Car reviews - Lexus - LFA - coupe
Incredible V10 engine, silky quick-changing transmission, monumental brakes, comfort and ease of driving, superb component quality
Room for improvement
Lack of time at the wheel
11 Oct 2011
RACE circuits rarely lend themselves kindly to road cars – even high-performance models and supercars – but the Lexus LFA is an exception, or at least appeared to be on an all-too-brief trial at Melbourne’s Sandown raceway.
Given only two laps of the track – that’s a total of 18 corners, plus a couple of artificial witches hat chicanes – stuck behind a very conservatively driven pace car and with a passenger, it was hardly the opportunity to explore the limits of one of the most capable production cars ever built on first acquaintance.
And it came to an unexpected finish because we’d been promised three laps at the wheel. All that anticipation for such an anti-climax…
Having said that, even the briefest time at the wheel of the LFA is enough to establish that this is an extraordinary piece of automotive engineering.
It is possibly even the most track-friendly yet comfortable road cars ever built and, while five minutes at the wheel is hardly a test of endurance, we expect the low-set and carefully moulded carbon-fibre seats would be quite acceptable over longer periods.
But the real point of the LFA is its performance, and the decade spent honing Lexus’ remarkable halo car was clearly well spent because the 4.8-litre V10 engine is a banshee-wailing gem that revs smoothly all the way to its 9000rpm redline.
Developed in conjunction with engine partner Yamaha, the V10 not only benefits from the company’s motorcycle experience in high-revving engines but also Yamaha’s acclaimed music division, which helped produce that exhilarating howl from the acoustic end of the exhaust system.
It also shows its track breeding in having a dry sump, enabling the car to endure constant hard cornering loads of up to 2g.
The raw numbers show 412kW of power at 8700rpm and 480Nm of torque at 7000rpm (with 90 per cent of that available from 3700rpm all the way to the redline), even using normal 95-octane unleaded fuel.
We didn’t get to use the launch control function, but it is said to propel the relatively light (1540kg) supercar from a standing start (at 4000rpm) to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds.
There are (a few) faster cars to be sure, but this is still impressive performance by any measure and the response is felt through all the gears, made all the more pleasurable by the accompanying wail.
Of course, there was no time to play with the multiple transmission modes (providing shift times of between one second and just 0.15s) and we were more than happy to experience snapping through all six gears, accompanied by a snap, crackle and blipping throttle on downchanges.
There is no central gearshift, so changes have to be made with the large steering-column-mounted (rather than wheel-mounted) paddles that interestingly require ever so slightly more force for downchanges than upchanges.
It is easy to take brakes for granted, even when confronted by the dimensions provided for the LFA. But take off those massive 20-inch forged (rather than cast) alloy wheels and you are confronted by a remarkable sight.
Made from a carbon-ceramic mix that looks like an exotic brake pad material, the discs themselves are enormous. The front ones measure 390mm in diameter – that’s 15.4 inches or bigger than the wheels on many cars – and an incredible 34mm thick. That’s one and a third inches thick.
Then there are the massive Brembo callipers, gripped by six pistons at the front, with each pair being different sizes to provide the most even contact across the face of the disc.
With massive tyres that measure 11.5 inches wide at the rear and 9.5 inches at the front, it’s hardly surprising that the LFA’s speed was quickly and easily reduced from more than 200km/h at the end of Sandown’s famous front straight.
Those big directional Bridgestones also work their magic in the corners, working in conjunction with a race-bred suspension system to provide large amounts of grip in fast and slow corners alike.
Considering all the power is directed solely to the rear wheels, there was no hint of the rear-end breaking loose either mid-corner under g-forces or on exit as you feed in all those horses.
With a slightly rearward weight bias – thanks in part to having large items like the water radiators let alone smaller ones like the washer bottle located over those mighty rear tyres – there was certainly no shortage of traction coming out of even Sandown’s many slow corners.
It certainly didn’t feel like a front-engined car, but we suspect it would likely lean towards mid-corner understeer at the limit.
Given more time, we might have gotten closer to the car’s cornering limits and discovered the electronic intervention level, but who wants to risk a $700,000 car that is one of only 500 that will ever be built?
Certainly not champion US race driver Scott Pruett, who has done about 17,000km in LFAs – more than anyone outside the test team.
Lexus flew Pruett out for the drive program but he was sufficiently spooked by the slippery nature of the Sandown circuit after a sprinkle of rain that our ‘hot lap’ with him at the wheel was little more than luke-warm (unlike Neal Bates, who gained on him despite driving a ‘humble’ IS F!).
But there is nothing luke-warm about the LFA. It is a mechanical tour de force for Lexus/Toyota and they are to be applauded for spending so many millions on a car that could never return anything monetary on the investment – even at $700,000 apiece. But it proves a capability that not only is admirable but must inspire the whole company.
It would have been great to have spent more time at the wheel of the LFA, but if nothing else the inaugural Lexus supercar – like Porsche’s finest – proved it can take that sort of track punishment all day.
So, as well as being faster than any other production car around the mighty Nurburgring, the LFA would keep going like the Eveready bunny while many of its more fancied rivals needed constant attention.
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