Thursday, September 16, 2010
the Lexus LFA
In a Lexus. Lexus claims multiple justifications for the LFA program. The car, it says, casts a halo over the Lexus F line of performance machines. The program started in 2000, and Lexus showed the first concept car at the Detroit auto show in 2005. In the interim, LFA prototypes were spotted testing at the Nordschleife, and further, two race-prepared cars entered the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in 2008 and 2009. Although the car is extravagantly expensive, Lexus says it will lose money on every one. The last car that incorporated a similar level of technology, performance, and exclusivity was the $650,000 Ferrari Enzo. The Lexus LFA is an exotic, two-place, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe. Per Lexus’s scales, the car weighs 3263 pounds—less than a Corvette ZR1.
The rear-mounted, six-speed automated manual transaxle incorporates a Torsen limited-slip differential. The Brembo carbon-ceramic brake setup consists of discs 15.4 inches in diameter and six-piston monoblock calipers up front, with 14.2-inch discs and four-piston calipers at the back. Forged aluminum 20-inch BBS wheels sit inside bespoke 265/35 front and 305/30 rear Bridgestone Potenza tires. The car we drove had a mixture of supple leather, carbon fiber, Alcantara, and “satin metal” adorning the cockpit.
In June 2005 the engineering team dumped the LFA's aluminium structure for carbon-fibre, since the 2007 appearance of the LF-A concept, the styling has dramatically changed and its whimsical details slashed away, and Nissan's GT-R has set up a fence round the market niche known as "wraparound-Japanese-supercar-in-white", while McLaren's cheaper MP4-12C carbon-fibre rocket-ship rival arrives in 2011.
Yet Toyota's Lexus division was backed into a corner. It had to produce something or it would lose face and the "Lexus LFA" is part limited-run damage-limitation strategy. Ouch.
Under the skin the Lexus LFA is a pretty simple machine. There's plenty of unobtainium in there, too; titanium con rods and engine valves, Yamaha forged pistons, carbon-fibre cabin tub and body, aluminium-alloy subframes and suspension components and carbon ceramic brakes. The instrument binnacle is a digital display with a central analogue rev counter and digital speedometer that shifts from side to side to reveal ancillary displays for temperatures and the like underneath.
It works, someone's put a lot of love into the Lexus LFA and the cabin is delightful. Economy-sized leather bucket seats accommodate most sizes of adult, but there's scant storage space around the passengers and the tiny boot, accessed via a lifting rear screen, has room for one overnight bag – and no golf clubs.
With everything stacked low and central, the Lexus LFA turns in fast and hard with little tendency to understeer straight on. To 60mph they'd clash wheels, but after that the LFA would leave the GT-R for dead. There's something touchingly naïve about the way Lexus has approached the business of making a supercar. Chief engineer Tanahashi comes over all Swiss Toni about the car. "My taste in women is like my taste in cars," he said. Wow. Designed by unreconstructed chauvinists, scary, weird, wildly expensive and without any discernable practicality or purpose, the Lexus LFA has transcended the Rubicon of super. Looks like job done then, Lexus.