Rocket at the Track: Driving the Lexus LFA

 
 
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It's not easy to write a good auto review, and especially difficult to write a review on cars like the Lexus LFA. In some ways it's very hard to put into words what the LFA truly is. The car is a blend of many non-traditional elements for the Lexus luxury brand whose vehicles have mainly been known for their superb build quality, ride comfort and attention to detail.
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With the LFA there is a totally different marketing approach catered to a very unique group of buyers, many who would not be considered traditional Lexus owners. More importantly, the $375,000 LFA embodies a significant shift of the brand's philosophy behind racing, performance and driving dynamics.

It was difficult to set my expectations before driving this supercar. I have had plenty of time behind the wheel of high performance vehicles such as the Lexus IS-F, BMW M3 and M5, Mercedes-Benz C63 and E63 on both normal roads and tracks. However I have little actual time in the cockpit of true exotics or supercars, and I was looking forward to my expectations becoming experiences. A lot of people with similar driving backgrounds to mine have ridden in the Lexus LFA and all say that it is incredible - fast acceleration, strong braking, good handling, etc... but for close to $400k, yeah it better be. But I think it makes more sense to combine what Lexus' intention is with the LFA (a true driving machine) with my experience in driving, and try to quantify what I feel the Lexus LFA is all about.

On February 18, 2011, Lexus set up a private LFA track event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and I was honored to be on the list. Upon arrival, there were a few Lexus vehicles to check out, as well as a display explaining the myriad LFA customization choices. I was quickly escorted to the track area where I saw a small fleet of IS-Fs and two Lexus LFAs. The instructor talked to me about my background a little and explained to me how the event would work. To get familiar with the track layout, we would first go around in the Lexus IS-F following the instructor for two laps. Since I was attending the event by myself, I would then drive the LFA for two laps with the instructor in the passenger seat.


New Lexus CT200h on display

Lexus GS350 F-Sport


Five-Axis ISF Concept

It was very helpful to drive around the track in the IS-F first to get familiar with all the turns, and the lead-follow format allowed me to observe the instructor's driving line. I was glad that the instructor was by my side in the LFA, which allowed me to feel a bit freer to really push the car. I had observed some videos of other drivers doing lead-follow with the LFA and they didn't appear to push quite as hard. However, I have to say two laps felt a little bit on the short side; the first lap was spent getting used to the car, and the second lap was really the only time to really explore the car's capabilities and begin to understand its exceptional dynamics.


2 Lexus LFA and group of Lexus IS-F

 

Two Lexus LFA prototypes at the track for test drive


Rocket at the Track

I didn't want to be the guy on the nightly local news crashing a $400k supercar, so entering the track in the LFA was somewhat stressful for me. But after the initial burst of acceleration, hard braking, and entering the first turn, I immediately gained confidence to drive the LFA hard. When you are sitting right over the pivot point of the vehicle (with a 48/52 weight distribution), everything seems so predictable and I never found myself to be fighting with the car. The great thing about the LFA seating placement and chassis tuning is that you get excellent feedback from the car immediately. If you see you are not turning enough, you immediately feel you aren't facing the right direction so you can react to correct. Similarly when the driver oversteers, you can stop your slide instantly with a small reaction.


Lexus LFA entering the race track

I can't debate whether the 48/52 weight distribution in the LFA or an exact 50/50 is theoretically better, but what I can say with confidence is that the LFA's balance works to almost perfection. You never find yourself battling with the LFA; the car simply works with you. In my experience when you are in a front heavy car, you fight each corner just to make a turn because the front keeps trying to pull you the other way. On the other hand with a rear biased car, you often need to feather the turns because if the rear snaps, it often slides faster than you can correct. But the LFA feels so light, nimble and easy to control, and the balance also makes the handling dynamics more linear and gradual. This is another important aspect that makes driving the LFA pleasurable because you feel all the changes without as many unpleasant surprise side effects.

