There’s something slightly weird about this scene. We are about to drive the daunting 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife track in Germany. In a Lexus. Okay, it’s the exotic LFA, a Ferrari-fighting supercar that will cost about $350,000. But the company built its reputation on smooth, refined, and perfectly nerve-calming cars, so why does the LFA exist? In what parallel universe is this thing remotely Lexus-like?
Lexus claims multiple justifications for the LFA program. The car, it says, casts a halo over the Lexus F line of performance machines. It’s also a way for Toyota to explore new technologies, particularly carbon-fiber construction. And since Lexus says it will be selective about whom it will sell to—car collectors and high-profile individuals who use the car rather than park it—the LFA should raise the cachet of the brand as a whole.
Power is sent to the LFA's rear wheels via a paddle-shifted six-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox. Set low and back in the LFA's chassis, the unit contributes to the car's nearly ideal 48:52 front-to-rear weight distribution. It isn't quite as quick or refined as the gearboxes of some competitors due to its somewhat antiquated single-clutch design, however.
In order to keep the LFA light on its feet, Toyota relied heavily on lightweight materials for nearly every aspect of the supercar. Aluminum was originally planned for the LFA's construction, but engineers ultimately decided to use Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic for the car's chassis and body as it offered even greater weight savings than did aluminum.
Designed in-house after years of painstaking research and development, CFRP is four times stronger than aluminum yet netted a 100kg weight savings according to Toyota.
The LFA also features Carbon Ceramic Material brakes, which are both lighter than steel and more fade-resistant. In total, the LFA weighs in at 3,263 lbs.
Currently Lexus has exactly one developmental demo car, so the Lexus PR people are (justifiably) nervous that their baby will get wadded up before the day is over. So am I, so I try to get in line early. Endurance driver Scott Pruett has been helping Lexus engineers develop the LFA: He's along to keep us out of trouble. Track time at a new racetrack is always daunting; Fortunately, NJMP's Lightning 1.9 mile circuit is easy to learn. A trio of laps in one of the IS-F mules sufficed to learn which way the turns went. Terminal velocities on the front straight are nearly 130, plenty fast, but well below the LFA's 202-mph top speed. Finally, we get a chance to follow Pruett around for three laps. The engine power is prodigious, but it's very Lexus-like—refined and smooth, but punchy enough to zing the car to 60 mph in only 3.7 seconds. Bottom-end torque is adequate—well, more than adequate for the street—but not overwhelming on the track. Top-end power is astonishing—the automated gearbox ticking off paddle-commanded upshifts and downshifts. The truly amazing thing about the LFA is the brakes, four giant ceramic composite rotors and six-piston calipers that pull the speed off fast.