The Audi A5 TFSI and Lexus RC200t are to cars what wrestling is to boxing. They look like the real thing from a distance, but in actual fact they’re softer versions of their respective performance siblings, the RS5 and RC F.
But, is that such a bad thing? Wrestling has millions of fans worldwide and to most people, it’s pretty much the same thing as any other type of fighting.
Both the Audi A5 and Lexus RC are predominantly purchased by young-middle aged professionals without families. They’re style statements that set a precedent for the life you lead – my dentist has one, for example. Yes, I agree he gets paid too much.
While the old Audi A5 was getting quite long in the tooth, this new one sets a new benchmark for technology and build quality for Audi. It makes the Lexus RC look and feel much older than it is, making the price difference even harder to justify.
We pitted both of these cars head-to-head in a road loop that would mix city, highway and country driving to determine which most deserves your hard-earned cash.
Starting from $69,900 (plus on-road costs), the Audi A5 range kicks off with the A5 TFSI, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder front-wheel drive coupe. The range runs all the way through to the S5 Coupe, which is priced from $105,511 (plus on-road costs).
The A5 TFSI quattro tested here is available from $81,500 (plus on-road costs), making it a generous step up from the $73,900 (plus on-road costs) TDI quattro.
At that price point, it’s loaded with features that make the price a justifiable measure.
Standard features include: 10-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control, pollen filter, USB and auxiliary audio input, blind-spot monitoring, active pedestrian bonnet protection, rear-view camera, low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking, and forward and rear collision alert.
The Audi also scores as standard, front and rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, Virtual Cockpit LCD display, front electric seats, electronic differential lock, LED headlights, a cooled glovebox, keyless entry and start, auto dimming rear vision mirror and wing mirrors, automatic windscreen wipers, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and wireless hotspot.
Unlike Audis of past, the options list isn’t extensive or overly expensive. It includes things like wireless charging ($455), through to the most expensive option, the Technik Package ($5600), which includes premium sound, matrix LED headlights and a head-up display.
Over in the Lexus camp, the RC200t offers a more affordable entry price, kicking off from $64,869 (plus on-road costs), moving all the way through to the eye watering $158,548 (plus on-road costs) RC F Carbon.
Our test car, the RC200t F Sport begins from $73,891 (plus on-road costs), which is $7609, or around 10 per cent, cheaper than the A5 TFSI quattro, with the key difference being the two-wheel drive skew of the RC200t in comparison to the all-wheel drive offering by Audi.
It too comes loaded with standard equipment, including: 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloy wheels, power steering column adjustment, dual-zone climate control, USB and auxiliary infotainment input, blind-spot monitoring, pedestrian active bonnet protection, rear-view camera, keyless entry and start, low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking, and front and rear parking sensors.
Add in as standard, radar cruise control, LED daytime running lights, LCD instrument display, driver and front passenger electric seats, satellite navigation, LED headlights, limited slip differential, auto dimming rear-vision and wing mirrors, DAB+ digital radio, and heated and ventilated front row seats, and you can see the Lexus wants for little.
In typical Lexus fashion, there are only a handful of options to choose from, including an Enhancement Pack ($3500), which includes a sunroof, auto dipping lights, lane departure warning and keyless card remote entry, along with Premium Paint ($1500).
These two vehicles are worlds apart on the interior stakes. The A5 presents with a smart interior that is somewhat clinical, but executed with precision. The lines are straight and to the point, while the infotainment controls and switchgear are all easy to use and have an upmarket, spring-loaded tactile feel to them.
The seating position is also en pointe with the flat-bottomed steering wheel sitting perfectly in hand, with paddle-shifters an easy pull away on either side.
Every material around the cabin has been well thought out with a premium goal in mind. Door trims are soft to the touch, while the reflective brushed aluminium surfaces are textured, with ‘quattro’ insignia proudly displayed on the passenger side.
There’s stacks of storage up front with two decent cupholders with spring-loaded side mounts, a generous glove box, along with ample storage within door pockets. While your rear seat passengers are barely going to stretch out for a long commute, it’s a space big enough for short trips.
Tri-zone climate control, plus LED map lights even make the second row a comfortable place if you plan on hauling kids over long distances on occasions. The second row also folds in a 40/20/40 fashion with a ski port to allow easy access to the boot.
