Lexus RC VS Audi R8
- Smooth, effortless V6
- Better looking than before
- Tweaked chassis feels good
- Useless rear seats
- Howling V10
- Amazing traction
- Looks more aggro now
- No high-tech safety
- Interior short on flexibility
- Didn't get to drive it on 'real' roads
It's 2019 and the Lexus RC has been with us for four years which means it's time for a mid(ish)-life update. A glance at the specifications and tech details for its very low-key, late 2018 arrival suggests not much has changed. And let's be fair, it hasn't.
The mild refresh has brought a few changes in spec (in the right direction), price (the wrong direction, but few things are free in this life), and styling (you be the judge).
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There is typically no need for introductions when it comes to the Audi R8. But the 2019 Audi R8 isn’t the one you’ve come to know - its been sharpened up in terms of both its appearance, and its performance.
This heavily facelifted version of the second-generation Audi R8 keeps its high-revving V10 engine, and turbochargers have been kept at bay, too. It can’t hold off the march of progress for much longer, though - it’s almost certain this will be the last V10-engined R8… thankfully it has only just launched, so it should be on sale for a few years yet.
I got a chance to drive the new Audi R8 V10 Performance model in Spain at the model’s international launch drive this week - but only on Circuito Ascari race track.
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The RC's time on my drive was preceded by a cheaper, V8-powered Mustang, so it was fascinating to compare the Japanese approach to the American. They're not really competitors, obviously, but the Lexus' ability to cosset the driver while still showing a good turn of speed was an interesting counterpoint.
The 2019 RC350 isn't a step-change - if you want one of those, double your money and get the delightfully nutty RC F - but the changes inside, outside and underneath will certainly please the fans even if it doesn't bring in new ones in huge numbers.
Does anyone still even notice luxury coupes? If you do, is Lexus even on the radar?
This iteration could well be the final Audi R8 with a V10 engine, and what a note to go out on. Emissions laws and the ever-present push towards electrification are almost certain to see the next-generation R8 take a very different tack to this model. Lucky, then, that this is the best R8 yet.
I know the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect that - but that’s because it falls short on ‘regular’ car things. Even so, it’s an epic machine.
Would you have an Audi R8 over one of its rivals? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
As a whole, I've always thought the RC to be handsome, but the headlights - as on the IS - always made me wince a bit. There's too much going on, which is weird because the rest of the car is very easy on the eye.
As is common with a mid-life facelift, the work all happens at the front and rear. There's a revised bumper, tweaked mesh pattern in the spindle grille, and a much better looking set of headlights - with much cooler LED daytime running lights and headlights. They're still a bit much, but they're not jarring.
The rear is a little cleaner but I reckon it didn't need much work. Along with new wing mirrors from the gorgeous LC coupe and new wheel designs, it's a subtle update, but a good one.
Inside is little-changed, which is good and bad. A new brushed-aluminium dash inlay, a new (naff) analogue clock, and not a huge amount else. The switchgear has a lovely damped feel, nothing clicks or snaps and it really is very serene indeed. Few cars can match a Lexus interior for feel and touch.
Some of the design decisions are confusing, though. A rotary dial to change driving modes looks more like it should be used to control the media system, and the media system's touchpad is really annoying.
Wow, it was possible to make the Audi R8 even more attractive - the brand’s designers have gone and done it with this facelift, which sees a number of changes to the exterior styling that combine for a more aggressive, sharper look.
The ‘Singleframe’ grille now looks even more menacing, having been widened and flattened, and any trace of chrome has been removed. As the chief designer told us, a supercar is no place from chrome. There are three small slats above the grille, which hark back to the iconic Audi Sport quattro model of the 1980s.
Further, the front splitter is wider, the rear diffuser has been made even more prominent, and there are new oval exhaust pipe outlets - previously reserved for Audi RS models only.
My only ‘errr’ moment with the design is the mesh cooling section at the rear bumper, which appears a touch unfinished in combination with some colours, and it’s also very rectangular, meaning the new exhaust tips are at odds with it. But it all has a purpose, and applies to the regular R8 and the LMS racer.
