The country is bankrupt the streets are flooded, the government’s corrupt and the nights are drawing in but it’s the weekend so what better time for a supercar review? This time “Serman” get’s his hands on the new Lexus LFA and takes it for a spin around the Nurburgring GP circuit.
What is it?
The Lexus LFA is the Japanese firms’ first “supercar”. Enough said. Those of us who are enthusiastic about such things have been waiting for this moment to come to fruition for over six years and finally we can sample its delights. Bosses at Lexus have been testing and tweaking the LFA for what seems like an eternity and yet after such a long wait only 500 cars will be made. Now that Toyota has bowed out of F1, perhaps the LFA will have a fighting chance to succeed.
Well, from the outside the LFA looks good but is more of a “grower” than an outright stunner. It’s not as striking as its Italian counterparts but, like the Supra back in the late 90’s, it certainly has a lot of presence. It definitely has all the right bulges, sharp lines and a menacing profile to be referred to as a “supercar”. The engine is also a big plus, too. Lexus have chosen to fit it with a 4.8-litre V10 and on paper so it will certainly contribute to a good hand in a game of Top Trumps 2010. Although Lexus won’t admit it, the Toyota F1 racing team have had a lot of influence in its core ingredients, so like Ferrari road cars with their nod to F1 technology, first impressions are not just impressive but extremely exciting. With hundreds of development laps around the Nurburgring, the first time with the LFA was as exciting, for me as being invited to drive a Ferrari F40.
What’s it like, then?
Sampling the LFA at the Nurburgring GP circuit, the first ten minutes behind the wheel are a mix of the whole gamut of petrol head sensations. I suppose you can thank the anticipation of getting to drive one for the first time for the boyhood reactions and constant expletives of excitement. With spiralling costs and a rocky economy during its development, if it wasn’t for the sheer determination from everyone involved with the LFA project, a row of pre-production press cars to sample would probably just have been someone’s unfulfilled pipe dream.
Blasting out of the pit lane and savouring the surge of its 552bhp will make any dreary day turn into something you will remember for a long time. Clocking the first turn through the windscreen while sitting low in the cabin with a perfect eye-line, you know you’re in something really quite special. You can quite easily imagine that you’re piloting a Le Mans GT1 special even though this can be taken out onto public roads. It’s also the only front-engined V10 supercar currently on the market. Everything else in this category has a mid-layout although Lamborghini and now Audi are the only other rivals that can match the LFA in terms of identical cylinders. It’s also very easy to get used to despite its being able to latch onto anything else you dare throw at it on-track. Everything in this horsepower category feels quick on the road and it’s very hard to gauge the power-bands when you test the water. The LFA on the other hand has a much smoother power delivery but its 354lb ft of torque is still delivered like a thwack on the back of the head with something heavy. It feels raw and mechanical, just like the Mercedes SL63 AMG in fact, but has a connection with the driver that I haven’t experienced before.
Two laps around the GP circuit and you’re immediately dialled in with the LFA. It’s as if you’ve owned one for several years and know every limit point. There’s no doubt that it’s ferociously quick but in terms of handling and steering, Lexus have got it spot on. Sure, the new Ferrari 458 Italia is more refined and crisper all round, Lamborghini’s LP560-4 Balboni more traditional with a proper manual gearbox and bags of personality, but the LFA seems to have opened a new door not explored before. You can bang on about how the suspension and chassis were developed but it comes down to the end result and I for one can’t fault it. There’s plenty of grip, enough body roll (although minimal) to balance it perfectly around a demanding race track and a hint of undertseer when you overstep the mark, but the accuracy of the steering coupled with the rest of the car is a real delight. It is very hard to throw the LFA off-balance even when you get the tail to step out in a wide, tyres smoking slide, something it relishes in doing.
The V10 engine also deserves maximum credit. Below 4000rpm it feels just like any other sports car with enough torque to deal with the road ahead, yet get above 5000rpm to its ‘8700 limit, and you’re in another dimension. It’s not as raw as the Audi / Lamborghini but feels much smoother yet is just as addictive. Sixty-two comes in at 3.7secs and it will V-max at 202mph, but it’s that point of almost pure perfection when everything comes together that you totally immerse yourself into the world of the LFA. And that happens more than once when you’re behind the wheel. Ferrari and Lamborghini might have perfection in abundance but the LFA does shine brilliantly.
Should I buy one (even if I had the money)?
First of all, it’s hard to sum-up the LFA in such a short space. There’s much more to its personality than meets the eye. It is a well rounded car with little faults but there are several key flaws that rob it of being a true great. First of all there’s the gearbox. Just like most paddle-shifts on the market it’s talented in many respects, but the jerkiness of the each gear change snaps your neck and in my mind is totally unacceptable for this type of car. Think first generation BMW M3 SMG. The terrible gear change becomes too interfering and ruins what is a talented machine. Even Lamborghini’s E-gear is so much smoother. Next is the ride. Even on the relatively smooth track its suspension rebound is sharp and unforgiving. It has a rock hard feel and after two laps you’re glad to get out. Lastly, the price and at £340,000 it blows all of its rivals out of the water. Even the Lamborghini LP670-4 SV is a mere £270,000. And that’s a real problem. The fact that only 500 cars will be produced might just give it the price some credibility but at no other point does it compete in any shape or form on the price factor with its rivals. I’m sure all 500 cars will be snapped up, but like the Jaguar XJ220 back in the late 80’s, it will end up in the classifieds at a premium with no real enthusiasts owning one long enough. Maybe in ten years time it’ll be appreciated for what it was and become a true collector’s item but for now there are far better, more perfectly engineered machines out there than the LFA. It’s a great first time effort for Lexus.
Hope that answers the “should I buy one” question.