Walkaround and Interior

By April 5, 2011

Walkaround

The LFA looks like a supercar should. Hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel result in a 0.31 coefficient of drag. Visually, the LFA is not nearly as graceful as the Ferrari 458, but then no one can do styling like the Italians. And it's still prettier than the Audi R8.

Lexus says the LFA is its best example of what it calls the L-Finesse design language. Which, based on the LFA, must mean the use of triangular shapes to the max. Ford tried the triangle design thing in 1994 with its stillborn GT90 supercar, but Lexus goes with the flow and makes it work. (The GT90, by the way, boasted a quad-turbo V12 and was aimed at 235 miles per hour, but fell about 200 mph short.)

But we take it back, what we said about the LFA looking like a supercar should. What we meant is it's shaped like a supercar should be shaped. Now we've got the colors to deal with. No less than 30 of them, 10 standard and 20 extra cost. We're talking Lavender, Lime Green, Passionate Pink, and Lapis Lazuli. Don't ask. They're as bad as they sound.

The two LFAs that we drove, on the track at Infineon Raceway, were Pearl Yellow and Pearl Gray, the yellow too loud and gray too silent. Based on the Build-Your-Own LFA website, we're tempted to suggest that the only color that works is Matte Black (add $20,000). That is, if you want to spend $400,000 for a car that looks like a '50s hot rod painted with primer but not paint. But matte black is trendy. (Silver is okay but that's Mercedes, red is okay but that's Ferrari.)

If you're doing a walkaround of the LFA from nose to tail, the farther you get from the car the more you'll like it. The rear view is its best. From the rear the LFA looks like a real racing car, the big back of a wedge, with huge screened trapezoidal vents filling the corners, drawing air through the radiators. The wide thin LED taillamps over the vents will look great at night. The rear wing with a Gurney flap only rises at 50 mph, so it doesn't stick up there obtrusively when the car is parked, or look stupid when it's going 20 mph.

Of course, there's that Nurburgring package that includes a beautiful bowed carbon-fiber rear wing, and we'd be the first to slap anyone who called it stupid looking, at any speed. In fact, if you need your supercar to shout Supercar! the $70,000 Nurburgring package is a must.

Two wide aerodynamic downforce diffuser tunnels exit under the rear bumper. Between them there are three chrome-rimmed holes in a perfect inverted triangle; they look like the face of a surprised robot, with two wide eyes and an ooh!-shaped mouth. That's the titanium silencer, with a carbon plate. LFA owners might get more comments on their car's cool exhaust pipes than they will about anything else.

Speaking of mechanical details, there are chimneys that release heat from the wrapped titanium silencer, otherwise known as a muffler, but when it's made out of titanium it's no longer a mere muffler. The heat comes out little black vented trapezoids in the huge black vented trapezoids in the corners.

Narrow your eyes to focus on the nose, and it could be a . . . Lexus. It would probably help if there wasn't a huge chrome Lexus emblem on the nose, but maybe that's asking too much. But the Nurburgring package saves the day, with a swoopy carbon-fiber chin spoiler and winglets.

The nose is symmetrical, in the way the corners of the slice-of-pizza-shaped bi-Xenon headlamps, the triangular intakes, and the top corners of the air dam all point toward the emblem on the nose, a rakish chrome vector shaped like an L for Lexus inside a chrome circle 6 inches in diameter. It even sounds out of place.

The big black triangular intake vents in the corners of the front end bring it back into supercar land. There's a long horizontal air dam at the bottom, but it's nothing the nose of the lowly Nissan 370Z doesn't have, or resemble. If you want to see what the nose of a supercar should look like, check out the new Lamborghini Aventador.

The black mesh vents on the carbon-fiber hood bring us back. And the graceful, powerful carbon-colored 20-inch BBS forged aluminum wheels do a supercar justice. You can see the six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears, shouting through the 20 spokes, in your choice of six colors: black, red, blue, yellow, gold, silver.

We've walked around to a three-quarter rear view now. A swoopy gutter runs from the A-pillar rearward, through a pass created by a subtle arc cut out of the rearview mirror, under the window glass and disappearing into a cave with a mouth shaped like a rocketship fender, in the sharp corner of the glass where the roof steeply slopes down. Actually, the shape of the bodywork around this air intake suggests the Lexus emblem, and like the exhaust pipes it's an eye-catching touch. We asked someone from Lexus what keeps water from flowing like a river into the radiators, and he shrugged and said there must be a drain path. So there must be.

The doors and fenders are fiberglass, easier to repair than carbon fiber. There's another big intake opening forward of the rear wheels, the air again directed by a shapely ditch in each door.

The LFA looks like a runner in the starting gate. Great proportion.

Interior Features

Let's start with the essence of the interior, the sound. Despite having the LFA V10 mounted in front of the cabin rather than behind it, the sound it makes surely rivals mid-engine Lamborghini, Ferrari and Audi supercars.