There are three new exterior packages available, which change elements such as the front splitter, door sill trims (side skirts) and diffuser. On the base car, there’s a high-gloss black look; on the V10 Performance there’s a matte titanium look to these bits. Optionally, there’s a high-gloss carbon package.
Further, customers can get the badges and Audi rings painted in gloss black, while body paint colours now include 'Kemora grey' and 'Ascari blue'. There’ll be 19-inch and 20-inch wheels offered, depending on the model.
Inside, there’s been a bit less of a noticeable change. Check out the interior photos to see for yourself.
As ever, a sports coupe is the not the place to consider starting your DIY career, but front seat passengers luxuriate with plenty of space. A good-sized glove box joins two cupholders in the centre console which also has a decent-sized bin for hiding things, as well as a sensible place to put your phone (no wireless charging, sadly).
Rear seat passengers have very little space for their limbs or heads but at least the seats are comfortable. Two more cupholders back there, but really, nobody will use them.
The boot is a very useful 423 litres.
Okay, so Audi claims “the driver sits in the new R8 like in a race car”.
Having been a passenger in the Audi R8 GT3 car the brand had on show, I can tell you that’s not entirely true - because while you do sit about 12 centimetres higher than that ground-hugging beast, the regulation R8 model is superbly comfortable.
What the brand is getting at, though, is that the focus of all the interior design is to serve the driver. As such, there’s no central media screen - instead, there’s a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (Audi ‘virtual cockpit’) which is where the driver takes charge using steering wheel controls.
The system is crisp to look at, but it can be a little hard to get used to the controls, especially for sat nav inputs and so on. And that’s even with the central MMI rotary dial with touch pad.
But the other controls are great - I love the air-conditioning knobs, the gear selector and the switchgear, which all has a technical and beautiful finish to it. The steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the push-button starter is a real eye-catcher in red.
The seats in the cars we tested were superbly supportive and very comfortable, but the lack of adjustment of the fixed buckets means you might find yourself a bit too upright (if you get to spend more time in the car than we did).
And even though it’s a supercar, the R8 offers a level of practicality. Sure, the door pockets are virtually useless and there are no properly usable cupholders, but that gives you an idea to the intent of the car. There are, however, storage spots behind both of the seats, and there’s a centre storage area in front of the shifter and in the armrest.
And while the R8 has a mid-mounted engine, there’s still a boot: the R8 coupe’s rear cargo bay offers enough room for a suitcase or two soft smaller bags for a weekend away, with 226 litres of cargo capacity - according to Audi, that’s enough for a golf bag. There’s a secondary storage area under the bonnet, which adds an extra 112L of space. Don’t buy the Spyder if practicality is important to you, as it has even less storage space.
Price and features
While you can have an RC300 in the mid-sixties, the F Sport starts at $77,529, $200 extra than before. On the face of it, it doesn't look like amazing value, but get a Euro competitor and you'll be paying more.
You get 19-inch alloys, a 17-speaker stereo, four-wheel steering, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, electric heated and ventilated front seats, leather everywhere, a limited-slip diff, variable ratio steering, adaptive dampers, keyless entry and start, and an improved safety package.
The 17-speaker stereo is a treat but the media system is not; controlled from the console by a touchpad, it's hard to use and a pain to navigate. It has Bluetooth and USB connectivity with terrific sound, but it requires patience to operate - which includes the time to get the required qualifications (okay, slight exaggeration). And there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to take the edge off. Pity.
It’s expected Audi Australia will again offer the R8 in two different specs when it launches in Australia around the fourth quarter of 2019.
That means a base model (if you can call it that) V10 variant, and a higher-grade V10 Performance grade with more power and torque. The latter is expected to be the bulk seller - the current V10 Plus model accounts for some 90 per cent of R8 sales. Maybe they’ll drop the base car - time will tell.
It’s too early to have a stab at pricing and specifications, because nothing has been confirmed as yet and we’d be on Audi keeping prices relatively stable or maybe bumping them up - hey, you’re getting more power for your money, after all!
But you can bank on goodies like LED headlights, auto high-beam lights, leather seat trim, DAB+ digital radio, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 13-speaker sound system, auto headlights and wipers, push-button start and keyless entry and a fair bit more.
