LFA: Lexus Upshifts into High Performance

With the LFA, Lexus moves into the super-fast lane.

When production begins in December of the LFA luxury sportscar, the company that is known for premium sedans will also be talked about for a sports car to suit the somewhat less buttoned up.

This isn’t your father’s Lexus, for sure: The rear-wheel drive 4.8-liter V10 engine produces 552 horses and 354 pound feet of torque to about 202 mph. Acceleration is clearly world class at a track-tested 3.6 seconds from 0–60 mph. Potently, the double-overhead-cam LFA redlines at 9,000 rpm. Easily, it’s the fastest Lexus ever produced — announced by various tones of its sonorous and throaty exhaust.

“The LFA is an excellent balance of many characteristics,” says Paul Rohovsky, national manager of Advanced Business Development for Lexus, a division of Toyota. “For example, the LFA driving experience — acceleration, direct connected handling, unbelievable braking and incredible sound of the engine — is fantastic.” It’s race or street ready, for sure: The LFA competed in Germany’s demanding Nürburgring 24 Hours race in both 2008 and 2009.

Only 500 of these bespoke two-seaters will be hand-assembled at the Motomachi Plant in Toyota City, Japan, at a maximum 20 monthly, with all vehicles delivered between January 2011 and January 2013. The cars, as built by individual technicians, will be numbered “x of 500” and only available on a two-year lease with intent to purchase.

The MSRP, not including a delivery, processing and handling fee, is $375,000. You can order the vehicle at one of the Valley dealerships, although, because of the limited production, models will not appear on any showroom floors. The LFA will be configured for each customer and delivered to his or her dealership.

Debuted last year at the Toyota Motor Show and, in the United States, at the 2009 Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas last November, the LFA is the flagship of the Lexus performance line. Thus the acronym: L = Lexus; F = is Fuji (“high performance” from motor sport technology) and A = Apex.

Smaller than a traditional V-8 and as light as a conventional V-6, the LFA’s front mid-mounted powerplant is naturally aspirated with electronically controlled throttle bodies for each cylinder; a dry sump lubrication system to lower the center of gravity and lower the car’s moment of inertia; VVT-i variable valve timing with intelligence on both intake and exhaust combined with equal length exhaust manifolds; a multi-stage exhaust system; high-volume 12-hole fuel injectors; and low-friction engine components.

The low-weight, high-performance components include titanium valves and connecting rods; lightweight solid rocker arms; forged aluminum pistons; low-inertia cylinder-shaped valve springs; a lightened crankshaft with paired cylinder valleys; and a magnesium alloy cylinder head cover. In addition, a dual air intake-system uses one primary inlet port at low to medium engine speeds and opens both ports at higher revs.

Located in a transaxle configuration, a six-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox (ASG) is connected to this powerplant by a rigid torque tube for drivetrain integrity. Paddle shifters on the steering column provide upshifts as quick as 0.2 seconds. You select four driving modes — Auto, Sport, Normal and Wet — depending on conditions outside and the conditions of your driving mood. Cleverly, the right-hand upshift paddle needs just a flick, while the downshift paddle requires just a little more to complete the shift.

Helping to create such performance is the weight: just 3,263 pounds on the curb — some 220 pounds lighter than aluminum construction — with an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 6 lb/hp. Weight distribution is also superlative: 48:52 front to rear.

The overall light weight results from the use of 21st-century materials: extremely strong Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic in the monocoque chassis and bodywork, even the hood support struts; a carbon fiber rear diffuser; carbon ceramic material brake discs; and aluminum, titanium and magnesium in the powertrain and transmission assemblies.

In addition, aluminum six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers connect with Carbon Ceramic Material brake rotors. The engineers have called for unequally sized pistons to push the pad against the rotor, resulting in more effective pressure distribution than traditional configurations. Discs are gripped by high-friction micron pads manufactured for CCM brake discs.

You can select BBS® 20-inch forged-aluminum 10-spoke wheels in three finishes. These not only accommodate the large-diameter brake discs but also incorporate a large drop center to further reduce unsprung mass. The wheels carry Bridgestone Potenza tires — 265/35 ZR20 up front and 305/30 ZR20 profile in the rear — with an asymmetrical tread pattern making them ideal for performance driving regardless of weather conditions. A Tire Pressure Warning System monitors air pressure and warns you when necessary.

Suspension standards include an aluminum-alloy front double wishbone anti-roll bar and a rear multi-link anti-roll bar. Shocks are also aluminum monotube designs — the same as those fitted to the LFA Nürburgring 24 Hour race car. Steering is rack and pinion with a column-assist Electric Power Steering (EPS) component that instantly connects your commands with the wheels. On the rear wing, a Gurney flap retracts at low speeds or when the car is stationary and rises at speeds of 50 mph and above, further stabilizing the car.

The use of three different processes of CFRP — a resin technology processed on looms — also helped the designers, giving them a greater flexibility to create the vehicle’s signature shapes, curves and edges. The result is a low-slung, fast luxury sports car that is also sexy, sinuous and a headturner from the hood to the rear, with its stylish trio of exhaust outlets.

One result of this styling is the LFA’s superb aerodynamics — an exceptionally low drag coefficient of just Cd 0.31. So, too, the LFA incorporates the finest active and passive safety features.

Inside, the LFA will be at the same high echelon: “Attention to detail and refinement extend to the cabin as well with its superior interior fit and finish, layout and ergonomics,” Rohovsky says.

You will be able to choose from three basic interior systems included in the MSRP: Configuration 1 — Leather or Alcantara®-trimmed seats; Configuration 2 — Leather or Alcantara-trimmed seats, Lexus Navigation System and Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system; Configuration 3 — Leather or Alcantara-trimmed seats, Lexus Navigation System, Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system and Lexus Enform™ with Safety Connect™. More than 30 exterior colors and 12 interior colors and a menu of cabin trims are available as are six brake caliper colors.

Whichever package you choose, the leather-wrapped seats have a split rear backrest for comfort, side bolsters and offer eight-way electric adjustment. The hooded instrument panel is centered by a tachometer to 10,000 rpm; when it exceeds 9,000 rpm, the display area turns red (or yellow or green to your choice) preparing you for the next upshift.

Within the dial are the digital speedometer, gear indicator, transmission mode, vehicle control data trip information displays and the Tire Pressure Warning System display. If you’re going out to the track, a stopwatch system allows you to monitor lap times and display information such as fastest lap and total times.

Other interior features include a Remote Touch system allowing quick access to satellite navigation, configuration and infotainment functions, and a 12-speaker lightweight high-output audio system employs high-efficiency speakers and Lexus First Class D amplifiers.