It’s hard to believe that we’re finally in the driver’s seat of the ultra exclusive Lexus LFA supercar.
Lexus LFA Supercar: 4.8-litre V10 Dual VVT-i with rear-mounted six-speed automated sequential transmission, 412kW/480 Nm. 0-100km/h – 3.7 seconds, top speed – 325km/h
$700,000 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
Location: Sandown motor racing circuit, Victoria. Track test.
It’s hard to believe that we’re finally in the driver’s seat of the ultra exclusive Lexus LFA supercar. I can tell you for sure that it’s been a long time coming, but our enthusiasm for a chance to get behind the wheel of one of the world’s most sought after supercars has not waned one little bit.
You know about exclusivity when Lexus Australia arrives at the track with just one LFA for the day’s test drive session among a handful of journalists. This also happens to be the sole company demo/press car and one of only 500 that will ever be built.
Supercars are exotic by nature, but the LFA takes that to a whole new level. The project began more than ten years ago and has been a life obsession for Haruhiko Tanahashi, chief engineer on LFA’s development program for over a decade.
Tanahashi is a driven man who clearly drew his inspiration for the LFA project from past automotive achievements at the top end of the automotive world.
“The LFA is a thoroughbred supercar, a machine engineered to achieve one goal – to deliver a supreme driving experience.”
We might have only driven two laps of Sandown in the company LFA, but let me assure you, this was one of the most inspiring behind-the-wheel experiences I’ve had in years, and there have been a few of those; usually on a de-restricted German Autobahn at 300km/h plus.
Lexus Australia boss, Tony Cramb, says that,
The LFA started out as true blank canvas project with he and his design team making up an exhaustive list of 500 key assets or ‘Must-haves’ that the LFA needed to achieve for proper supercar status.
Take the LFA’s bespoke 4.8-litre V10 engine. It’s a super low friction design with titanium valves and connecting rods that can rev out to 9000rpm and beyond. At full tilt down the main straight it sounds like a Formula One car. Trust me, it doesn’t get much better than this as far as road car exhaust symphonies go. It’s up there with the stratospherically expensive Zonda R, and that’s hardly the kind of car you can trundle down the corner shop in for a packet of Kettle chips.
That said, you probably wouldn’t use the LFA for late night snack runs either, but the fact is – you could and in relative comfort too.
It’s not just the race car like redline that amazes, it’s more the time it takes for this smallish V10 to spin from idle to the 9000rpm – that’s a mind-blowing 0.6 seconds. It’s so ridiculously quick that the traditional analogue rev counter needed to be replaced by a digital dial so it could keep up with the engine.
Then again, this is no ordinary V10; it was specially developed with help from the advanced engineering gurus at Yamaha. That’s right, the guys that do motorcycles, marine engines and pianos, among other musical instruments. It boasts an unusual 72-degree bank angle, which provides exceptional primary and secondary balance. That’s not all; the engine itself is as small as V8 powerplant and produces 412 kW of power and 480 Nm of torque at 7800rpm. Better still, 90 per cent of those Newton-metres are on tap from 3700rom through to the 9000rpm redline.
Throttle response is ‘off the scale’ quick and it doesn’t seem to matter what gear you’re in either, it’s always instantaneous.
The LFA is one blisteringly fast piece of kit, and that’s not just in a straight line. This thing can pull 2G in a corner, which at Sandown, means flat footing through several bends at a phenomenal pace.
When it comes to a balanced chassis, there are precious few road legal cars in the world that are better than the LFA. It’s not a racing car, but it feels awfully close to several purpose-built endurance racers I’ve recently driven and yet like any other Lexus ‘F’ car, it’s comfortable enough to be driven as a daily.
Inside, the cockpit is a combination of hand stitched leather, carbon fibre and single pieces of forged aluminium. The design is very clean, almost minimalist in its execution and layout. The seats are both sumptuous, yet perfectly bolstered. Not once on the track did I ever think about having to brace myself through a corner.
The highly engineered front mid-engine V10 powerplant is lightweight and positioned low and mostly behind the front axle, while heavier components such as the radiators and transaxle are placed at the rear of the car for an optimum 48:52 weight distribution, at least, optimum for LFA, that is.
