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First drive: 2011 Lexus LFA supercar. Image by Lexus.

First drive: 2011 Lexus LFA supercar
Remember Lexus, the luxury car maker? Forget everything you know and take a close look at the new £300,000 LFA supercar.

 



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| First Drive | Nürburgring, Germany | 2011 Lexus LFA |

Lap times at the Nordschleife have become a yardstick for modern sportscars, so much so that even mildly warm hatches are marketed with 'handling developed at the Nürburgring' taglines. Incredible a place as it is, the hype can wear a little thin. At the time of writing, Lexus has yet to announce a lap time for its new LFA supercar around the Ring, but its credibility has already been cemented by entering pre-production versions in the Nürburgring 24-hour race two years running. Assured of the car's ability, Lexus brought us along to the hallowed grounds for first hand experience of the LFA on the Nordschleife, the Nürburgring GP circuit and the excellent roads nearby ahead of the car's public debut at the Tokyo Motor Show.

In the Metal

It's been nearly five years since Lexus first revealed the LF-A concept and though the overall proportions are unchanged, the detailing has moved on significantly. Replacing the smooth lines of the show car is a riot of sharp creases, vents and aerodynamic tweaks to the bodywork. At a standstill, it's pleasingly low and wide - as a supercar should be - though the full aggression of the design doesn't become apparent until the automatic rear spoiler is raised. Although the profile is conventional enough - in comparison to the likes of the Pagani Zonda and Lamborghini Reventón - there are plenty of design flourishes to retain your interest the first time you see it. Of note is the triangle of exhaust pipes; the sculpting of the door mirrors to channel air to the curvaceous rear air vents; and the aggressive shape of the whole front apron.

Surprisingly, the LFA's interior bears little or no resemblance to any other Lexus. You may spot that the satnav system and its weird mouse-like control is shared with the latest RX 450h, but virtually all of the switchgear is new. That includes delicate column stalks for indicators and wipers and perfectly weighted gearchange paddles.

The two leather-lined seats are electrically adjusted and supremely comfortable, but don't be fooled: this is no luxury car. You sit low and the flat-bottomed steering wheel in front of you is made of carbon fibre and part-trimmed in leather. It's as good to hold as it is to look at. Beyond that is an innovative set of instruments, which has no analogue part. Lexus reckoned only a digital rev counter could keep up with its new engine, which allowed it to develop a bespoke and customisable instrument pack, including a main display ring that moves silently to the side to reveal the menu system. It's highly original and great to use.

What you get for your Money

Thinking logically - without the means to buy an LFA for myself - it's difficult to understand how Lexus hopes to sell 500 examples at a price that is likely to be almost double that of the new Ferrari 458 Italia or McLaren MP4-12C, when its on-paper specifications look to be on a par with those cars rather than on a different level. However, I'll concede that if you can spend £300,000 or so on a supercar it's likely that you may have one of each rather than seeing them as competitors. In terms of equipment, each LFA buyer will have the option to customise their car's specification. That will include different colour and interior trim options of course, including a matt black exterior finish - just like the cars you'll have seen in spy shots. Another intriguing option is an 'aero pack', which features tiny winglets on the trailing edge of the car and extra deflectors at the base of the windscreen.

Driving it

With the IS F already demonstrating that Lexus knows how to make a car for keen drivers, it should be no surprise that the LFA is a good steer. However, what was a shock - particularly after Lexus claimed that its new supercar is still a luxury car at heart - is just how driver-focused it is. Think 430 Scuderia levels of driver involvement, agility and usability. That's high praise indeed, despite the price gap.

Mounted at the front, though well back in the chassis, is a new naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V10. It revs to 9,000rpm and produces 552bhp and 354lb.ft of torque. You'd expect it to be all about the top-end of the rev counter, where it is admittedly ballistic, but there's a good spread of usable torque too thanks to variable valve timing and independently controlled throttle bodies. It's an unusual sounding unit - probably to do with the exhaust layout - with a whole range of notes from rumble to scream. Acceleration is savage, in a linear, easily modulated sort of way.

Lexus opted for an electro-hydraulically controlled automated manual instead of one of the en vogue dual-clutch systems. There are four driving modes and seven gearchange speed settings, but there's no doubt that this transmission is at its best on track or when you're really attacking a good road. It doesn't cope as well with slow speed driving as you'd expect a Lexus-developed car to, though apparently the pre-production test cars suffered from clutch gremlins.

There were no such problems with the chassis. Surprisingly, Lexus didn't employ any form of active damping, instead using the sophisticated remote reservoir dampers utilised by the racecar in conjunction with an all-aluminium suspension design as part of front and rear sub-frames. These are bolted to the central monocoque, which is made of carbon fibre.

The end result is a car that you immediately feel at one with. Its relatively compact dimensions mean it's not at all intimidating to drive on the public road and given the car's remit, it copes relatively well with bumps and ruts. Long distance cruising isn't its strong point, thanks to gearing that seems to cause a drone at the motorway speed limit, but there's no hardship in a few hours at the wheel getting to a circuit.

This is where the LFA impresses. Even on the smooth, wide tarmac of the GP track it feels utterly composed and exciting to drive. Its carbon ceramic brakes are beyond reproach, while the steering is full of feel. Gearchanges can be altered between sluggish and downright violently quick, with wonderfully gratuitous automatic throttle blips accompanying every downshift. As you'd hope, there is a surfeit of grip from the large tyres, though there's also enough grunt to un-stick the rears if you feel the need. The LFA responds benignly to such antics and more than anything else the inherent balance of the chassis shines through, allowing any driver to enjoy the car, while also entertaining the more experienced.

Worth Noting

That carbon fibre monocoque is more than a little responsible for the long wait for the LFA. When Lexus unveiled the concept version in 2005 it was made out of aluminium, but a decision was then made to switch to a mostly carbon fibre structure, in a bid to reduce weight and increase strength and rigidity. The result is a 1,480kg kerb weight, which is apparently 100kg less than it would have been in aluminium, while structural strength has increased massively, to the benefit of handling and safety. In the development, Lexus developed its own in-house automated mass production techniques for carbon fibre, which we're told will lead to more widespread use of the exotic material.

Summary

Put simply, the Lexus LFA is not what we expected. It is a stunningly engaging supercar, but in the bid for that it sacrifices much of what we've come to expect from the Lexus brand. As beautifully made as it is, it could never be called luxurious. As a technology showcase in terms of material usage and engine development, it is laudable, though given the hybrid bias of most other Lexus models, we think it's a missed opportunity in that respect. Regardless, the LFA offers wealthy car and technology nuts the opportunity to buy something that will remain rare. Though perhaps not on the Nordschleife.

Shane O' Donoghue - 21 Oct 2009









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2011 Lexus LFA specifications:
Price: Estimated at £310,000 in UK, €500,000 in Ireland.
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Top speed: 202mph
Kerb weight: 1480kg

Full technical specifications

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by United Pictures.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by United Pictures.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by United Pictures.2011 Lexus LFA. Image by United Pictures.



2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 

2011 Lexus LFA. Image by Lexus.
 






 

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