The V10 Performance model we drove had 20x8.5-inch front wheels and 20x11-inch rear wheels, with super grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.
For a guide, the current start price for the V10 is $366,340 plus on-road costs, while the V10 Plus (which will be renamed V10 Performance) currently lists at $402,430 before on-roads. Those prices are for the coupe - the Spyder convertible adds roughly $20,000 on both grades.
Considering some of the competitors, it is a little pricey - although it’s the cheapest way into V10 supercar ownership.
So, what are its rivals? Lamborghini has the Huracan (essentially an R8 twin - priced from $378,900 in RWD, or $428,000 for the AWD model), or you could take a look at a McLaren 570S ($395,000), Mercedes-AMG has the GT (from $261,130) and there are about 20 versions of the Porsche 911 you might consider (from $220,500). If the Spyder is more your go, I’d take a look at the Ferrari Portofino ($398,888), too.
Engine & trans
The RC350 packs Lexus' creamy 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6, a step up from the RC300's turbo four-cylinder. Power remains at 232kW/380Nm, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed torque-converted automatic.
The RC350 cracks the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds, which isn't bad considering it's a hefty beast at over 1700kg.
The RC300's turbo four spins up 180kW and an impressive 350Nm if you're keen to save a few dollars upfront and on running costs.
The new R8 retains the same 5.2-litre V10 (FSI) naturally-aspirated engine, but Audi’s engineers have wrung its neck to squeeze more power and torque out of it.
There are two tunes available - the regular version, which has 419kW of power (up from 397kW), and 560Nm of torque (up from 540Nm). It only comes with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic transmission, and comes with quattro all-wheel drive.
The claimed 0-100km/h time is just 3.4 seconds for the coupe and 3.5sec for the Spyder convertible. It tops out at 324km/h, or 322/km/h in the convertible.
The higher-grade version is by far the most potent R8 yet, with 456kW of power (up from 449kW) and 580Nm of torque (was 560Nm). Again, S tronic and quattro, and this time around with a 0-100km/h acceleration claim of 3.1sec for the coupe (3.2sec convertible). Top speed is 331km/h or 329km/h, depending on body type.
Lexus says the 350 will manage 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle but I scored a rather less convincing 12.8L/100km. Again, that's probably not bad considering its weight. The tricky dash display had me thinking it was an amazing 7.8L/100km, but it was km/L...
There is no stop-start, cylinder-on-demand or battery regen tech to save fuel - features its European rivals all have at least one of.
Don’t expect to see the official claimed fuel consumption figure on a regular basis. The number is 12.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the most potent coupe version, while the lower-power version uses a claimed 11.4L/100km.
The engine has cylinder deactivation for less intense situations, and there’s engine stop-start, too.
It uses 98RON premium unleaded fuel, and has an 83 litre fuel tank capacity.
As it has ever been, the RC350 is one smooth, smooth ride. Even the way the doors open is relaxing: swinging wide open like the hinges are made of butter, (except butter that doesn't melt or sag). Look, I'm trying to avoid saying smooth again.
Engine start-up is barely audible and while pottering about the engine remains just as subdued. It's up to the digital dashboard, with its instruments clustered into a single dial with a digital speedo, to let you know what's going on. Few cars outside of the Lexus stable are this relaxing to drive.
What I don't remember from the last time I drove an RC was all-wheel steering. Either I wasn't paying attention or Lexus snuck it in - but it really makes a difference. It's not as aggressive as, say, the bonkers RC F or Renault Sport Megane, it's just there to help bring the heavy car around. It also seems better sorted than the same system in the bigger LC500. And the steering's variable rack works well with it as a partner, too.
The RC's adaptive suspension is so good at what it does. It never over-tightens the suspension but does make a difference in Sport+. It's not really in the 350's nature to take it out for a good thrashing, but it's certainly capable - if held back a little by its portly kerb weight and soft brake pedal feel.
I can’t say what it’s like on public roads, but my stint on a shortened track at Circuito Ascari near Ronda in Spain left me grinning ear to ear.
