Lexus IS VS Audi A6
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Clinical personality
- Steering feel
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Despite a determined bid for dominance by a growing stream of Q-badged SUVs, with zero-emission Es on the near horizon, Audi’s A-team of mainstream sedans, wagons, coupes, and cabriolets remains vitally important to the company’s product portfolio and bottom line.
But in recent years the Bavarian maker’s mid-size A6 has been hiding in the shadows, unable to lay a glove on its natural enemies, the BMW 5 Series and Merc’s E-Class, in terms of new car sales in Australia.
So, this sizeable piece of fresh metal is designed to push Audi up the leader board. It’s the all-new, fifth generation A6.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
The new Audi A6 is a composed, rapid, top-shelf luxury sedan. It’s comprehensively equipped, with safety tech a stand-out, and priced to chip away at BMW and Merc’s segment dominance.
But owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Pick of the bunch? Save 10 or $15K or dial down the repayments and go for the entry-level A6 45 TFSI, with all the safety tech on-board, plenty of performance, and most of the luxury features included in the more premium models.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
Revealed in Germany in early 2018, the new-gen A6 brings fresh engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand’s distinctive design language.
Always a subjective call, but to my eyes the A6’s exterior, while crisp and contemporary, is evolutionary rather than a game-changing step ahead.
The signature single frame grille is even bigger than before, to the point where it feels like Audi has entered an arms race with the current oversize grille superpower, BMW.
A strongly curved roofline accentuates the car’s steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Broad, sweeping surfaces are combined with harder defining edges and creases, while short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, tightly wrapped look.
The A6 45 TFSI rides on 19-inch ‘5-twin-spoke’ design alloys which fill the wheelarches nicely, while the 45 and 55 S line run on similar design 20s.
The S line exterior package incorporates specific front and rear bumpers with honeycomb inserts, side air inlet grilles in ‘matt titanium black’ with inserts in ‘platinum grey’, rear diffuser in the same black, this time with chrome trim, side sill trims, and illuminated aluminium door sill trims with S logo at the front
The interior is a model of Teutonic restraint, the sleek dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing three digital screens covering instruments, media and other functions as well as heating and ventilation.
Long, horizontal vents are an Audi design favourite, the seats look and feel superb and the entire cabin reeks of quality and attention to detail.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
Room for the driver and front passenger is generous, with ample storage provided including dual (covered) cupholders in the centre console (also incorporating a 12-volt outlet and key holder slot), a decent glove box, and door bins allowing easy bottle storage.
The lidded storage box/armrest between the front seats is relatively shallow but includes a wireless Qi (chee) charging mat (for compatible devices), plus SIM and SD ports, as well as a pair of (Type-A) USB sockets.
The wheelbase has stretched 12mm in this new model, but Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length, with 17 of those added to the rear section. And I’m able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able for short to medium length trips.
In the rear, a fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders (the latter on S line models only). There are netted pockets here and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles. There’s also climate control ventilation, USB ports, 12-volt power… the lot!
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallows our three-piece hard suitcase set with masses of room to spare, as it does the jumbo size CarsGuide pram. In fact, it was able to take the largest case as well as the pram at the same time. Drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to liberate even more volume.
There are pop-up tie-down anchors at each corner of the boot floor, a netted storage cavity behind the passenger side wheel tub, a 12-volt outlet on the driver’s side, a handy fold down shopping bag hook, an elasticised net is included on the S lines, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
Towing capacity is the same across the range – 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer, and 750kg unbraked. The spare is a space saver on all models, too.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
The A6 launches with three models, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol 45 TFSI at $95,500, before on-road costs, the more premium 45 TFSI S line at $105,200, and the top-shelf 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 55 TFSI S line at $116,000.
Included on the A6 45 TFSI are 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, automatic-dynamic headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators (the Matrix beam detects and blanks out oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front, but continues to fully illuminate other areas), keyless entry and start including a sensor controlled (leg swish) boot release, electric heated sports seats for the driver and front passenger (including memories for the driver), ‘leather appointed’ seat upholstery, three-zone climate control air, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, ‘aluminium fragment’ interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium front door sill trims.
Plus, ‘Audi Drive Select’ allows the selection of various driving modes, there’s Audi’s smartphone interface providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, ’Qi’ wireless charging, 10-speaker/180-watt audio driven by a six-channel amp and featuring digital radio, the 12.3-inch configurable ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument cluster, 10.1-inch high-res colour media touchscreen, ‘Navigation Plus’ (with 3D map display including places of interest and city models), and a third 8.6-inch colour display for the climate control system (with handwriting recognition and a favourites list).
The recently introduced ‘myAudi’ app also allows you to connect to the car and access real-time info on everything from how much fuel’s in the tank, to maintenance milestones, and service warnings. You can remotely lock and unlock the car, plan journeys (at home) and send destinations and routes directly to the car.
Then the 45 and 55 TFSI S Line models add ‘Valcona’ leather trim (seat centre panels, seat side bolsters, head restraints and centre armrest, and door trim inserts in Alcantara faux suede), a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), illuminated front door sill trims, 20-inch alloy wheels, and electronically controlled adaption of the dampers.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
The 45 TFSI is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four, and the 55 TFSI by a 3.0-litre turbo V6, both featuring a mild-hybrid system recovering braking energy to enable coasting at higher speeds and in the latter case power the stop-start system.
