2012 Lexus LFA: New Car Review
Pros: A true rarity, with low production volume of 500; successful stab at redefining Lexus brand perception; engine and interior components are unique, not from parts bin; among the greatest-sounding exhaust notes money can buy
Cons: Exorbitantly priced; needs wilder styling for good street cred among exotics; transmission not as cutting-edge as engine; performance stats aren't quite dizzying enough for the price
Long before Lexus and parent company Toyota faced daunting quality control issues and countless safety recalls, the Japanese manufacturer was riding high and pouring seemingly endless funds into its Formula 1 racing program.
Eight seasons and squillions of dollars later, Toyota ignominiously withdrew from F1. However, for the company and for consumers, there was a silver lining to the expensive, failed attempt: the technology, which was funneled into the flagship LFA. The heart of any sports car is its engine, and the LFA boasts a truly exotic powerplant. Its 4.8 liter V10 is a high-revving, free-flowing mill with the sexiest exhaust note this side of a seven-figure racing car.
Previously available only with a two-year lease, the two-seat Lexus LFA can now be purchased outright at a MSRP of $375,000. Only 500 LFAs will be produced, and 50 of those will be offered with a Nurburgring package at a $70,000 premium. The limited-edition version extracts 9 horsepower more from the LFA's engine for a total output of 562 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Gearshifts have been shortened to 0.15 second; a sport-tuned suspension adds mesh wheels and grippier tires for improved handling. A downforce-producing front spoiler and fixed rear wing enhance high-speed stability, and the interior wears a carbon fiber center console and door trim. Unlike the seemingly endless palette of color combinations available with the standard LFA, the Nurburgring option only offers four exterior and three interior hues. A private training experience at the Nurburgring and a one-year pass to the track's famed Nordschleife section are included with the package.
Comfort & Utility
With its front-mounted engine and plush interior, the Lexus LFA is more a grand touring car than a hard-core track toy. Although it can hold its own on a racing circuit, the fastest production Lexus ever built is still a Lexus, offering an ergonomic cabin capable of transporting two people in finely finished luxury.
Though not ambitious in terms of cargo capacity or practical concerns, the LFA's interior is high on style and boasts creatively designed details unique to the car. Real metal surfaces abound, and the seats are finished in buttery soft leather or Alcantara. Refreshingly, few if any interior trim pieces were scooped from the Lexus parts bin, lending this interior a sense of authenticity and expensiveness.
Even early in its development life, the LFA was envisioned as a cutting-edge technological showcase of how far Lexus could push the edge of engineering. Originally envisioned with aluminum underpinnings back in 2000 when the project began, the LFA's backbone eventually was replaced by a far more complex (and costly) carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic chassis for ultimate stiffness and weight savings.
The engine block is cast in the same foundry where Toyota's F1 powerplants were created, and it's another technological tour de force. Toyota chose a V10 because it deemed aV12 too heavy and a V8 not revvy enough. This mill's lightweight components rotate so quickly (up to a soaring 9,000 rpm) that they require a digital tachometer to keep up with the engine-which spins so fast that it can blast from idle to redline in only 6/10 of a second. The V10's packaging is so efficiently assembled that the engine is actually more compact than a traditional V8 and as light as a V6. The V10 powerplant was co-developed with Yamaha, and workers in that company's music division were employed to refine the exhaust note. The mill mates to a torque tube that connects to a rear-transaxle-mounted six-speed, single-clutch sequential gearbox.
Alloy suspension components aid the LFA's handling, and large electronically controlled ceramic brakes enable short stopping distances. A rear wing is designed to deploy at 50 mph for increased downforce.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Lexus LFA is fiercely focused on performance: 0-to-60-mph sprints are achieved in 3.6 seconds, and terminal velocity is 202 mph.
Yes, Lexus built its reputation on silky smooth, quiet running cars, but the LFA combines a certain level of drivetrain refinement with a howling exhaust note and a stiff suspension. Make no mistake, this is definitely a luxury coupe, but the LFA is also capable of ferocious performance that puts it on par with all but some of the most highly regarded supercars.
Don't look for great EPA numbers with the LFA; this 3,263-pound car achieves official ratings of 11 mpg city and 16 mpg highway.
The Lexus LFA has airbags built into the seatbelts. These are now available on Ford vehicles, too, but Lexus pioneered the technology. The high-priced Japanese supercar also incorporates advanced front airbags with a knee airbag for the driver, along with a fairly normal list of additional safety features including stability and traction control, brake assist, brake distribution and seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters.
Taking a cue from racing-car design, the LFA's carbon-reinforced structure promises exceptional protection to the passenger compartment in the event of an accident.
The first thing that strikes you about the Lexus LFA is the sense of drama stirred by the V10 when it's fired up with a haunting whir. This engine revs remarkably quickly and easily, and its responsiveness requires delicate footwork because of its extremely sensitive throttle response. Our track drive covered relatively smooth tarmac, but the LFA's suspension still came across as stiff-testimony to its performance-oriented tuning.
Thanks to its lavishly finished cabin, the LFA feels more sophisticated than some of its super sports competitors. Acceleration is as brisk as you would expect from a nearly $400,000 exotic, and forward momentum is particularly exhilarating when the engine approaches its stratospheric redline. Although the single-clutch gearbox can perform reasonably quick cog swaps (in as little as 200 milliseconds, or 150 milliseconds with the Nurburgring package), the transmission lags behind some of its competitors; for example, Mercedes-Benz's SLS AMG achieves the task in 100 milliseconds, and the Ferrari 599GTO does so in as little as 60 milliseconds.
The LFA's brakes are more than up for the task of strong stops, and the car's low center of gravity helps it turn deceptively easily, with transitional handling that's taut and responsive in keeping with the engine's high state of tune.
Other Cars to Consider
Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4-The $379,700 Lamborghini Aventador isn't philosophically aligned to compete against the LFA-if anything, the Lambo takes an almost opposite tack, with its insectoid styling, menacing scissors doors and blistering 0-to-60-mph time of 2.9 seconds. Regardless, its nearly identical asking price suggests that some buyers already interested in the LFA might consider the Aventador a viable alternative.
Ferrari 599GTO-Ferrari's $410,000 599GTO has a similar mission to the grand-touring-oriented LFA, but this 670-hp, V12-powered Italian offers a heavier and more powerful approach to performance. Unlike the brand spanking new Lamborghini Aventador, this Ferrari is getting long in the tooth. It will be replaced soon by the F12 Berlinetta coupe, which is expected to produce a whopping 730 horsepower.
Aston Martin DBS-Another aging supercar, the Aston Martin DBS starts at about $280,000 and features a bonded and extruded aluminum chassis and a 6.0- liter V12 engine. Heavy on personality and a bit lighter on outright performance, this elegantly styled coupe nonetheless offers a sensual combination of torquey acceleration, tight handling and an inspired interior.
If you're thinking of buying a Lexus LFA, it's already clear that you have the financial wherewithal and the desire for exclusivity that are needed to make such a purchase. The Nurburgring package requires more of the former and offers more of the latter.