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LF-A Waste of Money?

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On: Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 2:21PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

LF-A Waste of Money?

At the end of last millennium, Japan all but completely bowed out of the supercar market. Only the Acura NSX held on for another few years until 2005, but even now that car has come and gone. The world was worse off without its road warriors from the Far East.  

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. They 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 has 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 is putting such an air of prestige around its halo car; it actually won't allow some people to purchase the car, even if they have the exorbitant amount of capital to buy one. They must first be screened to make sure they will use the car in a way that Lexus desires, meaning driving it in the limelight and in very exclusive company, showing it off in the best possible manner. They don't want people just buying and reselling this car, or putting it away in a garage, never to be seen again. Lexus also looks at what other cars their ‘applicants’ own, where they drive, and how often they drive.

So if someone is chosen, what exactly are they getting the chance to buy? Well, in short, they are getting 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 V-10 that sounds and acts more like it belongs in an F1 car or a street bike 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 354lb-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 runs on a Flux Capacitor modified to run on testosterone instead of plutonium or garbage. The car itself is a completely original design in the 'form follows function' mantra with several vents, ducts, and curves all to maximize downforce and handling. 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 C7 or C8 in the next International Auto Show.

The LFA provides everything one would want in a modern exotic. It can hit 60 mph in 3.8 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 that shows a digital PS3-style tachometer was used because a traditional analog gauge was not able to keep up with the frightening speed of the LFA's revs. The car is manufactured with over 65% carbon fiber-reinforced polymer that makes it not only light (at 3460 pounds), but 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 will barely make a profit, if at all.

The biggest issue 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 improved feedback, smoother shifting, and features like launch control, which might come in handy with a car whose power peak is nearly 9000 rpm.

Another issue 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 ago, all of its performance numbers would have put it on top of the world, but today the LFA sits 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 will also be 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 the newest 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 hindrance), you can get one of 599 copies of the fastest Ferrari to come out of Italy to date. With 661 horsepower, 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 but Ferrari also boasts a history much richer and fuller (not to mention instantly recognizable) than a Lexus whose history harks all the way back to Y2K.

Or perhaps you want a car that is not only limited in numbers, but less on price? Okay, how about the Porsche 911 GT2 RS? Only 500 copies will be 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.

Although it is possible that maybe the LFA customer doesn't want a car that has been around for years and they want something that isn't like something else. Maybe the LFA customer isn't a walking encyclopedia of performance numbers, horsepower stats, and car comparisons. Maybe the ideal LFA customer is clueless about cars and knows only that he (it's a safe bet all 500 owners will be men) likes the car and wants only 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 it depends on just whose money it is, and what you want your money to buy: Performance, prestige, or pride. The LFA can guarantee all three, but perhaps in different proportions than most of us are used to, which does make extremely unique. It seems the answer to the question is quite a bit more personal than it may initially appear. How much is standing out worth to you?

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