Driven: 2011 Lexus LFA

Greg Pajo

Gone are the stickers and the camouflage, the wild spoilers and the additional XXL high-beam lights, the roll cage and the stripped-out interior. The gleaming white wonder posing in pit lane at the Nürburgring Formula 1 circuit looks like a distant relative of the race car that competed in the twenty-four-hour endurance run earlier this year. What we see here - four weeks prior to the official launch at the Tokyo Motor Show - is the first undisguised production car, one of only 500 LFAs to be made, estimated to cost a breathtaking $350,000 to $400,000. This dramatically different Japanese sports car combines high technology with maximum user-friendliness. It is a blend of extreme engineering and exquisite craftsmanship, top-notch performance and easy accessibility, uncompromising driver involvement and total control. There are more powerful and faster sports cars out there, but very few deliver their talents in a more focused and more emotional manner than the new Lexus flagship.

When development of the LFA started in the Toyota skunk works some nine years ago, the idea was to create a new high-end aluminum-spaceframe sports car that would feature a V-8 or a V-10 and, most likely, a dual-clutch transmission. But the brief kept changing as the project was transferred from Toyota to Lexus, where light weight became a higher priority. Chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi remembers why: "We knew we had to challenge the best in terms of performance, handling, and roadholding. But under the Lexus brand, we also needed to emphasize refinement, comfort, and style. Since these elements are not exactly weight-neutral, the whole approach had to be reconsidered at a point in time when the project was already two-thirds down the road." At that late stage, the LFA team switched to a molded-carbon-fiber unibody structure, an automated-manual gearbox, and an innovative ten-cylinder engine intended to be as light as an eight and as compact as a six. Despite these efforts, the 3263-pound Lexus doesn't quite match such lightweight rivals as the 2975-pound Ferrari 430 Scuderia or the 3175-pound Porsche 911 GT2.

The carbon-fiber center tub did save 220 pounds and is four times as rigid as the previous spaceframe design, and it also taught Lexus some valuable lessons with regard to future higher-volume production concepts. Using heavily modified, laser-equipped Toyota looms to weave the fibers in new high-strength patterns, the Japanese created a very stiff passenger cell composed of three moldings. For maximum strength and rigidity, embedded aluminum collars were developed to attach the front and rear subframes. To achieve the desired 48/52 percent front/rear weight distribution, the engineers opted for rear-mounted radiators and a transaxle, and they set the front-mounted engine back in the chassis. A torque tube connects the V-10 engine to the automated six-speed transaxle. In the front, the LFA relies on an aluminum-intensive control-arm suspension and compact springs; low-friction dampers with remote fluid reservoirs; and a tubular antiroll bar. In the rear, we find a multilink arrangement consisting of four transverse arms, a compact upright, and a pair of angled springs and dampers. The tires are asymmetrical-tread twenty- inchers by Bridgestone, 265/35 in the front and 305/30 in the rear.

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