Lexus has been a brand obsessed with refinement and comfort.
At their best, the passenger compartments of its saloons and SUVs are soothing retreats from the outside world where barely a whisper sneaks past the sound insulation and the suspension obliterates the eccentricities of the road surface. What Lexus cars haven’t been is particularly exciting and that is a hindrance to the brand in its attempts to challenge the German hegemony in the high-end European market sectors where it competes. Well, we could be witnessing a change to all that and spearheading today’s more dynamic Lexus is the startling LFA supercar.
This car took a very long time to surface. There were rumours and counter rumours, artist’s impressions and long lens photographs taken from deep in the bushes at testing facilities around the globe. A major rethink halfway through the development cycle set the project back but even after all the speculation and conjecture, the reality of the production LFA came as quite a shock.
All of the brands that Lexus would count as its rivals do have, or have had at some time in the past, high performance sportscars. Most of these don’t make very much money but they do act as halos, casting light down over the less extreme models that most people buy and they provide an avenue into motorsport which improves the brand profile further. Lexus always lacked such a vehicle. It had no history of note with sportscars and had only dabbled in motorsport. Then, when it finally wheels the LFA out into the glare of the flashbulbs, it turns out to be one of the most extreme supercars the world has ever seen.
"while it should be refined enough for everyday use, its spiritual home is on the track"
The LFA is built around a 4.8-litre V10 engine that was designed and built specially for the purpose. Mounted in the front and sending drive to the rear wheels, it revs to a phenomenal 9,000rpm at which point it sounds like an F1 racer and has shot its bolt to the tune of 552bhp. The top speed of the LFA is claimed to be 202mph and judicious use of the six-speed automated sequential gearbox, which was also specially developed for the car, will see it through the 62mph barrier 3.7s after setting off.
The gearbox is operated via the paddle shifters mounted on the steering column and can be set in to four different driving modes. The Auto, Sport, Normal and Wet settings each initiate a separate gearshift programme while also making adjustments to the engine and brake control systems to suit the conditions. The brake discs are carbon ceramic items with six piston callipers working on the 390mm discs at the front and four piston callipers for the 360mm rear discs. The suspension is a double wishbone set-up at the front and multi-link at the rear with many components fashioned from aluminium to save weight.
Weight saving and aerodynamics are the major themes where the LFA’s design is concerned. The chassis and bodywork are built from CFRP Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic and are hugely light as a result. Four times a strong as aluminium, the advanced material also saves 100kg in weight, resulting in a total kerb weight for the LFA of 1480kg.
It might not be the most visually elegant supercar you’ve ever clapped eyes on but the LFA seethes with aggression and its collection of gaping scoops serve an important purpose. The drag efficient of 0.31 is extremely high for a car generating the levels of downforce that the LFA does at speed. The under body is virtually flat to aid in this and there’s an active rear wing that adjusts its positioning according to the car’s speed.
Anyone assuming the usual levels of Lexus refinement and comfort from the cabin will need to manage their expectations. The LFA highlights its extreme sporting focus with a driver-orientated environment swathed in exposed carbon fibre. There is some beautiful detailing to appreciate including the floor-hinged pedals in forged aluminium and the dramatic seats in leather and Alcantara.
Now take a deep breath because Lexus isn’t letting the 500 LFA models it has committed to build go on the cheap. The mind boggles at what this handcrafted supercar cost to develop from its clean sheet of paper starting point to production form but it’s money that Lexus has no hope of recouping – even at £340,000 a time.
Lexus LFA customers get one of the most highly developed, technologically advanced sportscars in the world. Lexus gets the flagship model that will gain it headlines, motorsport success and direct favourable attention towards its more profitable machinery. That all 500 LFAs will be sold is a given but people with this kind of money to spend are in the happy position of being able to choose from the world’s most exotic vehicles so it isn’t without competitors. Indeed, it would be possible to get something nine tenths as capable and keep a good £100,000 in the bank.
Running an LFA is likely to be an expensive business by most people’s standards but peanuts by the standards of the select few that have the cash to buy one. With only 500 being made, the exclusivity factor should help protect residual values.
Lexus obviously thought it had better make its first supercar a good one and the LFA doesn’t pull many punches in its attempt to be recognised as one of the most capable sportscars in the world. Designed from scratch with this one goal in mind, it’s extremely technologically advanced, fiendishly quick and predictably expensive.
The 552bhp V10 engine, carbon fibre construction and automated sequential gearbox contribute to the LFA’s racecar feel and while it should be refined enough for everyday use, its spiritual home is on the track.