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Hot Lapping the Lexus LFA at Infineon Raceway News Review

Sunday, March 20, 2011

  • Acoustically tuned F1 exhaust note more inspiring than the London Philharmonic
  • Telepathically enhanced electric power steering
  • Carbon ceramic discs stronger than a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin headlock
  • Exclusive price tag
  • Personal high performance driving instructor not included with purchase
  • Lacks storied racing tradition
The Lexus LFA is, without doubt, the hottest ultra supercar to fly down the Autobahn since Audi introduced the R8 several years ago. The 552 hp, composite monocoque two seater is a complete aberration for Lexus, the buttoned-down purveyor of conventional luxury cars renowned for quality, silence and longevity. Why the sea change in Lexus strategy? The company is going after the lucrative sports sedan market currently owned by Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Lexus sedans have always been perceived as somewhat stodgy alternatives to the German Big 3. Consequently, the Japanese company has decided to launch an all-out assault on the sporting opposition by building the LFA as a halo car for their revamped F-line cars and parts.

2011 Lexus LFA at Infineon Raceway

One three-lap shot behind the wheel of this $375,000 rocket sled will instantly apprise you of the fact that Lexus stands second to no one in the supercar sweepstakes. You climb aboard with significant trepidation, knowing that you will not only be jumping on a treadmill already going 100mph, but that your every move will be monitored by an expert race driver riding shotgun in the adjacent seat. As Gus Grissom used to say in the Apollo astronaut program, “Lord don’t let me screw the pooch.”
Silence was the first thing Lexus threw out the window with the LFA. When you fire up this beast in the pits at Infineon, you’re thinking someone snuck an F1 motor into the engine compartment behind you. You’d be right. There are no sounds in the motorsport kingdom equal to the wrenching wail of the LFA’s Yamaha-bred V-10. Floor the loud pedal here and watch the dead dance in their graves.

Lexus LFA at Infineon Raceway

Struggling to secure the extra-wide shoulder/lap-belt in its reticent receiver, you look over to your co-pilot for some assistance and recognize the implacable visage of Bill Cooper. Cooper, who used to be the Chief Instructor at the Bondurant School (then at Sears Point, now called Infineon), has only been racing for about 40 years and knows this Track like few on earth. Better be crafty, better be good, you tell yourself as you get the signal from Cooper to begin your odyssey.
The paddles controlling the LFA’s 6-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox are located on the stubby steering column and sized like elephant ears. Cooper goes through the shifting drill: right hand paddle for upshifts, left hand paddle for downshifts, both paddles forward for Neutral. Depress the Engine Start button located on the right spoke of the diminutive steering wheel. Flap the right hand paddle into first gear. Apply the tinniest bit of throttle. Whump, you’re launched down pit lane like a shuttlecock. By the time you exit the pits onto the track, third gear is propelling you faster than the limit on any highway in America.

Lexus LFA at Infineon Raceway

The first thing you notice about the LFA is its telepathic steering, which takes some seat time to feel right. Lexus calls it column-assist Electric Power Steering. I call it a mind reader. Think you want to turn hard right at the top of the hill at Infineon’s Turn 2? Hold that thought and the LFA will turn in at just the right moment with minimal prodding from you. With its steering shaft mounted directly onto the carbon fiber chassis, feedback to the flat bottom steering wheel is so minute and precise that’s it’s impossible not to overdrive this car on first acquaintance. Accordingly, we twitch our way around the full 2.5 mile road course for 3 laps, nervously darting from one apex to the next. Comments Cooper, “I’m feeling a bit like a Bobblehead here. You’re up on the wheel. I’m not sure you need to be.”
Up on the wheel and down in the dumps, with a barely passing grade from the vigilant Bill Cooper, I make my way back down pit lane to assimilate what’s just transpired and try to improve the next time out. The potential of the LFA as a track car is unlimited. The 4.8 liter V10’s response is instantaneous. The blatty exhaust from the titanium silencer never lets you forget when you’re close to the 9,000 rpm redline. The transmission works best if you flatfoot each upshift. If you do lift, a noticeable, head-jerking lag afflicts the switch from gear to gear. The carbon ceramic brakes are ludicrously effective, thanks to sheer size (15.4 inch diameter front, 14.2 inch diameter rear). At Infineon, they arrest you so instantaneously that you’re left dozens of feet short of your apex at each corner. Like the Harpies in Homer’s Odyssey, the brakes mock you to dive deeper, press the pedal later and harder.
Lexus LFA 9000 RPM redline Lexus LFA interior

A second 3 lap stint behind the wheel leaves a much more sanguine impression of the car, and of me as its driver. Now I’m in sync with the shift system, the power delivery, the braking points, and the amount of side bite available from the molten lava Pirellis mounted on 20 inch, 10 spoke alloy wheels. The LFA is a precision tool that needs to be wielded like a scalpel. Harness its huge reservoir of power and handling, and it becomes the best piece you’ve ever driven. But overstep its bounds and it will slice your wrists like the freshly honed scalpel that it really is.
  • ENGINE: 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V10
  • HORSEPOWER: 552 @ 8,700 rpm
  • TORQUE: 354lb.-ft. @ 6,800 rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: rear mounted six-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox (ASG) w/paddle shifters
  • 0 – 60 MPH: 3.6 seconds
  • TOP SPEED: 202 MPH
  • PRICE AS TESTED: $375,000

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