With the Lexus LFA, the firm is trying to rewrite the supercar rulebook at its first attempt

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The Lexus LFA started life in 2001 as no more than a study but, via the enthusiasm of its engineers and Toyota’s commitment to R&D, it gained its own momentum. At first it was going to be aluminium, but Lexus opted for carbonfibre-reinforced plastic instead.

Then mules ran at the Nürburgring for well over five years, and prototypes competed in the 24-hour race there in 2008 and 2009. Three concepts were shown, including a roadster in 2008.

The Lexus LFA is an eye-wateringly pricey limited-run, carbonfibre special

The production LFA made its debut at the Tokyo motor show. Lexus immediately set new standards for refinement when it launched its luxury LS saloon in 1989 and with the LFA it’s trying to rewrite the rulebook for supercars.

When Lexus (backed, of course, by Toyota) decides that it’s going to do something new, it doesn’t do things by half: the LFA is a limited-run, carbonfibre special, making the breadth of Lexus’s range quite extraordinary.

Lexus says it aimed for a weight distribution of 48 percent front and 52 percent rear. To this end, a 4.8-litre V10 is set as far back in the frontal engine bay as possible, with a torque tube to a rear transaxle housing the single-clutch robotised manual gearbox.

Within its skin, though, lies the real delight. Its body is carbonfibre composite (left naked beneath the bonnet and bootlid), as is the vast majority of the monocoque chassis beneath. The passenger cell is carbonfibre, as is most of the rear of the car, while 35 percent of the body-in-white is aluminium, including the engine frame and, sensibly, the impact structures to the front and rear, offering sacrificial protection to the carbonfibre tub.

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Lexus LFA triangular headlights

You’d expect a car with a nine-year gestation to be well honed, and the Lexus LFA certainly is. Its appearance is out of the Japanese techno box and would look cutting edge by most standards were it not for the fact that we’ve seen it next to the Ferrari 458 Italia.

Viewed in that light, the LFA’s sides look a little flat and functional. But the detailing is still exquisite and there’s no arguing with the finessing and airflow management that has left it with a commendable drag coefficient of 0.31.

Next to a Ferrari 458, the Lexus LFA’s sides look a little flat and functional

The LFA’s design puts function before form. So all the air intakes, including the duct that forms the curved peak in the shoulder line, have been designed primarily to work well. Even so, we think function looks outrageously good. Door handles are well concealed yet are quite easy to use because the gutters, which channel air to the upper intakes, also act as grips.

Door mirrors are designed to impede front three-quarter visibility as little as possible while also funnelling air into the rear intakes. The gap in the bonnet serves as the engine’s air intake, where it’s passed into the cylinders via a throttle body for each one.

The body is carbonfibre composite, which allows more freedom with the exterior styling. The sharp rear trailing edge would, says Lexus, have been impossible to do with metal. Triple exhausts add symmetry to the rear end, emit a raucous, F1-like sound and look great. The rear diffuser, made of the same carbonfibre composite as the rest of the body, also looks great and helps the LFA to achieve its low drag coefficient.


Lexus LFA dashboard

In keeping with its exterior, the Lexus LFA has a cabin with an exquisite mix of details that won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Aside from the navigation/sound system control pad, which you’ll also find on the Lexus RX450h, it’s all bespoke in here. The beautifully crafted switches for the seat controls, the sweet metal wiper and indicator stalks and the quality of the air vents all deserve a mention.

The Lexus LFA has a driving position beyond reproach

They have a bronze-coloured satin finish that, we imagine, will date like a newspaper but which at the moment exudes a hi-tech, delicate feel – slightly sci-fi, like a prop from a Gerry Anderson TV show. That you can spot naked carbonfibre on the sills only enhances the effect.

It’s fairly functional inside, though. You sit low, surrounded by high sills, a high window line and a high dashboard. It’s all very cocooning. The driving position itself is beyond reproach, although the seats could offer more lateral support. The steering wheel (a little fussy for us) adjusts for reach and rake with a comprehensive range.

There’s no conventional handbrake or gearlever. The Lexus LFA's forward gears are selected solely by the well crafted paddles, reverse via a button on the dash (you must travel into and out of neutral first, going either way, via a dual pull on the paddles).

There’s a smattering of switches on the dash, a couple of which adjust such things as the gearshift speed, signified on what initially looks like a conventional instrument binnacle. But even here, all is not what it seems. The big, circular LCD revcounter smoothly, electrically eases across the display when you call up the main menu, and the speedometer within it is digital. Beneath the rear hatch, there’s a smattering of luggage space, which 
is shallower but wider than you’ll find in any other mid-engined car with this kind of performance.


Lexus LFA front quarter

It is a measure of the rate of progress in the supercar stakes that, when Lexus confirmed the Lexus LFA’s statistics, some voices were heard to question whether 552bhp was enough. The thinking was that simply matching the entry-level Ferrari and Lamborghini wasn’t sufficiently spectacular for a car costing twice the price.