Surely there has never been a car designed with this much attention to engine/eardrum interface. Under the hood, there's a dominant intake surge tank that “borrows from the design of an actual musical instrument,” says Lexus. There are three “acoustically optimized” channels that carry sound into the cabin from strategic intake and exhaust locations. “These sound channels ensure the driver sits at the center of a 3-D surround sound concert performance,” continues the Lexus hype, earmarking the emphasis on that quality.

Meanwhile, if you're just cruising around and not revving the engine, you can listen to the standard high-output 12-speaker sound system, with amplifiers that are 317 percent more powerful than those in the Lexus sedans.

Two big exhaust pipes run through sub-mufflers and into the dual-stage titanium silencer, with a valve that keeps the sound quiet at idle, but at 3000 rpm the valve opens to allow the exhaust note to “enter the world in the form of a high-octane soprano.”

So it's not just from inside that the LFA sounds spectacular. Its exhaust note is actually sharper and sweeter standing still, when its driver gives the throttle a big blip. With 10 electronic throttle bodies, the throttle response is so quick it can blip from 0 to 9000 rpm in 0.6 seconds. Bystanders on the sidewalk watching a showoff driver at a redlight will howl with glee.

Back in the cockpit of the LFA, the driver's space is a compartment, not just a seat. It's totally comfortable and civilized, no surprise there. It's easy to get in and out of, there's plenty of room for the driver, and the visibility, forward and rearward, is good. The center console is thick and wide, tapering as it runs from the dashboard at a slight slope back between the seats to the rear bulkhead; it's lined with 10 matt-black buttons for climate control and other things. It houses the exhaust pipes and torque tube that connects the engine and transaxle at the rear. It definitively separates the driver from the passenger, as well as making the driver feel like he's in control of something special, not merely driving a car.

There are three configurations of LFA, having to do with interior equipment. Configuration 1 is basic, Configuration 2 adds navigation and a Mark Levinson premium sound system, Configuration 3 adds all those electronic communication things such as automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle notification, enhanced roadside assistance, and XM reports on sports, weather and Wall Street.

The information appears on a 7-inch screen located in the center of the dash, and is controlled by the mouse-like Remote Touch located forward on the console. “Using an advanced two-axis haptic joystick mechanism with reaction force feedback to guide the cursor, the Remote Touch system offers intuitive and quick access to the LFA's satellite navigation, configuration and infotainment functions.” There you have it. If anyone asks, just tell them it's a two-axis haptic joystick mechanism, for short. Sorry not to have a report on its operation, but we were kind of busy in the Infineon esses at 8200 rpm.

The options for interior colors and materials are mind-boggling; even the satin metal trim comes in shades of your choice, while the plastic is carbon-fiber reinforced, and looks like carbon fiber. Headliner in 3 colors, carpet 5 colors, steering wheel leather (from 2:00 to 4:00 and 8:00 to 10:00) 12 colors, etc. Since each LFA is custom-ordered, you'll mix and match your own. You could get leather with violet seatbacks, orange seatfronts, and camel yellow stitching, for example; to go with your Passionate Pink exterior. Word has it that Lady Gaga has already ordered hers.

If you plan on going around corners at speeds anywhere near the LFA's capability, don't get the smooth leather for the seats, get the suede. At Infineon, we slid around in the slick leather seats like crazy, but stayed neatly in place with the suede. As for the shape and fit of the orthopedically designed seats: perfect, don't change a thing. Snug but not tight, fully bolstered everywhere, eight-way power adjustable to any size. There's one big round gauge that provides all the mechanical information, and it sure is a missed opportunity to make the supercar feel super. If your eyes went nowhere but there, you could be in a Ford Explorer. A colored band (LCD needle) spins around for the tachometer, and when it hits 9000 it's not redline, it's redface, as the whole gauge turns red, just to remind you it's time to shift, as if that fantastic screaming in your senses weren't enough. Or, if you don't like red, you can set it to turn green or yellow. There must be a rev limiter, maybe at 9100. We weren't exactly watching, in third gear with a turn coming up.

There's a stopwatch system for track days, giving lap time, previous lap time, fastest lap time, and total time.

The steering wheel is flattened at the top and bottom, where it's carbon fiber, which is cool, but otherwise there's nothing about it that says high performance, except of course the paddles. They're rather long, because they have to be, mounted on the steering column instead of the wheel. Lexus says they've done this so a driver doesn't have to search for them when shifting in a corner, but if your hands stay in the same place on the wheel as they do in this quick-steering car, having paddles on the column actually requires what Lexus says it wants to avoid. It happened to us once, late-downshifting going into Infineon's infamous uphill turn 2, the one with the pictures of NASCAR drivers lifting their right front wheel about two feet off the ground. The LFA won't do that. Its suspension is a bit more sophisticated than a stock car's.

If you want to feel racy, look down at the floor, not the steering wheel. The brake and gas pedals are single-piece forged aluminum, and floor hinged. And even the passenger gets a dead pedal. He or she is going to need it, to stay in place.