Lexus looked at using 100 per cent aluminium for the LFA’s body, but eventually made the switch to carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) for the chassis and bodywork. In the end, the car is 65 percent carbon fibre and 35 per cent aluminium alloy, resulting in a light, but highly rigid road going missile.
You could easily write a 200-page hard cover book on the LFA’s development alone, as almost every part on the car has a back-story of how and why it was conceived. We won’t be doing that today though. Instead, it’s time for my in-car briefing by US racing legend, Scott Pruett, who’ll be riding shotgun with me for these laps.
It’s hard to take in the extraordinary level of detail on board the LFA. Everywhere you look is carbon fibre. That includes the high-tech steering wheel down to the ultra-thin carbon fibre bonnet stay (gas struts would mean too much extra weight). Even the brace in the engine bay is made of the stuff.
The steering wheel is refreshingly uncluttered; there’s a start button on the right hand side (that’s carbon fibre too) and another cursor-like button, which controls the very cool TFT driver display screen and a multitude of functions such as a lap time clock and a host of vehicle telemetry.
It might be $700,000 worth of supercar, but don’t expect a proximity key to go with it. Tanahashi says that would further minimise driver involvement and the overall LFA experience, so you still need to turn the key and light up the red glow on the central display, before hitting the engine start button.
There’s no up-tempo shrill at idle like a Ferrari 458 Italia, the LFA emits more of high-strung rumble at standstill. That is until I hammer the throttle on the exit from pit lane and onto Sandown’s main straight; now it sounds like an angry bark (a born and bred racer) at 8000rpm – but still shy of the magic 9000rpm redline.
Almost immediately I like how the LFA feels on the tarmac. Even under heavy load into corner one, the car doesn’t want to fight you, it just goes where you point it and without fuss. It’s beautifully balanced like Tanahashi said it was, and you can feel the extreme level of torsional rigidity. That’s part of the reason that you can carry so much speed through these corners and the LFA feels 100 per cent stable.
Steering integrity is superb and unlike any electric power assistance I’ve ever experienced; it’s perfectly weighted from dead centre and there’s plenty of feedback for the driver. Lexus call it a ‘race-tuned constant-rate steering'. No complaints.
There’s also a tremendous amount of grip from the specially developed Bridgestone rubber. Massive 305/30 ZR20s provide superglue-like grip for the rear end, while 265/35 ZR 20s maintain composure up front. It doesn’t seem to matter how much load you carry into a corner, the LFA maintains a vice-like grip on turn in and on exit. The tread pattern is asymmetrical too, for track conditions in all weather conditions.
There’s nothing quite like shifting cogs at 9000 rpm, especially when the LCD needle hits that point so quickly. The paddle shifters themselves are a work of engineering art. Each paddle is weighted differently to further enhance driver involvement. That means fingertip touch on up-shifts and twice that effort or more, on downshifts. Better still, Lexus decided to mount the paddles on the steering column rather than the steering wheel itself, which means better driver control.
It’s hard to imagine a better automatic transmission exists than the seven-speed box in the LFA. Even on track when you’re flat chat down the straight you may as well leave it in ‘Auto’ mode, as it will still maintain the shift points at 9000 rpm. The only time you really need to use the paddle shifters, are on the downshift into corners. Remarkable bit of kit this LFA, truly inspiring.
Funnily enough though, even at redline inside the cabin (admittedly with a helmet on) the engine note, while still intoxicating, is completely different to the F1 style shrill that the car emits as it blasts down the main straight on the outside. It’s by no means an issue, just an observation.
Did I mention the brakes? The LFA carbon ceramic discs with lightweight calipers and are way beyond extraordinary. God knows how many laps Scott Pruett had driven this car around Sandown before I climbed into the car, and yet the stopping power and pedal feel is faultless and utterly inspiring. If you like to brake late, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Two laps of Sandown isn’t nearly enough track time to properly come close to exploring the extraordinary limits of the Lexus’s LFA supercar. That would require a great deal more time behind the wheel, but who's complaining.
If your sole performance benchmark is the traditional 0-100 sprint time, then there are several cars in this highly exclusive automotive segment that can outpace the LFA. No argument there whatsoever. That said, 3.7 seconds isn’t exactly hanging about, nor is its 325km/h top speed. But the LFA is much more about the total driving experience, and even after just two quick laps, this is a supercar that has the ability to blow the top off several of your sensory organs.