Driven: 2011 Lexus LFA

Greg Pajo

The automated six-speed transmission is the other Jekyll-and-Hyde element that fails to score ten out of ten. Although there are seven different shift velocities to choose from (they range from 0.2 second to a leisurely 1.0 second), the clutch fitted to both test cars would occasionally slip, respond slowly, or even refuse to act. Strangely enough, the system worked better under stress on the circuit than on the road, where second-gear uphill bends and brisk takeoff maneuvers would sometimes confuse the electronics. Although these glitches were in all likelihood related to the cars' early production status and to the extremely hard use, it deserves a quick fix - after all, just about the last thing Lexus can afford is a quality problem associated with its halo model.

As it is, the crowd-stopping coupe from Toyota City excels in other, rather more subtle areas. Like overall balance, the ability to communicate, and the transparency of the controls. While it may not look particularly light, the Lexus feels like a superfit athlete - from the free-revving engine to the responsive handling, the intuitive steering to the riveting brakes. This perception of lightness adds a new dimension of agility that only true supercars can match. Take the suspension, which offers the best of both worlds: a little understeer to warn the timid, a little oversteer to reward the brave. Take the steering, which is as genuine as your best friend's handshake. Take the reassuring brakes, which are perfectly easy to modulate.

Out of the four available drive modes that can be selected via a knob on the dashboard, we didn't try Wet for obvious reasons, and we disliked Auto for its slow and jerky action. Normal is fine for two-lane roads, but Sport adds quite a bit more spice to the drivetrain and stability control menu. It permits higher revs (the gauge starts flashing whenever the 9000-rpm redline approaches), more ambitious shift points, and a more entertaining handling balance. For a seriously aggressive cornering attitude, stability control can be switched off. But in reality, you don't want to play hooligan, because this car is more about clarity and purity than about showmanship. Gifted with a drag coefficient of 0.31 and equipped with an active tail wing, the LFA retains this dynamic unambiguity on the autobahn, where it tracks with precision; soaks up low-frequency, big-effect pavement imperfections with aplomb; and closes the challenging 150-to-200-mph gap with surprising vigor. This is a seasoned, high-speed tool that copes competently with 125-mph lane changes, 150-mph blind crests, 175-mph bends, and 200-mph stops.

Built on a dedicated line in the Motomachi plant at a rate of no more than twenty units a month by a crew of 140 engineers and specialists, the LFA is as much one man's dream as it is a team effort. "During the presentation at the 'Ring, the 'I want one' factor has indeed grown considerably," admits Tanahashi-san. "What remains a dream for me will hopefully turn out to be a thrilling drive for our customers. Is there going to be a follow-up project? Well, I think this car deserves a second chapter. Whatever the next iteration of such a brand-shaper may be, it definitely needs to be right for its time." Want to know more on how to actually buy one of the 500 LFAs? Click here for an informative blog by our own Joe DeMatio.

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