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Tesla vs Maserati vs Lexus vs Audi

December 5, 2015 – by Per Christensson

My last two cars were Acuras (a 1989 Legend and 2003 CL Type-S) and they were both great. However, over the last decade I and many others watched Acura slip into a download spiral of uninspired design and mediocre performance. As loyal as I was to the Acura brand, it was time for a change. So I test drove four different cars:

  1. Tesla Model S 70D
  2. Maserati Ghibli S Q4
  3. Lexus RC 350 F Sport
  4. Audi S5

Having no personal experience with the four car manufacturers I tested, I found myself pleasantly open-minded to each one. My requirements were simple — I wanted a car that 1) looks good, 2) feels comfortable, 3) has the latest technology, and 4) is fun to drive. Here are the results.

Appearance

Some people buy automobiles that are practical. They don't care too much about appearance as long as the vehicle "gets them from point A to point B." Others of us are a bit more picky. I've always appreciated well-designed cars and I wasn't going to settle for a mediocre design in my next car. In my opinion, each of the cars I test drove had an attractive look.

Tesla Model S

Black Telsa Model S - Side View

Maserati Ghibli

Black Maserati Ghibli S Q4 - Side View

Lexus RC 350

Black Lexus RC 350 F Sport - Side View

Audi S5

Black Audi S5 - Side View

While the Tesla has sleek lines, it is also large and bulky. The Lexus has aggressive styling (especially the F Sport model), but it almost seems like it's trying too hard. The Maserati looks pretty sporty, but it has four doors, which detracts from its track-inspired design. Then there's the Audi S5, which looks awesome from every angle.

Based on looks, I rate the cars as follows, from worst to best:

  1. Tesla Model S
  2. Lexus RC 350
  3. Maserati Ghibli S Q4
  4. Audi S5 (winner)

Comfort

All four cars I test drove fall in the "luxury car" category, so they each had pretty high-quality interior. They were all reasonably comfortable to sit in and had good visibility.

The car with the best seats was the Lexus RC 350. I didn't want to get out of the driver's seat after I sat down since it was so comfortable. The next best was the Maserati, which easily had the finest leather of all the cars. Third was the Audi, which had nice side bolsters on both the bottom and upright portions of the seat. The Tesla ranked last with seats that were shockingly cheap and uncomfortable for how expensive the car is.

The layout of the dashboard was completely different between the four models, which I guess makes sense considering I was looking cars made in four different countries (US, Italy, Japan, and Germany). The Tesla's huge touchscreen was the most unique, but I actually found the Audi and Lexus easier to use. The Maserati's interface was surprisingly clunky, but the rest of the car felt so luxurious, it provided the most comfortable experience overall.

Overall, I rank the comfort of the four cars as follows:

  1. Tesla Model S
  2. Audi S5
  3. Lexus RC 350
  4. Maserati Ghibli S Q4 (winner)

Technology

You might guess the Tesla Model S would be the clear winner in technology. But after testing out the three other models, the results were closer than I expected. The Lexus, for example, has a digital system that integrates with apps on your smartphone and displays information on the center display. The Maserati has an all-wheel drive system with an adaptive transmission and provides comfort and sport modes that change the engine noise as well as the performance. The Audi has a sophisticated navigation system, provides Wi-Fi connectivity, and also has multiple drive modes that completely change the driving experience. Considering my last car was manufactured in 2002, each of the models seemed futuristic.

As an audiophile, I made sure to review the sound systems of each car. The Tesla had the worst sound of all the models with tinny sound regardless of how I set the EQ. Next was the Lexus, which produced mediocre sound. Then came the Maserati, which had decent sound, but it still wasn't as clear as I expected. Finally, there was Audi, with a Bang & Olufsen stereo that blew away all the other cars I tested.

Even though the Tesla's sound system was underwhelming, the car felt like a spaceship. The battery technology handily beats every other electric car brand and the autopilot feature is years ahead of competitors. The huge 17" touchscreen display was unlike any car I've driven. So I still have to give Tesla the win in regards to technology. The four cars, rated by technology from worst to best, are:

  1. Maserati Ghibli S Q4
  2. Lexus RC 350
  3. Audi S5
  4. Tesla Model S (winner)

Performance

As stated previously, I'm not one who only drives to get from point A to point B. I need a car that accelerates quickly and handles well. Therefore, I made sure to give each car a thorough beating in my test drives.

The battery-powered Tesla Model S 70D provided a unique driving experience. It was was super smooth with instantaneous acceleration from the electric motors. But the size and weight of the car kept it from feeling sporty. Besides my experience accelerating from 0-60 in the P85D, the Model S wasn't exhilarating to drive.

Even though the Maserati Ghibli is a four-door sedan, it felt like a race car. The driving experience was powerful but smooth — a great balance of luxury and performance. The steering was responsive and I always felt in control. I was also pleased to find the Ghibli's engine sound was similar to that of the Maserati Grantursimo. It has a sexy growl unlike any other car that just begs you to rev the engine.

The Lexus RC was cheapest car in the lineup I tested, but I expected reasonable performance. I didn't get it. The RC felt more sluggish than my 2003 Acura CL Type-S and inspired no emotion. The handling was decent, but I couldn't even accelerate enough on the city roads to test out the cornering. I learned after the fact that the "F Sport" model is very different from the F model. The F Sport only has the cosmetic features of the RC F, but none of the performance. I suppose the RC F would have given me the thrill I was looking for, but I wanted an all-wheel drive machine, and the RC F is rear-wheel only. Oh well.

When I drove the Audi S5, I was shocked how much I liked the automatic transmission (having driven a manual for almost ten years). The dual-clutch transmission shifted quickly and stayed locked in the low gears when I threw it into sport mode. The first time I accelerated onto the winding onramp, I felt the sports differential kick in with no reduction in power. It felt like a race car. I had planned on also testing the 2015 RS5, but the S5 was so impressive, I decided it was good enough.

Here's how the four cars stacked up in regards to performance:

  1. Lexus RC 350
  2. Tesla Model S
  3. Maserati Ghibli S Q4
  4. Audi S5 (winner)

Conclusion

In the end, the choice was clear. The best looking car was also the most fun to drive. I bought the 2016 Audi S5. Stay tuned for a detailed review.

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