The VW Group (EA888) engine used in the A6 45 TFSI is an iron block/alloy head single turbo unit featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces peak power of 180kW from 5000-6000rpm, and maximum torque of 370Nm from 1600-4500rpm.
The (EA839) engine used in the A6 55 TFSI is a 90-degree 3.0-litre, all-alloy, single (twin-scroll) turbo V6 featuring direct-injection, variable camshaft adjustment (intake and exhaust side) and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
The 55’s 48-volt mild hybrid electrical system recovers regenerative braking energy to power the stop/start system and enable coasting (for up to 40 seconds) between 55-160km/h. It consists of a 10 Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot floor, a water-cooled belt alternator starter (BAS) mounted to the engine’s front end, with a V-belt connecting it to the crankshaft.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands this one has its single, twin-scroll turbo located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side for better throttle response (as in, minimal turbo lag).
Drive goes to all four wheels via the latest gen version of Audi’s quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle hovers all the way from 7.2L/100km for the 45 TFSI, to 7.3L/100km for the 45 TFSI S line, and back to 7.2L/100km for the 55 TFSI S line.
CO2 emissions sit in a similarly narrow band, the 45 TFSI producing 165g/km, the 45 TFSI S line 166g/km, and the 55 TFSI S line 164g/km.
Stop/start is standard on all models, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 73 litres of it to fill the tank (on all models).
The local A6 launch drive program ran to the south of Adelaide in South Australia, with some freeway running followed by the twisting rural B-roads running through the McLaren Vale wine growing area. Spending most time in the 45 TFSI S line (because we’d previously driven the 55 TFSI S line) we saw a real-world average of 9.1L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer.
In our previous review of the 55 TFSI, over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km. Both numbers impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
Audi claims the 45 will sprint from 0-100km/h in six seconds, and the 55 in just over five. So, quick, and very quick.
Both are super responsive in the mid-range with peak torque available from just 1600rpm in the 45 and less than 1400 in the 55.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands the 55 TFSI’s single, twin-scroll turbo is located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from so low down in the rev range, that’s exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the 55’s V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. The 45 is less urgent in terms of acceleration, but more than adequate for easy highway cruising and confident overtaking.
Both are quietly quick, thanks in part to low-noise acoustic glass and comprehensive use of sound absorption materials around the cabin, remaining composed and relatively subdued as speed rises.
The seven-speed dual-clutch delivers ultra-smooth shifts at around-town speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
In normal, suburban-style conditions the quattro system decouples the rear axle and sticks with front-wheel drive economy. If all-wheel drive is required, a tricky clutch instantly activates it, in certain situations predicatively.
On top of that, in aggressive cornering torque vectoring by braking (Audi calls it ‘Wheel-Selective Torque Control’) retards the near-side wheels before they slip.
Suspension is a five-link set-up front and rear, with much of the hardware made from aluminium to fine tune response and reduce unsprung weight.
Electronically controlled adaptive dampers are standard on the S line models, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Rims are 19-inch on the 45 and 20s on the 45 S line and 55 S line, but all variants are comfortable. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped.
The electromechanically assisted steering points accurately but the assistance is overdone and road feel isn’t one of the A6’s strongest suits.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. They inspire confidence, with progressive feel and more than enough to confidently arrest the 1.8-tonne A6's progress.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
Safety is literally five star, the A6 scoring ANCAP’s maximum rating when the car was tested in 2018, and active and passive tech is amazing.
The usual active safety suspects are all present and accounted for, namely ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and ‘Brake Assist’.
But from there the list of standard tech reads like a who’s who of recent innovations, including ‘Adaptive Drive Assist’ (adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’, distance indicator, traffic jam assist and lane guidance assist), AEB (5.0km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians and cyclists, and up to 250 km/h for vehicles), ‘Collision Avoidance Assist’ (additional steering torque in critical evasive situations), rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning.
The 360-degree camera set-up includes a kerb view function, with four wide-angle cameras covering the entire area immediately around the vehicle for improved visibility during low speed maneuveres.
There’s also an exit warning system (detects vehicles and cyclists when opening doors, triggering a warning light and delaying door opening), ‘Attention Assist’, tyre pressure monitoring, ‘Audi Parking System Plus’ (front and rear with visual display), and ‘Intersection Crossing Assist’.
That last one operates at speeds up to 30km/h, monitoring the area in front and at the side of the car, detecting “oncoming objects” at junctions and exit roads. If the situation is critical the system triggers a visual and acoustic warning as well as a quick jolt on the brakes (at speeds up to 10km/h).
But it’s not over yet, with auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and ‘Turn Assist’ included. Turn Assist monitors oncoming traffic when you’re turning right at speeds up to 10km/h and applies the brakes if necessary.
If all those measures aren’t enough to avoid an impact passive safety leads off with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers, plus curtain airbags covering both rows.
Also included is ‘Audi Pre-Sense Rear’ (tensioning of front seat belts, closing of windows and sunroof and flashing hazards on detection of an impending rear collision), the standard active bonnet helps to minimise pedestrian impact injuries and there’s a first-aid kit as well as a warning triangle and high-vis vests in the boot.
No surprise the new A6 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the assessment done in 2018 and the score applicable from August 2019 onwards.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.
Audi covers the A6 with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is in line with BMW and Merc, but lags the mainstream market where five years/unlimited km is the norm, with Kia and SsangYong at seven years.
That said, body cover runs to three years for paint defects and 12 years for corrosion (perforation).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plans’ offer capped price servicing options over three and five years.