LEXUS LFA REVIEW
Fast, brutal, sexy. All are words to describe the Lexus LFA, but not words you’d typically associate with the Lexus brand.
Then again, this is not your typical Lexus.
Ten years in the making, Lexus pulled out all the stops for the development of the LFA. What began as a research project into weight reduction techniques quickly changed direction, morphing into an all-alloy two-seat supercar with a bespoke 4.8 litre V10 and unique rear-mounted single-clutch transaxle.
For the production car, the central section of the LFA’s chassis was changed from aluminium to carbon fibre, which is bonded with the front and rear aluminium subframes via a specialised laminating process.
All up, the LFA’s structure is 65 percent carbon fibre and 35 percent aluminium alloy, and is immensely stiff, but light.
Indeed, weight - and how it is distributed - was a key concern for Lexus engineers. A front-rear weight distribution of 48:52 was determined to give optimal balance under acceleration, braking and turning. To achieve this the engine is mounted well behind the front axle line and is coupled to the rear-mounted gearbox via a carbon fibre torque tube.
Even the oil and coolant pumps on the LFA’s V10 are mounted at the rear of the engine block to shift weight further rearward. The radiators are sited right behind the rear wheels for similar reasons.
In the pursuit of weight reduction, Lexus developed a unique 360-degree carbon fibre loom that weaves the A-pillars and roof rails as one seamless part. An over-the-top solution to an engineering challenge? Maybe, but the result is an incredibly strong pillar that weighs less than if made of multiple carbon parts.
The suspension arms are constructed almost entirely from aluminium alloy, which reduces unsprung weight and improves suspension performance on lumpy roads.
There are double wishbones up front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, and the height-adjustable KYB coil-overs feature remote oil reservoirs and Chuhatsu racing springs..
All up, the LFA weighs 1540kg in Australian-delivered form, making it relatively slim compared to other high-performance GTs. Slim it might be, but the LFA’s naturally aspirated 4.8 litre V10 is a monster.
Entirely unique to the car, it was designed using technical know-how gleaned from Toyota’s experience in Formula One.
Rotational and reciprocating mass is kept low through the use of titanium valves and conrods. These, in conjunction with the V10’s oversquare bore/stroke and individual throttle bodies, give the LFA scintillating throttle response.
Revs rise and fall so incredibly fast that a conventional tachometer can’t keep up, hence the LFA’s multi-mode LCD instrument cluster.
Power peaks at 412kW around 8700rpm, with 480Nm torque available at 7000rpm. Peak torque comes high in the rev range, but a fat torque curve sees over 450Nm available between 3750rpm and 8500rpm.
The gearbox is a single-clutch six-speed automated manual. Changes are made either automatically or manually via a pair of column-mounted shift paddles.
Shift-times can be varied between 0.15 seconds and one second (depending on the drive mode), but it’s nowhere near as quick as the more sophisticated dual-clutch transmissions in cars like the McLaren MP4-12C and Mercedes SLS AMG.
Lexus says it chose a single-clutch transmission for two reasons - reduced weight compared to a dual-clutch unit, and a more visceral feel to gearchanges.
As we found out this week at Sandown Raceway, the LFA’s gear shifts are most certainly more dramatic than those of any twin-clutch.
On The Track
It’s a rare experience being able to pilot a Lexus LFA at full throttle around a race track, especially considering only ten of them will be brought to Australia.
To give local motoring scribes a chance to drive the ultra-rare supercar, Lexus Australia invited us to Sandown Raceway in Victoria. The experience was brief - time constraints gave us only two laps at the wheel - but enough to give us a good taste for what the LFA can do.
Lexus put a lot of effort into making that 4.8 litre V10 responsive, and it shows. A swift flex of the ankle sees the tachometer needle swing almost instantly to any RPM, and acceleration is smooth and linear even from low in the rev range.
Gearshifts are absolutely brutal. While the clutch is disengaged there’s a brief pause in acceleration as the fuel-cut interrupts power flow, and in Sport mode the clutch is actuated like a light switch. It’s either fully engaged or fully disengaged, and the result is a savage kick in the back on each upchange.
And what a rush. The sheer rawness of the LFA’s drivetrain has your neck hairs tingling as it smashes it’s way through each ratio.
The soundtrack is just as raucous. Yamaha collaborated with Lexus to design the LFA’s exhaust, and the sound that’s emitted from its trio of tailpipes is not just melodious, but just plain loud.
Screaming up towards the LFA’s 9250rpm fuel cut, the V10 howls like a banshee and conjures up memories of V10-powered Formula One racers.
Clearly, the LFA wears its motorsport-inspired heritage on its sleeve.
The weight reduction also pays dividends on the track. By minimising weight and keeping the bulk of its mass within its wheelbase, the LFA feels supremely agile.
Tip it into a corner, and it points with the precision of an arrow. Apply power before the apex and it stays glued to its line - the nose doesn’t wash wide, nor does the back feel like it’s about to break free despite the masses of power being slammed to the tarmac.
It inspires absolute confidence in the capability of the car, and on our one quick spin we didn’t come anywhere near close to breaching the LFA’s limits.
What is perhaps most surprising about the LFA’s handling is that its electric power steering feels so direct, consistent and responsive.
It is also incredibly stable at high speed, thanks to flat undertrays and the aerodynamics of its slippery shape which reduces air pressure beneath the car and essentially sucks it onto the road.
More aerodynamic downforce is generated by the rear spoiler - which automatically raises at speeds above 80km/h.
Braking stability and performance was similarly impressive, though opportunities to really put it to the test were limited. The chunky floor-hinged aluminium brake pedal is firm and direct and huge carbon-ceramic discs (390mm at the front, 360mm at the rear) pull up the LFA without raising a sweat.
In the interests of reducing risk, Lexus put an IS F pace car in front of the LFA while on the track. Now, while the IS F is fast in its own right, the LFA’s extreme turn of speed and impressive cornering grip had it permanently glued to the IS F’s rear bumper.
With all this performance under the toe, it was a little frustrating not being able to operate at full howl. But while opportunities to brush the 9250rpm limiter were limited, even in this controlled track environment we were able to get a tantalising taste of the LFA’s prodigious performance..
The Lexus LFA is a technological masterpiece. You’d expect it to be good though - it had an eight year gestation in its transition from prototype to production car.
But it’s been worth the wait. It’s a magnificent car and deserves the praise that has been lavished on it worldwide.
Sure, the boot might not be particularly big, but the power-adjustable seats are snug and comfortable, the interior is luxuriously appointed in leather, aluminium and carbon fibre, there’s sat-nav, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, a rear-view camera and a glorious 12-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
The menu graphics of the GPS/audio screen could use a radical update (it’s virtually the same as that in a CT 200h), but nothing so minor detracts from the broader point: the LFA provides supercar performance with little compromise in liveability, driveability or safety.
With a retail price of $750,000, it’s a hell of a lot of money to pay for a car that has little of the brand cachet of the more obvious supercar alternatives from Europe. However, you do get a hell of a lot of exclusivity for your money.
Only ten LFAs will ever call Australia home, and six of them are already spoken for. The remaining four are owned by Lexus dealerships, and unless the price is right we’re guessing they’ll be loathe to part with them.
Photos: Daniel McKenna.