Car group tests

Lexus RC vs Audi A5

Hybrid takes on diesel in a battle of the cool coupes as the revised Lexus RC faces the established Audi A5

The competition is tough in the coupe sector, so Lexus has revitalised its RC with spruced-up styling and more kit. There’s also a different trim range, which includes this new, top-spec Takumi model to follow in the footsteps of the luxury LS limo and ES executive saloon.

In this class efficiency is still important, though; that’s why the Lexus is facing off against the Audi A5 in 40 TDI S tronic Black Edition guise. The A5 is a former winner of our Best Coupe crown, and blends quality with technology, performance with efficiency and handling prowess with comfort, so this is still the car the Lexus has to beat.

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But with a shift in the market meaning a petrol hybrid like the RC 300h is now more attractive than ever, it’s got plenty in its arsenal to take on the diesel A5 Coupe. 

Head-to-head

Model:Lexus RC 300h TakumiAudi A5 Coupe 40 TDI Black Edition
Price: £45,800£41,755
Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol/electric motor2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
Power/torque: 220bhp/N/A187bhp/400Nm
Transmission: CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive 
0-60mph:8.2 seconds7.4 seconds
Top speed:118mph150mph
Test economy: 44.2mpg/9.7mpl40.9mpg/9.0mpl
CO2/tax: 114g/km/£440118g/km/£450
Options: Special finish paint (£920)None

Lexus RC

For: Refinement on the motorway, cabin quality, lots of standard kit.Against: Infotainment is frustrating, still doesn’t feel sporty, more cramped than A5.

The RC’s recipe hasn’t fundamentally changed. It’s still based on the same platform and powered by a 2.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine working in conjunction with an electric motor to help improve performance and efficiency.

Lexus has enhanced the car’s appeal by carrying out myriad incremental tweaks. These cover the looks, interior, uspension, steering and the safety kit on offer (although sadly, the infotainment has escaped any meaningful revisions), and the changes have certainly given the coupe a boost.

Let’s start with the engine. The 300h powertrain is a known quantity and Lexus is improving its technology, but it’s still not perfect. As with many of the brand’s hybrid units, because it features a CVT automatic transmission that does away with gears, things get noisy if you use full throttle.

Due to a quirk of the CVT, it holds the revs high to maximise acceleration. This is good, too; the RC took a respectable 8.2 seconds to cover 0-60mph, given that it’s 246kg heavier than the A5, while its time from 30 to 70mph was just in touch with the Audi’s, at 7.4 seconds. Lay off the accelerator, squeeze it gently and try to maximise the electric motor’s help, and it’s more relaxed without too much of a drawback when it comes to performance.

Trying to keep it in EV mode is a fruitless task, though. This Nickel-metal hydride battery doesn’t have the same capacity as a PHEV’s cells, so it’s more for help around town and to bolster the petrol unit under load. Adapt your driving style and you’ll get the best from it, but then this does detract from the performance element a coupe like this has to offer.

It steers and rides fairly sweetly; it’s a little less lumpy than before, but the engine’s relatively relaxed vibe extends to the chassis. Sadly, so does its reluctance to be pushed hard.

The steering is a nice weight but not as precise as the Audi’s, while there’s not as much grip to exploit, either. This is due to the suspension damping. It’s clearly softer, leaning over more in corners, although the compliance means there’s comfort on offer. Hit a bump hard and the car thumps – a trait the A5 isn’t immune from.

It’s obvious that the RC isn’t as dynamic, but its focus is arguably more on comfort and refinement than agility and fun. Here it does at least succeed.

That’s helped by the standard equipment spec in Takumi trim. This top model gets lots of safety kit, parking sensors and a reversing camera. There’s also a 10.3-inch sat-nav system with Bluetooth, climate control, heated and ventilated electric leather sports seats, 19-inch alloy wheels and LED lights.

Testers’ notes

  • • Infotainment: This is the RC’s Achilles’ heel. The system is frustrating to use, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity isn’t offered, either.
  • • Transmission: With no ratios to worry about, the CVT auto helps offer performance once under way, but there can be a lag as it adjusts the revs.
  • • Interior: Cabin quality is great and mostly a match for the A5’s. Dash display shows hybrid system’s power distribution.

Audi A5

For: Interior quality and technology, more spacious than the RC, better and more sporty to drive.Against: Not quite as efficient, diesel can be noisy, not as much standard kit (although cheaper as a result). 

It doesn’t seem like two minutes since Audi launched this second-generation A5 Coupe, but more than two years have passed since we first tested the car. Its fresh feel is thanks to the advanced interior, which was easily the best in its class when the A5 was launched, and is still right up there thanks to the technology on offer.

While newer models from the brand might have even more digitisation, the multimedia set-up is still easily the better of the two cars. It includes a large 8.3-inch central screen and a 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital dash display.

Cabin quality is also excellent. Black Edition trim gets the same half-leather, half-Alcantara sports seats as the S line model shown in our pictures, while the rest of the materials inside are soft and have a comparable level of quality to the Lexus. In fact, the areas of cheaper plastic are better hidden in the A5 than in the RC.

There is a ‘but’, though. While the 40 TDI Black Edition model is £4,045 cheaper than the RC 300h Takumi, it has less equipment. You’ll have to specify Audi’s £1,295 Comfort and Sound pack, which adds keyless operation and an upgraded Bang & Olufsen audio system, to match the RC’s Mark Levinson unit. Then there’s full leather upholstery for £800. If you want the seats heated they’re another £300, or it’s £200 for them to be electrically adjustable.

Adaptive cruise is part of the £1,250 Driver Assistance Pack – Tour, which adds more safety tech. Spec these and it brings the price up to a more comparable £45,600. Even then, though, the Audi is cheaper and better than the Lexus in many areas.

One of those is how the A5 drives. It feels sharper, keener to change direction and more alert, but not at the expense of comfort or refinement. The same is true of the engine. While the diesel does grumble more than the smoother petrol-electric option in the Lexus, rev that powertrain and it’s noisy, too.

The 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel unit is strong and delivers good slugs of torque from low down to boost performance. Off the line the Audi beat the RC, taking 7.4 seconds to cover 0-60mph. The advantage wasn’t so great from 30 to 70mph through the gears, where the car clocked 6.5 seconds.

Audi’s MLB evo platform is solid and the damping is relatively fluid. A sportier set-up means it’s firm, yet rides nearly as well as the RC. But it has the edge in bends, with less roll, more grip and a more reassuring feel. You can add quattro four-wheel drive for £1,835 if you want extra traction. It’s not entirely necessary because the front-wheel-drive A5 is controllable.

Testers’ notes

  • • Infotainment: Upgraded infotainment and digital dials pack is a worthwhile option and matches the high-quality feel of the A5’s interior.
  • • Transmission: Dual-clutch S tronic gearbox trumps the RC’s CVT. It works well in auto or manual modes.
  • • Interior: Low dash makes the Audi seem more spacious inside. Build quality is great as well. 

Verdict

First place: Audi A5

The A5 is ageing, but it’s still a fine coupe. Performance is strong, while it’s agile and comfortable enough. But its real depth lies in the quality of the cabin and the tech on offer. It’s also roomier and more practical than the Lexus, cheaper (even when you add the options) and better to drive. 

Second place: Lexus RC

The RC is improved and still boasts the quality and refinement we expect from Lexus. But the terrible level of tech we’re also used to hasn’t been addressed. While it’s comfortable, efficient and very well equipped, it’s not as spacious or as practical, so has to give best to the A5.

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