimated. An outsider that’s actually so closely related to the RS3 that it would expect an invite to its wedding is the Golf R – it has a less powerful engine, but it’s built on the same platform, shares much of the same technology and costs a whole lot less.
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.
There are practical benefits to the RS3 Sportback that don’t come with the RS3 Sedan.
First, legroom is better in the Sportback, but when I sit behind my 191cm-tall driving position, my knees are still digging into that thick seat back. Headroom is good though, thanks to that high, flat roofline.
Both Sedan and Sportback seat three across the second row, but you won’t want to be in the middle seat.
The Sedan has a bigger boot than the Sportback’s 335 litres of luggage space, but the Sportback’s hatch opening is larger and those seats fold down to give you 1175 litres of space. A mini-wagon of sorts.
Cabin storage isn’t spectacular, with a small centre-console bin and two cup holders up front, plus two in the rear fold-down centre armrest. You’ll also find large door pockets up front and two slim ones in the rear.
If you like nets, then make sure you’re sitting down because there are storage nets everywhere; in the front passenger footwell, on the seatbacks and in the boot to stop your oranges rolling away.
For your electrical bits there’s a USB up front and a 12V power outlet, there’s another 12V in the second row and a third in the cargo area.
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 RS3 Sportback lists for $81,900, which is not just expensive for a small car, but also compared with its Mercedes-AMG A45 rival, too - the other German undercuts it at $78,611. BMW doesn’t have a proper M rival in its 1 Series to go head-to-head with the Audi and can only offer up the M140i at $59,990, while the Golf R is $55,490.
The Audi S3 Sportback is the RS3's far less hardcore 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-powered sibling, and that one costs $73,000.
So, the RS3 must come loaded with heaps of features, right? Not really. You get some great standard stuff such as the 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster, those awesome leather RS sports seats, which are heated but manually adjustable, the Alcantara RS steering wheel with paddle shifters, adaptive cruise control and auto parking. Then there are the things you’d expect on any car such as sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, the 10-speaker stereo, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control and LED headlights.
Then there is some disappointment: the standard display screen is tiny at seven-inches (have you seen the giant screens in the $47,200 A200?), Qi charging is a $325 option and you can’t order head-up display even if you want one.
Want ceramic brakes? That’ll be $9500. Which is fine. Tinted rear windows will cost you $910, and roof racks will set you back $780.
There’s a mountain of safety equipment, which you can read all about below.
And if you don’t like grey then you’ll have to pay for every other paint colour. If you’re wondering how much they’ll add to the price, I’ve listed them in the section on design.
Engine & trans
The RS3 Sportback is special. It doesn’t just get a tuned version of a regular A3 engine - that would be an insult to the whole RS tradition.
Nope, the RS3 Sportback has a unique 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol lurking under the bonnet, complete with red bits on the engine cover (have a look at the images).
Five-cylinder turbos are a big part Audi’s performance history, and the one in the RS3 is the same that’s in the Audi TT RS, and with an identical output of 294kW (just under 400 horsepower) and 480Nm. The previous RS3 had a five-cylinder engine, too, but this new one is lighter, more efficient and more powerful.
How fast is the RS3 Sportback? It’s quick; we’re talking 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds. The TT RS is about 0.2s quicker, but the RS3 is having to shift 70kg more weight, at 1510kg all up.
Mash the accelerator and Audi’s quattro system sends the drive instantaneously to all four wheels through an active centre differential, with gears being shifted - quicker than you or I could - by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. No manual gearbox, I'm afraid.
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.
I drove the RS3 for a week and put about 200km on the clock, but my actual fuel-testing route took in 81km and covered commuting from my house to the CBD in peak-hour traffic, plus a loop through the national park. For that fuel test I used 11.18L of 98RON (measured at the pump), which gave me fuel consumption of 13.8L/100km. The trip computer reported an average of 12.7L/100km.
Can you guess what Audi’s figure is for a combination of urban and open roads? Officially, the fuel economy should be 8.4L/100km, which is doable with motorways and conservative driving added into the mix.
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.
If you’re going to live with the RS3 Sportback then you’re going to need to be committed.
The standard wheels are fairly big at 19-inches, the rubber is super low profile and the suspension is on the ‘ouch’ side of firm. So unless the roads around your home are super smooth, the ride is going to be less than comfy.
Our test car was fitted with the RS Performance Package 2, which adds Audi’s 'Magnetic Ride', but even with that clever adaptive damper system set in its cushiest Comfort mode, the ride is still firm. I don’t need to tell you that, with my wife and four year old in the car, the dampers were always in Comfort, and even then my captive audience complained.
For reasons unknown even to me, I personally spent way too much of my time with the dampers in Sport. And combined with our car’s Pirelli P Zero 235/30 R19 tyres at the front and 235/35 R19 at the rear, the ride on Sydney’s patchwork, potholed streets teetered on unbearable. On one mission to the supermarket about 5.0km away, I developed a headache just because of the jarring ride.
But when I was finally on a smooth and twisty bit of country road I quickly forgot the pain of travelling though the city. To be honest, out there in the hills on amazing roads, there were times when I wished the suspension was firmer and that the car was tauter.
Composed, controlled, confident and sharp, the RS3 Sportback is agile, with great turn-in and steering that’s always telling the driver through the wheel everything that’s going on. There’s a moment of turbo lag, but the power comes barging in before you can whinge about it.
Dynamic mode sharpens the throttle response, quickens the shifts, adds weight to the steering and firms up that suspension even more. The exhaust note also become throatier; snarling and crackling on the down-shifts. The traction is outrageous, too, and the grip from those Pirelli P Zeros is outstanding.
The RS3 seats are as good to sit in as they look – comfortable under you, supportive around you. But I’m not a fan of Alcantara steering wheels; they’re grippy if you’re wearing racing gloves but feel slippery in dry bare hands. Also, have you seen how they wear? Google it and prepare to be disgusted.
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 RS3 Sportback has a five-star ANCAP rating. Along with seven airbags, there’s an impressive amount of advanced safety equipment including AEB, lane-keep assistance, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and road-sign recognition.
For child seats, you’ll find three top-tether mounts across the second row and two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats.
You’re not going to find a spare wheel, the RS3 has puncture repair kit.
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.
The RS3 Sportback is covered by Audi’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. It’s a bit disappointing that RS models aren’t eligible for the servicing plan that can be purchased for regular models.