Adventures in Entry-Level Luxury
I recently featured two owner reviews on my YouTube channel—one for a 2018 Audi A5 and one for a 2015 Lexus RC350 F Sport. The current car market aside, both cars provide drivers with excellent value compared to buying new. Typically priced between $30,000-$40,000, both cars, when purchased used or CPO, fall within the range of the average new car purchase in the US. For the price, does it make sense to shift from a new, basic car to a used luxury car, as these two owners did? Which is the better choice? Let’s explore some of the variables and options for those of us experiencing champagne tastes on beer budgets.
2018 Audi A5
Like all Audis, the A5 centers on simple (spartan? sterile?) design combined with comfort and practicality. It sports a clean, functional interior and has great space in the sportback variant tested. I love the Kia Stinger for many of the same reasons, and, as a CPO, it’s a tough call to chose between it and the A5. Unlike the Stinger--and the Lexus, for that matter--the Audi doesn't boast rear-wheel drive architecture; still, it's handling is relatively neutral with some characteristic understeer but not as much as I remember from driving other models. I have not doubt it will handle weather better if that’s a concern.
There is not too much body-roll even though the car is clearly focused on comfort. Driving in Dynamic Mode wakes it up quite a bit, though it always auto upshifted on me. The ubiquitous turbo four provides nice punch but not much top end, and the DCT shifts well even when moving slowly. The A5 gets up to speed quite quickly and sails down the highway, true to its Autobahn breeding. A used A5 will serve the needs of a young family quite well while providing the main driver enough enjoyment when managing work and errands.
2015 Lexus RC350 F Sport
A sleek, sporty exterior and a stylish, driver-focused interior are highlights of the Lexus RC350 F Sport. It is truly a great looking car. It reminds me of an upscale 86--not in terms of dynamics, mind you, but definitely how the car just looks and “fits". While the Audi would serve well as a livery vehicle, the RC350 is meant to get a driver to their destination while maximizing a certain individualism. Passengers can still fit in the small back seats, but they were definitely not a major concern for the design team.
The Lexus's handling is, well, kind of interesting. It is neutral, mostly flat with some understeer, but it's also a little twitchy and a bit roly-poly. I drove it in the Sport+ setting but hadn't known about turning down the traction control, which I think could have helped. The car’s not unstable, per se, as stated by some other reviewers; it’s just easy to forget that it’s not an RCF, and it’s meant to be a luxury car first and a sporty car second. This is actually why I like the RC350 so well and why it’s comparable to the A5 in many ways.
The drivetrain is not, however, at all like the Audi’s. First, it is is motivated by a naturally aspirated six cylinder that sounds good and has a pretty linear power band. Like the Audi, this car hides its speed well, but you will need to work harder to build it up. The torque-converted automatic is tried and true and, like the rest of the car, should remain hassle free for many, many miles. A used RC350 F Sport seems to be a left-brained solution for a driver not quite ready to give in to all of their romantic automotive impulses.
Needless to say, both cars make great daily drivers. They offer more amenities and performance than the average new cars offered by sister companies such a VW and Toyota. By upgrading the badge, you may get a little more prestige, if that’s your thing. But, more importantly, you dodge a decent amount of depreciation while unlocking years of enjoyable, relatively trouble-free ownership. How to choose? If you have a family and/or like turbos, the Audi is the obvious choice. Prefer a sexy GT car you can wind out once in while? Go with the Lexus. Honestly, they're both pretty great and will still be available at steep discounts once the market settles down again.
Do you own—or would you like to own—a late-model luxury car? Share some of your shopping and ownership experiences in the comments.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.