Back in June 2010, right in the middle of the Toyota unintended acceleration scare, Lexus LFA test driver Hiromu Naruse died when his LF-A Nürburgring ploughed into a 3-series carrying BMW engineers on the 410, one of the public roads outside the Nürburgring.
Toyota sources say Naruse-san didn’t appear to have been wearing his seatbelt and appeared to have been driving on the incorrect side of the road and that, because it was an early development hack, safety systems such as the airbags and so on weren’t operational.
It was a terrible tragedy compounded by terrible timing; it would have been understandable if Toyota had swept this entire project under the carpet. Yet a year later we’re back at the Nurburgring Nordscheife, about to drive the LF-A Nurburgring on the track that gave it its name.
What's new on the Lexus LF-A Nürburgring?
The standard LF-A is an incredible car with some incredible packaging – its front/mid-engined, naturally aspirated V10 that drives the rear wheels through a transaxle. There’s also a carbon monotub, carbon roof, bonnet and spoiler, plus glassfibre side panels (the planned carbon panels didn’t lend themselves to the required Lexus paint finish, so a compromise was reached) while the radiators are located behind the rear wheels and ancillaries like the battery and washer bottle are carefully packaged within the wheelbase to help handling – or, as Toyota puts it, to minimise the moment of inertia.
Only 500 LF-As will be built at a price of around £346,000, but of that 500 a further 50 will be the Nurburgring special edition. It costs - gulp - £411,752.
Changes for the LF-A Nürburgring are small but significant – the leather, electrically adjustable chairs are ditched for fixed-back Recaros, the regular 265/35 ZR20 Bridgestone Potenzas are swapped for same-size, same-make RE070s – a kind of trackday tyre with bigger tread blocks that are less prone to flexing under duress.
Elsewhere there’s an extra 11bhp for the V10, which is, says Toyota’s Duncan McMath, down to ‘a kind of super blueprinting, really paying attention to the seal on the piston ring, that kind of thing’.
Changes to the chassis on the LF-A Nürburgring
There’s also a 10mm ride height drop, plus carbon door cards, and a larger front splitter and new canards (the little winglets either side of the front bumper). There’s also a fixed rear wing which ditches the bulky actuator of the automatically deploying standard spoiler and, along with the lighter seats, accounts for much of the 10kg weight saving. Together with the other aero mods, it generates around 30% more downforce.
What an incredible car this is. And what an incredible place. I’ve previously done only two laps of the 21km Nordscheife, so it’s safe to say I’m feeling a tad nervous when I fire the engine and listen to its warm woooooo at idle build into a yelpy, F1-like scream as I head into the first corner and pull for another gear at a beserk 9000rpm.
But the balance instantly feels trustworthy, the front/mid-mounted engine ensuring there’s minimal understeer while still providing the easier-to-manage feel of an engine placed ahead of the driver when you start to really push yourself at a fast, dangerous place like this. And I say ‘yourself’ advisedly – prior to my run I went out for a passenger lap with a Toyota test driver who was absolutely on it and, the very next day, posted a record-breaking 7min 14sec lap.
So, I push myself, and perhaps not so much the car’s limits, which no doubt explains why I don’t notice the improvements in downforce over the standard car I’d driven earlier – I suspect I’d have to get much more comfortable with the car and the track and push harder to bring that into play.
Still, I do notice how much more securely the bucket seats grip you, how much harder you can lean on the front tyres. The rest, really, is as per the standard car (which means you could pretty much achieve the same affect by fitting the seats, tyres and springs to a stock LF-A).
I like how firm the brake pedal is and how endlessly able the carbon ceramic discs feel. Despite the 10mm drop, the dampers are still shared with the standard car too, and they’re nicely compliant on this circuit, allowing enough rebound and compression movements as the car goes light over fast crests and, well, compresses into hollows – too firm and the car would skip about. The steering is light with a consistence resistance as you wind on more lock, and the gearshift is… still not quite right. Supercar makers such as Ferrari and McLaren have moved the game on with rapid-fire but silky smooth dual-clutch autos, exaggerating the inescapable sense that this automated manual still feels tardy. And, despite the shift speed falling from 0.20sec at the car’s launch to 0.15sec now, it’s still the weakest link.
The thing is, though, a flawed shift doesn’t really sour this experience.
In many ways, the LFA is Japan’s Bugatti Veyron and it’s a very, very impressive machine indeed, one that I’d have happily lapped until I crashed or ran out of petrol. Here’s to Naruse-san, then – and to the thought that brilliance like this with filter through to cheaper Toyota sports cars in the future.