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Looking Back: Lexus LFA

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On: Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 9:44AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Looking Back:  Lexus LFA

At the end of last millennium, Japan all but completely bowed out of the supercar market. Only the Acura NSX held on for for another few years until 2005, but now even that car has come and gone.

Slowly but surely, however, Japan has returned to the high-horsepower wars. Mitsubishi left the 3000GT VR4 by the wayside, and came to play with the Evo. Mazda brought back RX franchise and moved it a notch forward from the 7 to the 8. Nissan continued the Z legacy from the twin turbo 300ZX to the 350Z and then the 370Z. Nissan even raised the bar by bringing the heralded Skyline to the states in the form of the almighty GT-R. It's been only five years since the end of the NSX, and the world has been waiting with bated breath for an NSX replacement that has been scheduled and canceled more times than the average colonoscopy appointment. In 1998 the king of the Toyotas—and arguably the imports of the decade—the Supra, ceased sales in the US. After more than a decade, Toyota had finally returned to the market with a high-powered street fighter in the form of its premium brand Lexus.

And premium is the right word for LFA. Lexus put such a air of prestige around its halo car it actually didn't allow some people to purchase the car even if they had the exorbitant price for one. They must first had to be screened, to make sure they will use the car in a way that Lexus desired, meaning driving it in the limelight and in very exclusive company. They didn't want people just buying and reselling this car, or putting it away in a garage, never to be seen again. Lexus also looked at what other cars their "Applicants" owned, where they drove, and how often they drove.

So if someone was chosen, what exactly were they getting the chance to buy? Well, in short, the most exhilarating, highest revving, most limited production supercar this side of a Bugatti Veyron. The LFA brings to the table a Yamaha-built 4.8-liter V10 that sounds and acts more like it belongs in an F1 car than from the same company that brings us the annual "December to Remember" campaign. The 10-cylinder demon heart spins to an amazing 9000 rpm. Its 354 lb-ft of torque come full on at 6800 rpm (where most normal cars are hitting their horsepower peak), and 553 horsepower at a staggering 8700 rpm.

The low-slung futuristic missile looks as though it is powered by a Flux Capacitor modified to run on testosterone instead of plutonium or garbage. The car itself was a completely original design in the 'form follows function' mantra. Though the more we look it over, the more it begins to recall supercars of the past, but with no single car coming to mind. It could be perhaps the offspring of a Jaguar XJ220 and a Vector M12. It also has a futuristic look to it, as if it might show up as a prototype Jaguar or Corvette C8 in the next International Auto Show.

The LFA provided everything one would want in a modern exotic. It can hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, 100 mph in 8 seconds flat, scorch through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds at 126 mph, and top out at 202 mph in its six-speed automated manual transmission. Its compact interior is as close to a video game cockpit as there ever was. A one piece LCD screen shows a digital PS2-style tachometer; this was used because a traditional analog gauge was not able to keep up with the frightening speed of the LFA's revs. The car was manufactured with over 65% carbon fiber-reinforced polymer that makes it not only light (at 3460 pounds), it makes it incredibly stiff and remarkably strong. The super Lexus also boasts an impressive 48/52 front/rear weight bias that helps it pull about 1.05 g on the skidpad and carbon ceramic vented discs to help slow it from 70 mph in about 154 feet.

All in all, the LFA is a car that sits among the top contenders of the world, and has every right to be crowned the supercar king of Japan.

But for all its guts and glory, a single question looms over the mighty LFA: Is it worth it?

Toyota took a decade to build this car. It was designed, redesigned, engineered, and reengineered over and over, taking Lexus' Pursuit of Perfection to the point of obsessive compulsive. Production costs were so high that even selling all 500 examples at the advertised $375,000 each, Toyota barely made a profit, if at all.

The biggest problem with this car is its transmission. At the time of its initial design, the best automated transmission was the one Lexus decided to use—a six-speed sequential manual gearbox. The SMG transmission was used in many variations by companies like BMW and Ferrari, but has long since been replaced by better, faster, and, in some cases, seven- or eight-speed dual clutch models that offer faster, smoother shifting, and features like launch control which might come in handy with a car whose power peak is nearly 9000 rpm.

Another problem is that, for the money, this car's performance does not deliver. Again, the issue of time comes into play. Had this car come out even five years earlier, all of its performance numbers would have put it on top of the world, but by the time it launched, the LFA sat mid-pack among the world's heaviest hitters. In terms of performance, the Corvette ZR1 outguns the LFA by light years for a fraction of the price. The Nissan GT-R matches the LFA within milliseconds for even less money than the ZR1.

But it seems that the potential owner of the LFA would have been interested in exclusivity more so than just outright stoplight battles. Fair enough, but even factoring in limited model runs, two other choices come to mind. First is a performance phenom from Maranello, the 599 GTO. For a bit more money (if you can afford the $375,000 for an LFA, odds are another base Corvette sticker price won't be much of a consideration), you can maybe get one of 599 copies of the fastest Ferrari to come out of Italy to date. With 661 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque to launch 3550 pounds, it will absolutely embarrass a cocky LFA owner with staggering numbers like 0–60 in 3.1 seconds, 0–100 in 6.5 seconds and a quarter mile in 11 seconds flat. Not only that, Ferrari also boasts a history much richer and fuller (not to mention instantly recognizable) than a Lexus whose history harks back to Y2K.

Or perhaps you want a car that is not only limited in numbers, but lower in price? Okay, how about the Porsche 911 GT2 RS? Only 500 copies were made and the GT2 RS will again smoke the LFA in just about every category that counts. It drops 620 horsepower into a chassis that weighs a spare tire over 3,000 pounds. Even taking Porsche at its typically conservative quotes, the RS runs 0–60 in 3.4 seconds and tops out at 205 mph all for an economical $245,000.

But maybe the LFA customer didn't want a car that has been around for years and did want something that isn't like something else. Maybe the LFA customer wasn't a walking encyclopedia of performance numbers, horsepower stats, and car comparisons. Maybe the ideal LFA customer was clueless about cars and knows only that he (it's a safe bet all 500 owners will be men) likes the car and wants one more thing almost no one can have. He wants questions about where he got it, what it is, and, of course, how much it costs.

So is the ultimate Lexus a waste of money? It seems that depends on just whose money it is, and what you want your money to buy: Performance, prestige, or pride. The LFA can all but guarantee all three, but perhaps in different proportions than most of us are used to, which does make it extremely unique. It seems the answer to the question is quite a bit more personal than it may initially appear. So how much is standing out worth to you?

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