Measuring in at 465 litres, the boot is big enough for a set of golf clubs and features a space saver spare tyre beneath the load floor.
Back inside the cabin, Audi’s new 8.3-inch infotainment system is an absolute cracker. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Google Maps overlay via GSM and Audi’s huge 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit information screen ahead of the driver.
The screen in front of the driver can be customised to display a number of functions, even using almost its entire space to display navigation information. This teams with an equally impressive head-up display. Audi has really taken the ball and started to run with it in the technology stakes.
There’s even an awesome feature that really took me by surprise – an oncoming traffic warning that’s activated when you open the driver or front passenger doors. Using sensors within the rear of the car, it can detect whether a cyclist or vehicle is approaching as you open the door.
If there is, it will flash a bright LED light rapidly around the handle surrounds to ensure you are notified and don’t accidentally open the door into them. It’s great technology that really should be featured on all new cars.
The sound system is excellent and we found the voice recognition system good most of the time, but it struggled with commands relating to stopping navigation, meaning time needed to be taken to manually change settings using the infotainment system. It’s not quite as sharp as the system featured in BMW and Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Step into the Lexus RC and it’s almost like stepping back in time. The interior has dated badly and is a prime example of poor design and functionality.
The first issue is the litany of buttons strewn throughout the cabin. There are stacks below the air vents, more buttons next to the gear lever, and even more buttons to control the infotainment system. One thing we also noticed on a few occasions is that if you have a drink in the front cupholder, it makes it hard to change drive modes.
The steering wheel feels huge in comparison to the Audi, and it too features a maze of buttons that can be confusing to decipher while on the move. The glovebox is tiny and there’s limited storage within the door pockets.
While there are air vents in the second row, the space is very cramped in comparison to the Audi. There’s limited leg-, knee- and headroom. But it does partially make up for it with map lights and 60/40 split-folding seats. The seats fold to a cargo hold with 423 litres of capacity, which is less than the A5’s 465 litres.
Arguably though, the biggest let down within the cabin is the 7.0-inch infotainment system. It’s one of the poorest and hardest to use infotainment units on the market. The mouse system is clumsy, rarely accurate and settings are buried in hard to find menus.
The voice recognition system is difficult to use and commands aren’t natural or logical when it’s called upon. One of the only redeeming features is the sound system, which is pretty good for a cabin this size.
Fit and finish is very good, but the mixture of materials throughout the cabin is a little confusing, as is the continued use of the archaic foot-operated park brake.
Of the two, the Audi easily takes the win on interior execution.
To keep things consistent, I use the same road loop for comparisons, including some performance runs attached to the trust VBox. Our drive route includes a stretch of city driving, a highway run, some country roads, some gravel roads and finally, some corners.
With both cars reset we set off from the CarAdvice office mazing through urban roads to the freeway entrance.
In this environment both cars showed excellent body control despite riding on reasonably sporty tyres and wheels.
The Audi uses 255mm wide tyres all round, riding on 19-inch alloy wheels and 35 profile tyres. The Lexus, on the other hand, rides on 235mm wide tyres at the front and 265mm wide tyres at rear, both ends using 19-inch alloy wheels with 40 profile rubber at the front and 35 at the rear.
Steering effort on both cars was quite easy, with the Audi also featuring a very clear and sharp rear-view camera. The RC’s camera was good, but lacked clarity, especially at night.
At low speeds, the Audi was a little frustrating due to the hesitation delivered by the dual-clutch transmission. There were times when you needed to get the foot stuck into it for the car to move without hesitation. The Lexus was better, but was mainly affected by a laggy engine, which didn’t do much before receiving turbocharger assistance.
Under the bonnet of the Audi, is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 185kW of power and 370Nm of torque, consuming 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Audi claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds, which we managed to beat by 0.1sec, coming in at 5.7 seconds.
The Lexus on the other hand, is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque, using a claimed 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Lexus claims a 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds, which we weren’t able to match. The closest we got to it was 7.7 seconds.
Despite featuring an all-wheel drive system, the Audi weighs 40kg less than the Lexus, tipping the scales at 1645kg (tare), compared with 1685kg with the Lexus.
