The transmissions fitted to our two warriors are far apart in both concept and personality. Mercedes pairs its V-8 with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic that reduces power interruption during full-throttle upshifts to virtually zero. There are four shift patterns to choose from: C for controlled efficiency, S for sport, S+ for sport plus, and M for manual. In S+, the black box automatically blips the throttle during downshifts, holds the gear through fast corners, downshifts early, and upshifts late. We tried the manual mode for the first part of the route but found no real need to work the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, because in S and S+, one step on the throttle is all it takes to summon a lower ratio. The interaction is beautifully intuitive and sensationally speedy.
There is no doubt that the single clutch that drives the six-speed automated manual transmission is the Achilles' heel of the Lexus. Gearchanges are controlled via paddles attached to the steering column, where you can find them even with the wheel at full lock. There are four available shift patterns: Auto, Sport, Norm, and Wet. Auto is slow, jerky, and out of sync with the car's focused dynamics. Norm is exactly that -- normal -- so we found ourselves driving in Sport most of the time. To complicate matters, there's a choice of seven different shift speeds ranging from a whiplash 0.2 second to an almost lethargic full-second gear swap that still can't match the smoothness of the Mercedes.
Nice touches include a tachometer that changes color from black to white as soon as you activate sport mode and paddles with contrasting shift weights: it's featherlight for upshifts, but downshifts require a high-effort tug. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the mechanical execution isn't in line with the brand's premium-quality, total-functionality image. Off-the-line clutch engagement varies from rough on level surfaces to wah-wah wailing on inclines.
Like the Nissan GT-R, the LFA struggles through tight and slow uphill bends, where torque delivery is anything but smooth. There is a fair bit of clickety-clonk noise involved, too, and the occasional whiff of overheated friction material wafts through the cabin. Maneuvering the Lexus is reminiscent of driving Ferraris with early F1 automated manual gearboxes. To switch from drive to reverse, you must first pull both paddles to engage neutral and then reach for a small toggle to the left of the instrument panel to trigger a change of direction. Don't rush, or you'll have to repeat the sequence even if traffic is rapidly approaching.