Driving Impressions

By April 5, 2011

Let's begin with the heart of the matter. The engine. Lexus has built an incredible engine for the 202-mph LFA supercar. It's a 4.8-liter V10 that makes 552 horsepower and screams to 9000 rpm. We shifted it at redline, from 3rd to 4th gears, more than a dozen times during hot laps around Infineon Raceway, and it gives us goose bumps to recall.

Astonishingly, brilliantly, the 4.8-liter V10 is lighter and more compact than the 2.5-liter V6 that powers the Lexus IS250 sedan. It uses a dry sump lubrication system, and has titanium valves and connecting rods, among other things.

Weighing just 3263 pounds, propelled by those 552 ponies with 354 pound-feet of torque, the LFA will sprint from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, and keep accelerating all the way to 202 mph. At Infineon we forgot to look at the speedometer, although we glanced at the tach in the esses and got a rush when we saw 8200 rpm in 3rd gear.

The first thing we noticed when we pulled onto the track at Infineon was that 5000 rpm felt and sounded like 7000 or 8000. So you can imagine what 9000 sounds and feels like. Which we soon got used to. But we doubt if there will be much upshifting at redline on the street. It's so intense!

The torque reaches its 354 foot-pounds way up there at 6800 rpm, but there are still 319 foot-pounds down at 3700 rpm, so the engine doesn't feel peaky. With 552 horsepower and six gears with paddle shifters, and only 3263 pounds to pull, who's going to miss a few foot-pounds of torque?

We have our doubts about the practicality of the carbon ceramic brake rotors. Maybe they should be optional. Anywhere but the track, they're either totally unnecessary, or a disadvantage because they don't work their best unless they're hot. However, they weigh a total of 44 pounds less than steel rotors that size, and that's what they're all about on the LFA. Reduced unsprung weight.

The brakes are huge, with 6-piston calipers on 390mm rotors (15.4 in.) in front, and 4-piston on 360mm (14.2 in.) rotors in rear. You'll never ever have to worry about getting stopped, unless you pull out of your driveway and immediately go 100 mph and then the first time you hit the brakes it's a panic stop. We liked the way the brake pedal felt on the track, not hyper-sensitive. It was easy to use the brakes hard. We could have run far deeper into the two turns that the LFA reaches at well over 100 mph, but we just didn't need to.

The seats are at the center of the car's wheelbase and as close to the centerline as possible, a position that optimizes what's called the moment of inertia, and enhances the driver's seat-of-the pants feel during cornering. We didn't get enough laps to challenge the car's cornering capability, but even if we'd run more laps we doubt if we would have found anything to nitpick about the balance or turn-in, especially on 265/35ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear tires. The double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, with aluminum components, is standard technology that works. The LFA's chassis, suspension and handling were developed at the Nurburgring 24-hour races, remember.

We don't love the electro-hydraulic 6-speed sequential automated manual transmission. It's similar to the Audi R8 sequential transmission, a car that we also tested at Infineon, and we didn't like that one either, at least not when compared to the 7-speed twin-clutch transmission in the Mercedes SLS AMG and Porsche 911 that we've tested, and the Ferrari 458 that we haven't.

Lexus says a twin-clutch like the Mercedes, Porsche and Ferrari wasn't possible because the V10 revs so quickly. They call the twin-clutch smoothness “almost artificial.” But we'd call that smoothness great engineering, especially when it means speed, as it does here. Electro-hydraulic single-clutch transmissions shift slower and harsher; the Mercedes can shift in 100 milliseconds, the LFA in 200. The difference is only one-tenth of a second, but in the car it feels like about 10 minutes.

Notice that the $70,000 Nurburgring Package for the LFA quickens the shifting: to 150 milliseconds. Closing in on that Mercedes.

Lexus calls that single-clutch feel “making the driver aware of machined parts working together in harmony when changing gears for a satisfying sense of mechanical engagement.” We call it getting your head snapped and the car's momentum upset.

But we're talking about full-on performance, with full-throttle upshifts. On the street, shifts are smoother when less is asked of them, and there's no rush. There are four driving settings for modes: Auto, Sport, Normal, and Wet and no less than 7 settings for transmission speed. We had the LFA set on Sport and 7 for the fastest shifts, never mind that they still weren't fast enough, on the track. But those modes change all kinds of things, including the ride, which we're sure won't be anything less than sweet on the road.