In bragging rights, the dissenters may have a point, because against the clock the LFA is outperformed by not only the 458 Italia and Gallardo LP560-4, but also the Mercedes-AMG SLS and, perhaps most embarrassingly of all, the Porsche 911 Turbo S. In such company, a 0-100mph time of 8.2sec is not quite off the pace but it is certainly disappointing.

With carbon-ceramic brake discs, the Lexus LFA has no trouble stopping from high speeds repeatedly

However, any measure of performance that includes a standing start undersells the LFA’s accelerative ability because, without launch control, the LFA struggles off the line, either bogging down or burning its clutch. Discount the launch and the LFA is much more competitive. A 30-100mph time of 6.2sec is just 0.1sec off the SLS’s and LP560’s. Furthermore, unlike our test prototype, customer cars are expected to have launch control.

There is a further caveat, though. To achieve such performance, the LFA’s V10 needs to be kept within the last third of its 9400rpm range. Peak torque of 354lb ft is not only less than the 458’s 398lb ft but it also arrives 800rpm later. With carbon-ceramic brake discs, the LFA has no trouble stopping from high speeds repeatedly with almost no fade.

Pedal modulation is mostly good, but there could be a fraction more progression when simply brushing the pedal to lose a little speed.

In performance terms, the LFA’s biggest disappointment is its single-clutch gearbox. Next to the latest dual-clutch systems, it feels outdated. In its most extreme setting, the changes are swift enough but brutal; switch to a slower setting and the changes become ponderous and clumsy.


Lexus LFA cornering

In a way, the front-engined, rear-drive layout of the Lexus LFA is refreshingly simple. Although the compact V10 is placed behind the front axle line, you are aware of its presence ahead of you as you turn for a corner, as well as the fact that your backside sits just ahead of the rear wheels.

And yet for a car of this layout, the LFA displays a remarkable willingness to change direction – a consequence not only of the quick-geared steering but also the exceptional rigidity of the carbonfibre central structure.

The Lexus LFA displays a remarkable willingness to change direction

On a track or smooth-surfaced road, the LFA turns with a remarkable absence of slack, settling swiftly into bends and feeling controlled and planted, with plenty of grip from its bespoke Bridgestone tyres. If we were to make our assessment based purely on such driving, the LFA would score more highly than it does in the final reckoning here.

It doesn’t, though, and the reason is clear when the LFA tackles the bumpy, narrow roads typical of the UK. The problem is a lack of compliance. Although there is a comfort issue, this is a secondary concern for this type of car.

Our main beef is that the difficulty the LFA has in coping with an uneven road impinges on driver enjoyment. For example, under braking the LFA can be deflected easily if a bump affects just one side of the car, and mid-corner lumps can cause traction issues.

The biggest problem, though, comes from the combination of the uneven ride and the steering. Although the quick steering works well on smoother surfaces, maintaining accuracy can be difficult when it has to cope with kickback from the road surface as well.

The issue is exaggerated by the fact that the driver is both being jostled around and insufficiently supported by the seats.


Lexus LFA 2010-2012

It may be expensive to buy, but you can bet your life that a Lexus LFA will be a pleasure to own, given that it wears a Lexus badge.

The customer service that its dealers offer on any Lexus model is a match for that awaiting most owners of bona fide supercars, so someone who has spent this much money on one should expect to be treated like royalty.

The Lexus LFA's running costs will be astronomical, of course

Running costs will be astronomical, of course; no 500-off, bespoke V10-engined car would be any different. We averaged just 14.9mpg on test, but the biggie in this market is always depreciation. Limited availability will secure the LFA’s value for now, though.

Speculators are being deterred by a Lexus policy that demands owners can only sell their LFA back to the supplying dealer at market value or list price during the first two years.

That's measure is fine for the short-term, but in time the free market will impose itself and prices will reflect the car's enduring popularity - or otherwise.


4 star Lexus LFA

Taken in isolation, the Lexus LFA is a remarkable machine, and a remarkable achievement.

Its construction is a work of art, and we cannot imagine ever growing tired of its engine. In 30 years’ time, we’ll remember the LFA’s engine as one of the greatest petrol powerplants in existence.

What disappoints is the failure of the Lexus LFA’s dynamics to engage the driver in a consistent way

What disappoints, though, is the failure of the LFA’s dynamics to engage the driver in a consistent way. In the right conditions, sure, the LFA is exceptional: composed, flat and breathtakingly fast. However, at this price, we’d hope for more. The Noble M600 and Ferrari 458 Italia offer more consistent all-conditions dynamics.

Which leaves the LFA as an occasional car, even by supercar standards. It’s one for a collection, only sometimes the right car for the job. That’s a shame, if for no other reason than its V10 deserves more frequent outings than its chassis will allow it.

Lexus LFA 2010-2012 First drives