Comparison Test: 2012 Audi A6 3.0 Quattro vs. 2013 Lexus GS350 F-Sport

By John Beltz Snyder

May 03, 2012

(photo credit: Chris Amos)
 
—Ypsilanti, Michigan
 
Take a good long look at the photos accompanying this article. Go ahead, these words will still be here when you get back. There’s a lot to take in, visually, when seeing the 2012 Audi A6 and 2013 Lexus GS paired up with one another. It’s clear immediately that these aren’t boring cars, gods be praised. These are extraordinary sedans. You can see it.
 
These two cars are worlds apart in terms of appearance. The Audi is stunning. The GS looks great, too, but where the A6 is graceful, sleek, and easy, the Lexus looks focused, hard, and serious. The German is more of a traditional crowd-pleaser, while the Japanese offering is going to attract a driver who means business, and wants to look the part. We’ll let you decide which is more favorable, while noting that we wouldn’t kick either of these babies out of bed.
 
Inside, the cars both smack of sporting luxury, but in very different ways. The Audi feels more traditional, with a grey and brown interior, with use of wood grain on the dash, doors, and tunnel. It has a country lounge feel to it and is quite a relaxed and homey space. Our tester featured the touch pad next to the gear selector, where we could actually write letters with our fingers to spell out our destination in the navigation system. The multimedia screen rising from the dash when we started the car, along with the two Bang & Olufsen speakers up front, felt particularly special.
 
The GS’s interior was mostly black, with brushed metal trim where the A6 had wood. It feels a bit more sporting, especially with the shine of the metal pedals. Instead of a touchscreen, the Lexus offered a version of the brand’s computer-mouse-like interface, offering feedback and resistance corresponding to what the display was showing and how it was divided. In all, it requires fewer physical buttons that you can accidentally hit with your elbow than the Audi, with most of these controls behind the gear lever. Really, deciding which is superior is a subjective matter; we’ll just say that the Audi offers a richer interface, while that of the Lexus feels more streamlined. Onward to the good part.
 
[Click here to read our comparison between the 2012 Audi A8L 4.2 and 2012 BMW 750Li xDrive]
 
The GS offers sharp response, and, at least on turn-in, it eagerly takes aim at the apex of a corner. The problem, though, comes after that, as it seems to fight against its own weight a bit as it tackles the rest of the turn (despite weighing less than the Audi—we’ll chalk it up to rear-wheel drive). Pushed hard, stability control is quick to chime in and govern the fun (and the speed that one could’ve carried through the curve). At high speeds, the steering can feel a bit twitchy, which hurts stability a bit. Finally, the weight of the tiller feels a bit artificial, and you can feel it trying to predict your moves and boost the wheel accordingly.
 
The Audi A6 doesn’t have the sharpness in steering as the Lexus, but it feels a bit more willing to rotate on turn-in. Progression through the steering wheel is smooth and easy to work with, and the car doesn’t struggle when pushed into a turn. For mot practical and enthusiastic applications, we’d trade the GS’s synaptic on-center response for the Audi’s overall more natural, telepathic steering response—one that is good from lock to lock, and not just at certain angles of input.
 
Throttle response in the Audi is very sharp, and acceleration is immediate, especially lower in the rev range. Tap the right pedal, and the motor springs to life, pushing occupants back in their seats. There’s definitely a visceral moment one feels when accelerating through a gear. When it comes time to slow the car down, the brakes are also very responsive, making it easy to shed speed quickly and confidently.
 
The sound of the A6’s motor is a bit subdued, and it’s hard to hear it in the cabin unless you’re keeping it good and hot. What sounds do come through are very pleasant, exhilarating, and technical sounding. You hear more of the engine than the exhaust, and its voice speaks with precision. Listen closely, and the sound of the supercharger will make the hair on your arms stand up. Combined with that surging physical rush it offers in the lower part of the rev band, the experience really comes together as a rewarding one, if not quite as sonically rich as it could be.
 
The GS, on the other hand, sounds more throaty and muscular. It’s a bit bolder about making its voice heard, and it booms heartily when run through the revs. The sound is good for keeping the driver engaged, and for letting him know what is going on under the hood, especially when shifting manually. This motor has presence, and will cause others to turn their heads when they hear it coming.
 