The throttle is incredibly sensitive and it doesn't take much pressure on the gas pedal to open it up. And because of the light-weight high-revving engine design, the engine revs up to redline very quickly even under full load. The rapid throttle response makes powering out of corners a little challenging, but a few corners are all you need to get a feel for it. In my opinion, the linear power delivery from the LFA V10 helps make it a fantastic machine to drive, because even with the touchy throttle the driver is able to easily anticipate the engine's power at any RPM. As soon as you step on the gas, you feel the same pull and acceleration, whereas in many other cars you get very different power characteristics at different RPMs, making it harder to adjust.

Is the car fast? Yes. But since the power and torque is so linear, it's a breeze to rev the high RPMs taking you to 110+MPH without feeling like you've gained that much speed. Well, at least I didn't until I found I was a little late to brake for an approaching corner. Not a problem, the powerful Brembo CCM brakes came to the rescue. The initial bite from these brakes is not for the faint of heart; if you are not prepared you can really lose your lunch. It's worth noting that the LFA I drove had been running full time on the track that day including several very hot laps by professional driver Scott Pruett. But those same brakes had zero sign of fading, and they performed the same each time they were called upon.


Lexus LFA on the track doing well over 100MPH

On to the transmission. In sport mode and shift setting set to fast, the upshift is fast and so brutal it almost "hurts". It comes in like 2 beats, first one comes like a shock, and second one comes like a choke. The period of time from the driver flipping the paddle to the actual shift is almost instant, very precise and I loved it. But I can see why Scott Pruett mentioned the shifting can be faster. In race cars with sequential gearboxes, you get the feeling that when you shifts, one click and bam you are there. But the LFA gives you that two little shakes. It's more of a preference; on paper (and in reality) the LFA still shifts very fast. The downshift is brilliant with throttle blipping. Response time from the paddle is also very fast, and hearing the engine revving up is pure music to the ears. There is no hesitation at all, even when the RPMs were at 8000 during downshift, showing how good the computer is in managing the blipping while engaging the clutch as fast as possible.

The seating position inside the LFA is quite nice; it's not too low and gives good visibility across the entire windshield. While I'd heard the LFA's motor before, this was my first time to enjoy the engine and exhaust sound inside the cabin through the carefully engineered sound channels. It's not too loud and you can definitely hear the Formula 1-type scream throughout the whole RPM range, although part of me actually wishes the sound could be a little higher pitch.

The steering wheel is small and thick and I found the grip to be perfect for me. Steering feel is on the tight side but not so tight that you have to fight it. I would say it's tight enough that you have to hold on, but it goes wherever you point it to because it's so precise. You get a lot of road feel and suspension feedback through the LFA's steering wheel, far better than any other Lexus I have driven and I would say much more similar to European performance cars. It has that solid feeling and responsiveness all performance drivers want, although part of me thinks it could use a little more feedback when being driven on the track.

Crouching Tiger on the Street

I've discussed how sensational the LFA is on the track at 100+ MPH and then quickly slowing down and pulling several G's through the turns. In reality, that probably will equate to 1% of how most owners will ever drive their LFA. Most people fortunate enough to be able to purchase the LFA will be driving it normally under street conditions much of the time.


The orange color LFA was actually wrapped in vinyl!

First of all, the steering gets pretty light at low speed, a good thing in my opinion. The last thing you want is to battle the steering at every left turn at the traffic light. The LFA's steering turn ratio is awesome; a slight turn redirects immediately which makes driving much easier. On the street you don't have to work to maneuver the LFA in and out of traffic or turns. It's also not hard to adapt to the gas for street driving. The gas pedal is very sensitive on many performance cars and you're either just rolling or shooting forward like a mad bull. But in the LFA the acceleration is controllable and gradual, so even if you are driving through heavy traffic, it won't be torturous.