At highway speeds, both cars measured identical cabin noise readings, at 69.9dB. But, during acceleration from standstill to 100km/h, it was the Audi allowing the most sound to penetrate into the cabin, clocking 70.5dB in comparison to the Lexus at 69.9dB.
Our first dynamic test showed just how much extra traction is on offer from Audi’s renowned quattro all-wheel drive system. The engine is incredibly eager and ready to punch out of a corner with extra throttle never unsettling the balance.
We clocked a maximum speed of 70km/h in the Audi through this tightening corner, with our notes referring to impressive steering feel and a very sporting character without any signs of hesitation or stability control intervention.
The Lexus could only manage around 60km/h through the same bend with the rear end quite twitchy and the throttle unresponsive, even in the vehicle’s sharpest setting. It too had limited stability control intervention, which is something of a rarity in Lexus and Toyota products.
Our test route then delved into the country where the roads became choppier and the corners offered faster entry speeds with sweeping exits.
It’s on these roads where the Audi didn’t feel as resolved as the Lexus. Where the Audi would be a little firmer and sometimes crash over continuous undulations and corrugated sections of road, the Lexus offered softer damping and excellent body control over continuous undulations.
It also proved to offer the most communicative steering as we navigated roads that featured mid-corner bumps that could provide kickback through the Audi’s steering wheel at times.
But while the Lexus excelled with body control and steering, it was positively slow until it began winding on torque thanks to its forced induction. The gearbox also regularly hunted for gears, not wanting to hold a gear and use the engine’s torque, instead opting to kick down.
The Audi’s gearbox on the other hand is well resolved and offered incredibly quick shifts and even held onto gears and blipped the throttle when the transmission was locked into its sport mode.
Both cars offer a range of driver-selectable modes to tailor the experience. Audi uses a drive select system that moves between comfort, auto, dynamic and eco. Drivers can option adaptive suspension for the A5, which links with the drive select system to further adjust ride quality, depending on the mode selected.
We’d be ticking this box, given the added flexibility it adds to ride quality and comfort when cruising.
Lexus uses a rotary dial to transition between drive modes that include eco, normal, sport and sport+. Like the Audi, they each vary the vehicle’s characteristics, including steering feel and shift quality. Unlike the Audi, the Lexus RC comes with electronic damper control as standard, meaning the sport modes adjust ride quality too.
While it all looks and feels like fun, flicking the dial across to sport+ doesn’t improve the Lexus’s engine response. Despite throttle response being sharper, it doesn’t feel any quicker, meaning that all you get is heavy steering and a firmer ride. The Torsen limited-slip differential helps keep things in check, but it’s never really changed with this powertrain.
At the end of our drive, the Audi clocked in with a fuel consumption of 11.8L/100km and the Lexus at 12.9L/100km. These figures are much higher than quoted claims, but there was a great deal of spirited driving involved, including performance testing.
Buying a sporty coupe like either of these doesn’t mean breaking the bank when it comes to servicing.
Audi offers a three-year capped price servicing program that locks in the price when paid upfront. Service intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months, while the warranty is three years and unlimited kilometres. Three years of servicing costs $1670.
Lexus doesn’t offer a capped price servicing program, with servicing required every 12 months or 15,000km. The Lexus warranty is longer though at four years and 100,000km.
Over a three-year period, the Lexus’s servicing chimes in at an impressive $1200.86, with the first 12-month service complimentary, the next at $636.89 and the final of the three-year services priced at $563.97.
We went into this test thinking it would be a lot closer than it was.
The all-new Audi A5 has really pushed the game forward and makes a whole lot of sense in all-wheel drive trim. It offers enough performance to keep most punters happy and delivers fuel efficient motoring if driven as a daily.
The level of technology on offer is tremendous and the quality of the interior is unlike anything else in the segment.
Despite the Lexus being different enough on the outside to appeal to its own demographic, it’s let down by mediocre performance and an interior that struggles to excel.
But, there’s a big price difference between the two. You really need to ask yourself whether all-wheel drive performance is necessary. If it’s not, the entry-level front-wheel drive A5 certainly fits the bill in terms of price, but won’t feel anywhere near as lively as the rear-wheel driven Lexus RC.
For us, we’d stump up the extra cash though, because the new A5 is worth every penny.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.
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