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Lexus Supercar - Driven: Lexus LFA

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It does 202mph, and there were times we thought it might never appear, but here it is - the first Lexus supercar.

'If I go to heaven, it will be in this car.' So says Haruhiko Tanahashi, creator of a remarkable car which you would not immediately associate with the badge it wears on its nose.
 
The car is the Lexus LFA, a supercar of such protracted gestation we sometimes wondered if it would ever happen at all. During that gestation it was even reinvented from an aluminum structure into a carbonfiber one, all of it designed in-house using expertise from one of the oldest parts of the Toyota empire, that of weaving looms.
 
What has resulted is a car which will never make any money for Lexus directly, even at its huge $400,000 selling price, but which will act as a test bed for that carbonfiber which in future will be mass-produced to make family cars lighter. Just 500 LFAs will be built, all of them as far removed from notions of a silently-wafting Lexus LS saloon as it's possible to be.
 
It looks extraordinary, its angles and folds and varying thicknesses shouting defiantly that there's no sheet metal in this car. Sheet metal just doesn't bend that way. And it sounds even more extraordinary, a shattering howl shooting from its trio of tailpipes as the 4.8-litre V10 engine approaches 9000rpm, just after passing the 560bhp power peak at 8700. The engine, no heavier than a typical V6, sits ahead of the cockpit but well back behind the front wheels, with the paddle-shifter gearbox in unit with the differential and a solid torque tube joining each end of the powertrain. Nearly everything is bespoke. About the only parts carried over from mainstream production cars are the air-con unit and the joystick-cum-mouse controls for the info screen.
 
Inside, high, ultra-functional technology collides, unintentionally, with a retro, almost-Fifties-American vibe. Bright metal slat-vents shoot across the top of the dashboard, below which the crashpad turns sharply back as it might have done when cars first had padding. Big rotary switches project retro-futuristically from the sides of the dial binnacle, a binnacle whose contents change according to how the LFA is being deployed. Switch it to Sport, and and the central tacho scale reverses out from its usual white-on-black, while the scale compresses below 4000rpm for easier reading of the upper reaches where you will spend the most time.
 
No mechanical tachometer can respond quickly enough to keep up with the throttle response, reckons Tanahashi-san. In Sport mode, the initial response is savage. This fact, and a tail so ready to power outwards in a corner that you think the rear tires have lost their air, make the LFA a frightening car for the first few minutes. Especially if your first encounter is on a track, in this case the Nürburgring GP circuit. What an LS600h driver would make of this is hard to imagine.
 
Very quickly, though, you realize the LFA is much more forgiving than that. The tail does move around in appreciative response to your right foot's position, but you can lean hard on it, applying more and more power and feeling any residual understeer vaporize as the tail takes over and you drift to your heart's content. So accurate and positive are the signals that there's no fear of the unknown.
 
Which means you can let that fabulous engine scream its heart out, each upshift rapid but never violent even in the fastest of the seven shift speeds, each downshift calling for a firmer pull on its paddle than the upshift's light touch. The Aisin-built gearbox is a conventional manual inside its casing, rather than a new-fangled double-clutcher, because Mr Tanahashi favours the more physical shift feeling his chosen transmission gives. The downside is that on the road you're too aware of clunks and surges, and in a slower shift mode there's a worrying amount of clutch slip to smooth the transition. The same goes for the automatic mode, which is far removed from Lexism as we know it as it's possible to be.
 
But that's hardly the point. The LFA is ludicrously expensive and surprisingly imperfect, but it's an experience of total driving immersion which signals to the world that Lexus is more than a maker of luxury cars. It has worked for the German Big Three, so why not here too?
 
Oh yes, the stats. It does 202mph and reaches 62mph in 3.7 seconds. It feels a bit flat below 5000rpm, actually, but we’ll let that pass.

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