The other Lexus LFA prototype

Another thing I noticed about the LFA was the great visibility, even the blind spots. In some exotics and supercars where a sleek exterior is a priority, visibility can be limited and that makes daily driving a problem. The LFA has no issue in that department. Also since the seats aren't quite as low as I expected, that helps the driver achieve a better "daily driving position". The seats are also very comfortable (for a high performance car) and supportive, and I don't feel as cramped as I do in the IS-F. The seat belt is very interesting in this car. As many readers know, it's one of the first vehicles with a seat belt airbag, and the belt is actually thicker and a little harder than the standard belt. It didn't bother me that much, but I wonder on a long drive whether it will create any discomfort.

The next topic is my only real criticism of this car, and it's a subjective one. When driving at low (street) speeds the LFA is quite quiet. The exhaust tone reduces and in some ways, it really feels like a traditional Lexus. Some people will love that fact, and I can understand that it's a headache to need to yell at your passenger when you are just driving on the street for them to hear you. However, the silky smoothness somehow turned me off a little. I was supposed to be in a supercar, but everything seemed so peaceful that it took away a bit of the excitement from me. I imagined myself owning this vehicle, and this is how I would be driving the car 99% of the time and it gave me mixed feelings. I am sure some people would appreciate the quietness and comfort, but if I were to drive an exotic supercar on the street, I want a little more excitement from the driving. It's very hard for me to quantify this as a fault because I don't know if I am expecting too much, and also since my driving experience with other true exotics is limited.


Eye on the Car

Stepping out of the LFA, I walked around the car to get more feeling of the car and its street presence. I do like the overall styling of the car, but I noticed how the lines on the LFA seem a bit high and narrow. Other exotics like the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini SV, and Porsche GT seem to have to have lower and "longer" cosmetic lines, giving them a much lower and wider presence. This is especially pronounced in the Ferrari 458. From the front, the Ferrari just feels very wide and low, but the LFA from the same angle looks more bulky and taller.


Wide range of customizations on LFA, down to the leather stitching


As I walked to the rear of the car, I couldn't take my eyes away from those big radiator openings right below the taillights. They are black on all LFAs no matter what paint color, and I wonder if it would look smoother and cleaner if they were covered up with color matched panels (of course, functionality makes this impossible). The center section of the car is what I like most; I think it's very sexy and slick. How Lexus incorporated the door latch is just brilliant, very easy to access and grab on. The scoop openings right behind the doors give the car a very aggressive look as well.

For the interior, I think the word "outstanding" might still be an understatement. Fit and finish is just amazing, and placement of everything was so easy to access and comfortable to use. The center Remote Touch unit is perfectly placed at the most comfortable location for use. The center TFT LCD display is large and everything is very visible from the driving position. There are a lot of controls around the cluster area, but not so overwhelming that you could not quickly get used to them. Both leg and head room are generous, and it was a great feeling sitting inside this car.


Stunning black Alcantara interior

 


After the Deep Breath

So here's my first drive in the Lexus LFA. As I expected, it shines so well on the track; I could really go round and round in the car and would never feel bored. The car is both easy to drive and connected to the driver. The linear power from the drive train paired with the powerful yet gradual and consistent brake system made it very easy to adapt to the potential of the car. In the LFA, I felt more confident about pushing the driving envelope and everything simply works together to feel very natural. Feedback is excellent and instant; even when you are over the top you can recover control quickly. Simply put it was a total blast on the track.

Lexus also makes the LFA easy to drive normally as well, making it a very good weekend exotic. In fact, I would say it's not a problem driving the car as a daily driver if you have the coin. But that does begin to cross a fine line between a super-cool daily driver and the stratosphere of exotic cars. With exotics, you might want a bit more excitement and involvement in the driving. The LFA is such breeze to control and so comfortable to be in, sometimes you might just forget you are in a supercar.

 

Each Lexus LFA owner in the US will receive one of the numbered Pruett Cabernet.  From the label, all handcrafted and 171 bottles created.

Please visit our forum thread here for discussions

http://www.clublexus.com/forums/lfa-model/556645-lexus-lfa-more-than-just-on-paper-and-first-drive.html

By: Henry K. and Dave W.

 
 
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