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EXA has preformed well for me for a while now. xserver 1.5 should be fine for the most part. 1.6 mainly improves font rendering preformance. Are you using kde 4 by any chance? IIRC kde 4 uses render bits that aren't accelerated with EXA at the moment.
Mmm... this could be the cause of KDE 4 running sluggishly with radeon with EXA and running amazingly fast with vesa.
Or maybe it's because you have EXAvsynch on. It might be just me, although I'm keen on doing some benchmarks, but I kind of notice that switching the option on and off makes a difference in resizing windows and switching between windows.
There's no reason to use EXAVSync if you want the fastest performance. It stalls the engine waiting to the vline to avoid tearing for EXA rendering. It has nothing to do with Xv, that is handled separately.