So, Toyota has finally made a new Supra, a car to take the Nissan GT-R down a peg or two?
Supra? This is the new Lexus LFA supercar, although I see what you mean. And don’t mention that impossibly quick, incredibly good value, front-engined Japanese supercar, the GT-R. Lexus claims that the new LFA is a proper supercar, a machine to be compared with the greatest Ferraris and Lamborghinis. It certainly is comparable on price: you’ll need £325,000 to buy one.
Three hundred and twenty-five grand! Has Japan suffered some kind of Zimbabwean hyperinflation and bread is now £40k a loaf?
No, but Lexus did get a bit carried away with the carbonfibre, developing its own type of composite for the chassis tub and building a brand new V10 engine. The project’s been so long in gestation that when Lexus started, they decided to use a V10 to stress the link to F1 – which switched over to V8s in 2006. The 4.8-litre dry-sumped unit puts out 552bhp at 8700rpm, 354lb ft at 6800rpm and spins to 9000rpm. Promising.
For that price, the Lexus LFA supercar ought to be ballistically quick...
It’s certainly rapid, though probably not as rapid as you’d hope. Sixty-two rocks up in 3.7sec (helped by its four-wheel drive system, the Nissan GT-R needs just 3.5sec) and the top speed is 202mph. But the Lexus V10 spins to that 9000rpm redline in one linear push and sounds incredible, emitting a hard yowl throughout the entire journey.
And it’s not just quick on the straights. The LFA turns in swiftly and understeers very little thanks to a 48:52 front:rear weight distribution made possible by tucking the engine up close to the front bulkhead and mounting the gearbox over the rear wheels.
Scythe into a corner and you can feel the outside rear tyre loading up, and initially this can make you think the handling a little edgy. But you soon learn to trust the chassis, keep the pressure on and not back off the power. From there you can either keep it neat or ride out an enormous slide, M3-style.
The ultra-precise, two-turns lock-to-lock steering is realistically weighted and race-car accurate, meaning it’s as good for gathering those slides as it is picking a perfect line through a corner. It’s the best fully electric steering system yet, if still lacking the feel of a fully hydraulic steering system.
I guess the Lexus LFA packs a double-clutch gearbox?
Nope. Chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi says that he wanted the positive feel of a single clutch and that a dual-clutch system couldn’t cope with the high-revving V10. It changes gears in 0.2sec but feels sluggish by contemporary double-clutch standards. Around town the Lexus's transmission is noisy and clunky and the auto mode isn’t that great (when's the last time we said that about a Lexus?). In fact you’ll end up leaving the 'box in sport mode and doing everything yourself to enjoy the drive much more. Irritatingly, you have to pull the two paddles together to engage neutral every time you want to shift between forward and reverse gears.
I presume the LFA's build quality is up to typical Lexus standards...
It is, although the cabin design appears to be by the bloke who did the sets for Buck Rogers, the one where Wilma Deering wore a sexy catsuit. The transmission tunnel is enormous (although the pedals are still perfectly placed) and the top rail of the dash looks like a neanderthal’s monobrow.
But the coolest bit is the TFT instrument cluster. The rev counter’s scale changes depending on whether you’ve got Sport or Normal setting selected – and the whole lot slides sideways to reveal a menu to change various functions on the car. Very neat.
Maybe the superb build quality explains why the Lexus LFA weighs a relatively portly 1480kg. Lexus claims this is class-leading, but how come Porsche can build a GT3 out of steel that tips the scale 100kg lighter?
So how many billionaire absinthe addicts does Lexus expect will be accepting enough of a £325k price to give an LFA a home?
The plan is to make around 20 cars a month over the next two years until 500 have been sold. And even at £325k a pop, Lexus will lose money on each one, such was the investment in the project. Each customer will deal with a specially appointed ‘personal liaison officer’ to guide them through the buying process and keep them happy until their car arrives and beyond. The order books are open now but the first cars won’t find homes until 2011.
The LFA was a long time coming, is an interesting new take on the supercar concept and should be a useful halo car to elevate the profile of the high performance F sub-brand.
Clunky gearchange and mushy carbon brakes aside, it’s a supercar that you really would be happy to use every day, not something you could say for a Lamborghini Murcielago or Ferrari Enzo. The chassis is great and the soundtrack superb. But this is not a £325k car. It doesn’t look like one, doesn’t accelerate like one and, whether Lexus likes it or not, it doesn’t have the badge or motorsport/supercar pedigree that many image-conscious supercar buyers demand.
At the £150k the new Ferrari 458 or McLaren MP4-12C will cost, you could make a strong case for the new Lexus LFA, but at £325,000, it just doesn’t add up.
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