Lexus LFA: 121 Years in the Making.
Trace the lineage of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and you'll eventually arrive at Sakichi Toyoda, the man who started Toyoda Loom Works long before Toyota Motor Corporation existed. Sakichi, who was raised in a textile-manufacturing region and was inspired by Japan's late-nineteenth-century patent law, invented the automatic loom and fueled Japan's industrial revolution with an unrelenting stream of textile innovations. That explains why 121 years after Sakichi received his first patent, Toyota is the only automaker to weave its own carbon fiber.
At LFA Works in Motomachi, Japan, the mesmerizing circular loom that braids the car's hollow, carbon-fiber roof rails is more than a slight nod to the company's past. It reflects Sakichi Toyoda's concept of jidoka, or automation with a human touch. In the 1920s, jidoka meant that an automatic loom could detect a thread breakage and stop weaving. That same concept -- although a photo-optical system now detects broken fibers -- led to one of the significant patents that made Lexus's carbon-fiber braider a reality.
When development of the LFA began in 2000, Toyota had no intention of building a carbon-fiber car, let alone a Lexus. Instead, the Japanese giant was pursuing an aluminum-spaceframe sports car with a Toyota badge. As performance and refinement expectations simultaneously increased, though, engineers became convinced that carbon-fiber construction was a necessity. The switch resulted in a car that is 220 pounds lighter and four times stiffer than the original concept.
Open the door of an LFA, and you'll find a strip of exposed carbon fiber just behind the intersection of the A-pillar, the dash panel, and the doorsill, where the composite structure experiences some of its highest forces. There are eleven layers of carbon fiber at its thickest point, so rapping your knuckles against it has the feel and sound of punching a cinder block.
Punching the throttle, on the other hand, is far more gratifying. What the 552-hp V-10 gives up in torque is masked by a voracious desire to rev past 9000 rpm, and the high-pitched shriek that accompanies every full-throttle tear is the most righteous noise you've ever heard outside of a racetrack. The six-speed automated manual transmission is averse to automatic mode, and part-throttle shifts work best when you lift your right foot. Low-speed creep and redline upshifts are more civilized than the Aventador's, but the stiff-legged suspension is only moderately more livable. And the LFA's cabin looks like the biggest afterthought in this group. It has the look of a supercar from the prior decade and is rife with ergonomic curiosities that you'd think would be elementary for a company that rewrote luxury with the LS400 and sold nearly 200,000 passenger cars in the United States last year.
Not that we'd let that overshadow the awesomeness of this car's existence. The LFA is a distillation of Toyota's Formula 1 experience into a passionate road car. Perhaps even more exciting is how the company will use its experience with the LFA to produce the next generation of Toyota street cars. The LFA's 500-car production run ends this December, and you can bet that Toyota won't keep that carbon-fiber loom idle for long.
From defense to driveway
The majority of early carbon-fiber development originated in the defense industry, primarily for naval and aerospace applications. Although fiber-reinforced plastics were commercialized in the 1930s and '40s, using carbon fiber wasn't practical until 1963, when researchers at the British Royal Aircraft Establishment discovered a method for producing reliable, high-strength filaments. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early '90s sapped the defense industry's demand for carbon fiber, and falling prices opened the door for carbon fiber use in the commercial aerospace, sporting goods, and automotive industries. Today, the market benefits from a diversity of materials and manufacturing methods. While aerospace-grade carbon fiber can cost as much as $200 per pound, automotive use has been driven by the rise of larger fibers with a price of about $10 per pound.
BASE PRICE $381,100
ENGINE 40-valve DOHC V-10
DISPLACEMENT 4.8 liters (293 cu in)
POWER 552 hp @ 8700 rpm
TORQUE 354 lb-ft @ 6800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
STEERING Electrically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT Control arms, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES Carbon-ceramic vented discs, ABS
TIRES Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
TIRE SIZE F, R 265/35YR-20, 305/30YR-20
L x W x H 177.0 x 74.6 x 48.0 in
WHEELBASE 102.6 in
TRACK F/R 62.2/61.8 in
WEIGHT 3460 lb
WEIGHT DIST. F/R 48/52%
EPA MILEAGE 11/16 mpg
0-60 MPH 4.2 sec
TOP SPEED 202 mph