The nature of the Lexus’s power delivery seems like a natural fit with the noise it generates. It’s not as quick to jump forward from a stop or a crawl, but it has the endurance to wring out every horsepower high into the powerband. High-speed maneuvers are effortless, and passing slower drivers on the highway happens in precious few, very entertaining moments. The trick in driving the GS fast is keeping the revs high. It can feel very average lower in the range, and only really begins to feel fast when the motor is working very hard. The car’s six gears felt ample for all types of driving, but shifts were just a smidge slower. Also, after a shift, it takes just a moment for the revs to climb into that peak power area (this, however, is preferable to the confused response that Lexus’s eight-speed gearbox produces in other cars from that brand).
 
The GS offers very different driving styles, dialed up by the knob below the gear lever. In Sport+ the feeling through the suspension changes dramatically, and a lot of the on-center chatter that was muted in Normal and Eco is telegraphed clearly through the floorboards and the steering wheel. We’re sure the nineteen-inch F-Sport wheels on our tester had a lot to do with it, but no matter how you slice it, you won’t hear us calling this Lexus isolated, at least not when dialed into its sportiest setting.
 
The Audi, regardless of what drive mode is selected, just isn’t as talkative at the Lexus. You get a sense of what’s going on between tire and tarmac through the suspension, but it takes a bit of concentration to discern it. The steering remains calm and quiet, but you can hear the subtle movements through the chassis when the road surface changes.
 
That may not matter much in the overall scheme of things, as the A6 feels more planted to the road. While the Lexus’s stance and more artificial-feeling steering feels just a bit wobblier. This is especially true in the corners, where the Audi feels a bit more glued down, and always points where aimed.
 
The Audi’s transmission handles shifting very rapidly and easily. It’s easy to change one or two gears via the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It has eight gears total, which helps for fuel economy (though the two cars were matched at 19/28 miles per gallon, highway/city), but feels unnecessary for performance, as so much power is available down low. Wait it out, then shift, and the tachometer needle lands pretty high in the rev range. It sounds absolutely terrific when this happens under spirited driving, but it robs us of some of the fun offered in the low revs. Oh well. This also means you can shift short, and not be stuck sucking wind.
 
In either car, when using manual mode, if you slack off a bit, the car will resume control for you, shifting itself at redline regardless of transmission mode. While idiot-proofing the transmission will make less experienced drivers feel more heroic when the tach needle doesn’t bounce off the redline, we prefer a car that only does what we tell it, when we tell it. You won’t find that with either of these offerings.
 
Neither the Audi A6 nor the Lexus GS are what we would call enthusiast cars. They both do a good job, though, of bringing a lot of that sports appeal with them as they bridge the gap between sports sedan and luxury barges. They serve as great ways to get from place to place quickly, and in a way that feels comfortable, classy and slick. Both of these cars serve that purpose especially well.
 
But since who we are dictates that we’re looking for a car that’s the most entertaining, we feel compelled to call the Audi A6 the superior way to get from one place to another very quickly. A supercharger and all-wheel drive will do that. An all-wheel drive version of the GS is available, but the Audi’s controls simply feel more natural and responsive when pushed toward their limits. We know there are those out there who will feel differently; we think a lot of people are really going to love this GS, and that makes us glad, because it deserves a lot of appreciation as well.
 
Each car feels very special in its own way. Gaze upon them yet again. We can’t promise that you, gentle reader, will like one more than another, that you’ll share our taste in driving style, accommodations, appearance, or appreciate our hell-bent favoring of involvement (the last one there being just enough to to tip the scales in the A6’s direction, as far as we’re concerned).
 
We can promise you, though, that both vehicles are brimming with personality. Get behind the wheel of either one, and take it for a drive on your favorite roads, be they curvy, wide-open, steep, scenic, fresh, or decaying. Either car will provide you with a unique driving experience you won’t soon forget.
 
2013 Lexus GS350 F-Sport
Engine: V-6, 3.5 liters, 24v
Output: 306 hp/277 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.7 sec
Top Speed: 142 mph
Weight: 3795 lb
Base Price: $52,590
Price As Tested: $55,869
 
2012 Audi A6 3.0 TFSI Quattro
Engine: Supercharged V6, 3.0 liters, 24v
Output: 310 hp/325 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.3 sec
Top Speed: 130 mph
Weight: 4045 lb
Base Price: $49,900
Price As Tested: $67,430