In development for more than four years, put to the real test at the Nürburgring, and now driven for the first time at Goodwood, the brand-new Lexus LF-A promises to be Japan's ultimate and definitive supercar.
The Lexus LF-A is the boss's own pet project. It was president Akio Toyoda himself who got this car underway, describing it as a lighthouse concept designed to forge a long-overdue link between the company's (thus far unimpressive) Formula 1 efforts and future Lexus and Toyota sports cars. He also co-drove it at this year's ADAC Zurich 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.
At this point, the Lexus team is still tight-lipped when it comes to official data and claims. Did they ever consider a turbocharged V-8, four-wheel drive, or a dual-clutch transmission? No, says Mikio Hazumi of Lexus, and that's the juiciest inside information we're going to get. Wind tunnel performance? No comment. Adaptive aerodynamics? Not on the race car. Adjustable dampers? Not required. Variable-rate steering? Said to be counterproductive. Front or rear axle lift? Positive downforce at all velocities, guaranteed. Carbon-ceramic brakes? Not needed.
What we know for a fact are the dimensions (length 178 inches, width 74 inches, height 47 inches, wheelbase 103 inches) and the type of vehicle construction (carbon-fiber-reinforced molded polymer). We also know that Toyota opted for a control-arm front suspension and a multilink rear axle made of aluminum, that the cast-iron brake discs are straddled by six-piston front calipers and four-pot rears, and that there is a Torsen-type limited-slip differential at the rear. With a front-mounted V-10 engine and two radiators at the back of the car, weight distribution is exactly 50/50. As our test session at the legendary Goodwood Motor Circuit in southern England drew to a close and the first drinks started making the rounds, two more impressive numbers were revealed: a 0-to-62-mph acceleration time of less than four seconds and a top speed of 200 mph.
Racing cars are typically harsh-riding, cramped, and noisy. The Lexus LF-A is no exception. I turn the ignition key, hit the red button on the transmission tunnel, and pretend not to be shocked by the roar and thunder from under the hood. The V-10 can theoretically spin to 9000 rpm, but the ceiling was lowered to 8500 rpm for the race at the 'Ring. Today at Goodwood, it's capped at an even more cautious 8000 rpm. With no more than six laps per journalist, no one came close to the car's true potential. The first lap was spent warming up the Brembo brakes and the 305/30YR-20 Bridgestone tires. The second lap was for adjusting the braking and turn-in points. On lap three, a pit stop was required to check tire pressures. Lap four was to get on it at last. Only to find out, on lap five, that the LF-A will actually carry a lot more speed through fast corners. Lap six, the cool-down lap, came too soon.
But despite the restrictions, it was impossible to not be impressed. For a start, the LF-A is seriously quick. Lexus claims that the 4805-cc direct-injection, quad-cam, 40-valve V-10 delivers "over 500 hp" and that the car weighs "under 1500 kilos [3300 pounds]." With ears still numb and eyes still glowing, we were inclined to upgrade this to 550 hp and 3000 pounds. Hard acceleration is certainly a time-warp experience, and although you run out of road long before sixth gear needs to be summoned, an indicated 150 mph comes up twice without even trying. Thanks to the massive midrange momentum provided by nearly 400 lb-ft of torque, it's almost always possible to select a taller ratio, which is a big help when you're dancing along the limits of adhesion. The sticky tires and the ultraquick rack-and-pinion steering establish an amazing mix of cornering grip and turn-in vigor. The beautifully responsive throttle helps to modulate the line by dialing in traces of understeer and hints of oversteer in random succession. Although six laps at Goodwood is definitely not long enough to fathom the true potential of the LF-A's chassis, brakes, and steering, it didn't take more than that to relish the car's superb balance. We're talking benign breakaway, magnetic roadholding, and, of course, the raw sensation of very high speed.
We're looking forward to the street version, which will be unveiled in October at the Tokyo Motor Show. Orders for the 500 production cars (100 of which are earmarked for America) will start soon thereafter, but deliveries aren't expected until fall 2010. The price is likely to be in the neighborhood of $250,000 apiece. Lexus could later add a droptop, and there may even be a hybrid variant. We're hoping that the LF-A will pave the way for a new crop of much more affordable Toyota sports cars, such as MR2 and Celica replacements. But there almost certainly will not be another racing version, which is a very good reason to treasure this day at the track.