And so it should, with the immense performance of the V10 engine - tested on track in the higher output R8 Performance spec with the full 456kW and 580Nm complement of grunt numbers.
Driving the R8 reminded me of that one time in under 11s rugby league when a much smaller defender managed to lift me up and dump be on the ground - an impressive effort, because I was heavy enough to be running around in under 15s. At that time, it took a second for me to realise what had happened, and was enough to leave me a bit short of breath.
The same sensation came to mind as I loaded up the throttle and threw myself at the horizon from the pit exit. Under a heavy right foot, the world around me started to blur and the first corner of the track suddenly approached after the crest. I had to try and remember what the lead car had shown me in the sighting laps prior, where to turn, how hard to get on the gas.
But I was distracted by the mind-bending physics I was experiencing, not to mention the theatre of the R8. The sound really is hard to beat - the howl of a high-revving V10, unmuffled by turbochargers, is something to behold when it’s enveloping you, and the fact the noise emanates from behind your ears almost makes you want to push it even harder.
1 – 6 – 5 – 10 – 2 – 7 – 3 – 8 – 4 – 9. That’s the firing sequence of the V10. Just thought you might like to know.
The gearshifts cut through the noise with prodigious sharpness, and when I chose the 'Performance' drive mode (which firmed everything up, enabled even more manic acceleration and disabled traction control) the shifts were brutal, often resulting in a shockwave through the car. It was some seriously good feedback for me as the driver, though it may not bode well for longevity…
There was tremendous traction from the quattro all-wheel drive system from a standstill, and across a long, banked corner on the track I felt super confident, pushing harder than I know I would have dared in a rear-drive car.
I managed to get a steer in both an R8 with the regular steering system and a model with the brand’s ‘dynamic’ steering set-up. Both have been retuned to be “more direct and precise throughout the entire speed range”.
I preferred the dynamic steering set-up which can vary the steering ratio based on the speed, and is “very direct” according to Audi - and even more so when Performance mode is engaged.
I found it to be super predictable at lower cornering speeds, and therefore more manageable to an amateur like me. One of Audi’s test drivers told me that he prefers the normal steering set-up, because at ‘really big speed’ it’s easier to predict.
The highest speed I saw was just a tickle over 200km/h, and I understood his take on it. Maybe normal steering for high-speed tracks, then? Or I just need to learn to drive faster…? Hey, no-one wants to be the guy who bins the $400k supercar on the very first rotation of about thirty over a two-week run of international journalists visiting to sample the newest, bestest and most expensivest Audi has to offer.
The models we drove were all fitted with the optional carbon ceramic braking package, which allowed the stoppers to resist fade for a lot longer - ideal for extended track time sessions, and they certainly stood up to my reliance on them on my few short stints on the track. They came in especially handy during a (very cool) night session where we were expected to remember the track layout about seven hours after our first outing.
It would have been great to drive it on real roads, because apparently that’s where the dynamic steering is most impressive.
The RC comes with eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, active bonnet, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB and forward collision warning.
There are two top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX fittings in the back.
ANCAP has not tested the RC but it scored a 'Good' rating from the US IIHS test regime.
The Audi R8 hasn’t been crash-tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but Audi claims the car’s spaceframe chassis offers “high crash safety”.
You get a reversing camera and parking sensors (optional in Europe, expected to be standard in Australia) plus the R8 comes with six airbags, including dual front, front side and curtain coverage. Spyder models miss out on curtain airbags.
Top spec models are expected to get the excellent laser headlights (auto high-beam light up to 600 metres throw distance), and all models come with LED headlights.
Unlike parent company Toyota, Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty. Also unlike Toyota, you don't get an absurdly cheap deal on servicing, and there's with no capped-price regime. Lexus wants to see your car every 12 months or 15,000km.
To soften the blow of no capped-price servicing, Lexus will either give you a loan car or, even better, come and fetch your car from you before returning it vacuumed, washed, and serviced.
You also get a fairly comprehensive four years of roadside assist and a few other perks.
There is no capped price service plan for the R8, and no pre-purchase plan like you can get on the rest of the ‘regular’ Audi range.