The World Had Better Be Lexus LF-A Prototype You're somewhere near the top of fourth gear and doing 130, maybe 135mph with the tachometer just starting to flash red for the next gear change when you decide to brake for the corner. The carbon-ceramic brakes kill the speed so viciously you're left hanging in your harness and can hear the huge 265-section front Bridgestones squealing in protest. No time for pity; you pull twice at the left shift-paddle and the six-speed sequential 'box drops back to second with a quick, sharp jolt and the revs of the vast V10 slung out in front of you flick up instantly to meet the new cog. With just an eighth-turn of the flat-bottomed carbon-fiber and leather wheel you slice into the corner with an immediacy, composure and accuracy utterly at odds with your car's front-engine layout, and you're hard on the gas again, enjoying the deep, deafening metallic howl being piped straight back into the cabin...
This is not your father-in-law's Lexus. Until the arrival of the V8-powered IS-F last year we thought we knew what Lexus stood for, but if that car confused the brand's carefully nurtured image, this new one just blows it all away. Once, Lexus was all about obsessive-compulsive build-quality and silken refinement. Then it added hybrid tech, motivated as much by the desire to take the noise and vibration of an engine out of the picture altogether, you suspect, as by any environmental concern. And Lexus has always been refreshingly resistant to the trend for ruining a road car's refinement by making it spuriously 'sporty'.
And then along comes the LF-A. Okay, it didn't just arrive out of the blue. Toyota has been working on it since 2000, just after it decided to enter Formula 1, and it has shown us a bunch of LF-A concepts, starting nearly five years ago at the '05 Detroit show; other cars have been launched and replaced in that time.
But the final production specification will still shock anyone who thought they knew what Lexus stood for. The LF-A is a proper supercar, with a front mid-mounted, 4.8-liter, 72-degree, naturally-aspirated V10 engine making 560hp at 8700rpm. The power goes via a torque tube to a six-speed sequential transaxle with seven shift-speed settings; Lexus, incredibly, says a twin-clutch gearbox would have been too refined. The whole lot is mounted in a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, clad mainly in carbon panels. Weighing just 1480kgs the LF-A will crack 60mph in 3.7sec and has a v-max of 205mph; these figures on a par with super-exotic supercar rivals like the Ferrari 599 and the Lamborghini Murcielago.
But the Lexus has one figure that exceeds all its likely rivals: its price. With a price of close to half a million including taxes, it is likely that Lexus won't recoup anywhere near what it has spent developing the LF-A; only 500 will be made, with production starting in 2011. Profit isn't the point, of course; this car exists to showcase its maker's technical abilities and stretch its engineers. But the PR benefit could backfire if we expect twice the excitement of a Ferrari for twice the money.
It certainly doesn't look twice the car; the front mid-engined configuration, chosen for its optimal stability and weight distribution means the LF-A was never going to look as outrageous as a European mid-engined super-exotic. It still looks great though, but more like a modern Supra or a more elegant GT-R. Favorite details are the gorgeous, sculpted wing mirrors and air intakes over the rear arches, designed to work together both aesthetically and aerodynamically.
Climb in and you immediately notice how low you sit. The exhausts and torque tube are stacked together in the high central tunnel allowing the driver to be dropped right down, race car style, and seemingly at the same level as pedestrians' knees. The cabin is simple but flawlessly finished in leather and carbon-fiber; this is a Lexus, after all, and some things can't be messed with. Most of the cabin functions are handled by the RX-style, remote-touch 'mouse' and a screen, keeping switchgear to a minimum. Again, being a Lexus, the car is fully loaded, but unlike any other Lexus you'll be able to delete items, like the Mark Levinson audio system to save weight. Race-style Alcantara-trimmed fixed bucket seats will be an option.
There's some great cockpit-theatre on start-up, with the four sub-dials in the TFT-screen binnacle radiating out from the main tachometer to take their positions, and the entire display physically motoring sideways to reveal another screen behind for subsidiary functions. But for start-up drama, nothing beats the sound the V10 makes when you thumb the wheel-mounted, carbon fiber starter button; a hard, sharp bark, soon followed by perceptible kick in the back as you select first gear and move off. But again, it's a Lexus. There's occasionally a little kangarooing as you move off but with the 'box in auto mode the LF-A is a surprisingly undemanding drive on city streets, with reasonable low-speed ride quality and decent visibility.
But what you want to know, of course, is how it feels to redline a dry-sumped V10 capable of revving from idle to 9000rpm in just over half a second. The answer? It's as technically impressive as it is viscerally exciting; while the left side of your brain is admiring how such a big engine revs so cleanly and quickly and how perfectly matched the changes are, the right side is craving another hit of the hard, hollow howl you get - all too briefly - as it closes in on the redline. At the risk of sounding spoiled, the LF-A isn't that fast; going sub-four is expected even of junior supercars now. The extra cost doesn't buy you much extra pace, but it's delivered with a character and a technical accomplishment that makes Lexus' first supercar worthy of comparison with its established, exotic, European rivals.
And like the Ferrari 599 in particular, on a twisty road or a track the LF-A seems to shrink, and turns into bends with the keenness and precision and composure of a much smaller, lighter car. It grips hard, rolls progressively and goes exactly where you point it, the quick rack demanding minimal inputs and the uber-responsive engine and 'box ensuring you can always balance the car with power.
The only real issues lie in the steering and the brakes. Electric assistance robs the steering of much of its feel; the front end offers huge grip but little communication. And the carbon-ceramic stoppers, though hugely impressive and utterly fade-free just don't feed back either, though they can be noisy.
So does the LF-A justify that eye-watering sticker price? Objectively, it's not worth double the price of a Lamborghini, but for the 500 lucky enough to get one this won't be a rational purchase; owning the ultimate Japanese supercar, and one capable - at the first attempt - of holding its own next to its aristocratic adversaries will be worth the price of admission.
Tuning Menu Lexus LF-A Prototype Engine 4805cc V10 Power 560hp at 8700rpm, 480Nm at 6800rpm, redline 9000rpm; 0-60 3.7, 325km/h Brakes 390/360mm front/rear, carbon-ceramic, cross-drilled and vented Wheels & Tires 265/35 ZR20, 305/30 ZR20 suspension & chassis double wishbone front, multilink rear, aluminum www lexus.com/fcv/lf_a.html