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Thursday 15th July 2010


DRIVEN: LEXUS LFA

A £250k supercar and a circuit with minimal run-off. Is this sensible?


Something about this is wrong. Actually scratch that - everything about this is wrong. I'm sitting in the driving seat of a £250k, 203mph supercar - one that isn't even yet in full series production - about to be released for a solo drive round Goodwood Motor Circuit. For those that don't know it, this is a track that can charitably described as having limited run-off and where, once you have run out of grass, a thin veneer of tyres is all that exists to cushion your impact with a determinedly immovable earth bank.


More confusing still is that the badge on the long, wedgy bonnet is the stylised L of Lexus, a marque more known for wafting company directors around in ostentatiously eco-conscious hybrid saloons and SUVs.

Still, there it is - however unlikely it may seem, Toyota/Lexus has gone and built a supercar. And they must be confident in its ability, because they've plonked a scruffy PH journalist in the driving seat, pointed the car at a notoriously tricky circuit and said 'go drive'. No 'please be careful with our pre-production supercar', no speed limits, no passenger to calm any over-exuberance. Brilliant.


A slightly gung-ho attitude to letting journos drive the car is actually curiously appropriate, because the LFA is a bit of a rule-breaker itself. Toyota coyly calls the LFA's development process 'unconventional', but what it means by this is that it has ripped the Toyota Motor Corporation 'how to make a new car' rulebook apart and thrown the shreds out of the window.

The LFA is a car that has taken a decade to develop. It has been planned from the outset as an engineering challenge rather than a commercial venture (itself a minor miracle in such a profit-obsessed company. It has even been switched from an aluminium monocoque to one made of carbon fibre - necessitating the creation of Toyota's own in-house carbon production processes. The Lexus LFA is, in short, the complete antithesis of the usual streamlined production ToMoCo fare.


This is something I realise within a few short moments of being released out of the Goodwood pit lane. There are some who have questioned, well, the heart of the LFA, but all it will take the doubters is about 20 seconds in the driving seat - or passenger seat - to realise that this is a fully committed, red-blooded, focused supercar.

Those few seconds are enough to flick through about three gears (the flappy-paddle transmission is only a single-clutch affair in order to help save weight) up to around 120mph, before stamping on the brakes for Madgwick, Goodwood's first corner.


The 4.8-litre V10 yowls up to its 9000rpm red line before a beep alerts you that it's time to grab another gear and you're flung down the road to the braking point for Madgwick, whereupon you hit the left of the two pedals and the carbon-ceramic brakes haul you back to an eminently sensible speed almost instantly.

So powerful are the brakes that the first time you stamp on them with enthusiasm, you'll almost certainly find yourself coming up short to the corner. Once you've adjusted to how hard and late you can brake - and therefore how much speed you can build on the preceding straight - you can begin to feel the huge grip the LFA has to offer, and how eager it is to change direction.


This is a supercar of the athletic, flyweight variety rather than a bung-a-big-engine-in-and-hope affair. The cabin emphasises this. All the controls are driver-focused, with everything important - including the chassis settings and a knob to control how vicious the gearchange is - little more than a hand-span away. You sit low, too, with the steering wheel high and close, and the high transmission tunnel and window line cocooning you.

Everything also feels beautifully put together, but not extravagant, either in weight or luxury. The indicator stalks, for example, feel spindly, but solidly engineered, as though every extraneous gram has been shaved from them, but that not one penny has been pinched in their development.


It's all very sophisticated in the way it handles, too. In the immediacy of its responses the LFA feels a little bit like a Porsche GT3 RS, but it has none of that car's rawness; it might have hyperactive dynamic responses, but the LFA's edges are smoothed off, making it a surprisingly approachable car.

That doesn't mean its limits are approachable, however. I would like to tell you exactly how the LFA feels on the very edge of opposite lock, but I'm no Stig (as you can see from the video below), we're not out to set record lap times, and the Lexus's limits are so high that at most places around Goodwood I run out of courage way before the car runs out of talent.


We're told before we get into the car that the LFA will generate up to 1.4g of lateral grip if asked, a feat I can well believe, but the best I get out of it is just over 1g at the sweeping double-apex right-hander of Lavant corner - and that feels quick enough. In fact the only place the LFA feels anything other than rock steady is in the braking zone for the right turn before St Mary's. And that is an off-camber, over-a-crest job, which the car approaches at almost 140mph, so we can probably forgive its little wiggle from the rear.

What Goodwood's fast, flowing corners and longish straights do show off beautifully, however, is the explosive mid-range pace of the LFA. The way it piles on speed between 75mph and 130mph is truly astonishing.


The Lexus LFA might not have much in the way of sports car pedigree, but it has most certainly been thoroughly well bred. But is it worth £250k? I'm not sure, but it's kind of a moot point, because all 500 planned examples have been sold - so some people must reckon so.

The LFA is also one of those cars that should warm the cockles of any car enthusiast's heart, because it proves that even an oft-faceless corporation like Toyota has a heart and soul.

 

Lexus LFA tech spec

   
   
   
Author: Riggers