2012 Lexus LFA first drive
If dentists' drills were silent, people wouldn't be half as scared of them. It's the revs I tell you. It's why the 15,000rpm howl of the R6 is such a wonderful thing. But few cars rev anywhere even close to that. And that, in a word, was the primary reason I was excited about driving the Lexus LF-A. In my tactless sort of bumbling way, I mentioned this to Bert who promptly offered to kill me once I returned from the drive, since he really wanted to drive the Lexus himself and thought my perspective was a bit, er, decayed.
Then some time in the car gave me pause. A chance to have a change of mind. 9000rpm sounds wild when it explodes out of a freakishly light-footed distinctly Japanese V10. The engineers considered other engine formats but rejected the V8 for being too slow to rev, while the V12 evidently suffers from an excess of reciprocating masses. The V10 is perfection, they decided. And when it hits 9000rpm (fuel cut off is actually still higher) it's pure engineered madness. It's drunk out of your skull, teetering on a bridge railing singing Born To Be Wild with no clothes on madness. The engineers at Lexus who fashioned this 72 degree (for awesome primary balance) V10 need to be handed a Nobel prize for excitement or be rushed to a padded cell in straitjackets.
The designer should just be chided. Call me jaundiced or cynical but the LFA just isn't good looking in that luridly sexy way of the supercar. Spectacular? Sure. Wearing more scoops than an ice cream shop? Naturally. Sexy? Er, no. It's way too restrained, the body work has fewer curves than my favorite scapegoat, Kate Moss. It's too restrained, too scoopy-venty. It is properly exotic, at least. This is a carbon-fibre tub. And what isn't CFRP is aluminium - some 35 per cent of it.
This was further exaggerated by the matte black LFA being used as the lead car for the laps, which out-sexied the yellow photographs-only car as well as the white and red cars we were to drive by a huge margin.
But then you will skip a beat when you cast eyes on the colourful, TFT screen that is the instruments. Another engineering necessity - no speedo needle can swing from idle to redline in 0.6 seconds, something the engine does rather regularly. I also loved the thin, rectangular stalks for wipers and indicators.
What grabs you next is that ingress/egress is easier than many Ferraris/Lambos, and the cabin is proper - cool materials, carbon fibre, leather, heavily bolstered seats and all. But so impressively odd is the placement of everything apart from the steering wheel and the pedal box that the engineers spent a full five minutes with each journalist explaining where stuff was, rather than what to do on track.
Or not to do on track, really. And to be honest, these oh-there's-no-time-so-two-laps-only drives get old. It's like Toyota brought us to a Michelin-star-chef-ed restaurant, laid out a spread and then gave one only a teaspoon and said, "Go nuts! Try everything if you can. Don't hesitate. And be ready to leave this place in, oh, sixty-two seconds." It sucks harder than the biggest vacuum cleaner in the world. Harder than a giant leech.
Two laps. But those two laps change everything. The redline so high and the first lap is so slow that I have no option but to stab madly at the deliciously made shifter paddles to prod the car into the lower possible gear everywhere and provoke as many revs as I can.
The performance is a given. But this is a Lexus. So it isn't raw. It's packaged fury. There's sound insulation and careful tuning that keep the ragged edge hidden. What's left is a sweet, hair-raising roar that will curdle your blood and bring people running to have a listen. The 1LR-GUE 72 degree V10 makes 560PS and 480Nm of torque easily hitting 100kmph in about 3.5 seconds on its way to over 320kmph. Thankfully, the full-bore gearshifts are joltingly jerky when flat out like a proper supercar - another conscious selection on the part of Lexus rather than purely the result of extreme performance from the automatic sequential six-speed gearbox.
Braking is a mad stomp but the car gets all floaty and squirelly into the first turn. Wait, what? It's the ripples from the F1 cars braking so hard, people. Fuji Speedway is where we're A'ing the LF. And fresh from the rippled braking zones at the BIC, I know what they feel like and do. It's no sweat. Carry on braking.
Then in mid-corner I discover the Velcro tyres, which can be unstuck by the engine with some provocation and great skill or in my case, by planting a hefty boot on the accelerator at every inopportune moment. In sport mode, you get a short but controllable feeling slide before traction control realises I have lock but its not opposite. That my feeling of controllability is illusory and I'm likely to paint the Armco with a very expensive, limited edition Lexus Future-Advance. So like a good butler, it quietly lights up some warnings on the dashboard, reigns in the engine a bit, and hands the car back to me, "There my lord, I've fixed it for you. Again."
The second lap is faster and I can taste the car now. I can sense its incredible poise in corners, make it explode brutally out of the corners in this alarmingly immediate way and also, sense it squirming around mid-corner in response to my jangly throttle work. An experienced driver would be doing a fluent Paso Doble. I'm just taxing all the mechanical and electronic bits with my epic lack of skill. But hey, I'm impressed. The mad scream from the mid-mounted engine (for forgiveness, rear-engined would be too tickish) as it flashes to the redline down the straight is a shot of heroin. It's a high, and you want it again and again. You know what, maybe all the glowing international reviews weren't hyperbole, after all. It truly is most impressive as supercars go. Hell, in five-six more laps, even I'd be hopping up and down! In fifty laps, I might even swap a bull for a smooth L in an oval.
On cue, the black LFA ahead slows, and the orange winker on its right haunch blinks back at me. It's over. A glowing smile is replaced rapidly by a post-coital grimace of sorts. When the helmet comes off, I return to being a silent passenger in the bus back to Tokyo.
Looking out at Mount Fuji, I ponder the inevitability of a good-looking symmetrical volcano turning up in Japan. Then my thoughts return to the LFA. What an awesome car! It's a feat, a milestone, a visceral experience bathed in luxury and all that.
But I also grasp that the Italian supercar is hard to beat. That sense of occasion and drama continues to elude the Japanese supercar. Senna's contribution to the Honda NSX and it's spectacular, clinical efficiency are storied, but it proved to be a slow seller. And with the LFA, the Jap-supercar remains an oddity.
I guess it is the contradiction of a nation that makes millions and millions of well-loved, inexpensive, right-brain automobiles making what should be sexy, expensive, left-brain object of desire and lust. A pure indulgence. It's hard to do. Well, at a reasonable price, at any rate. The LFA, for instance, is a limited production model, which means only 500 will be made, the last one to enter production in December this year. I don't know why that is. Or for that matter, why the LFA should cost three times as much as a Lamborghini Gallardo. Between the amazing car, the two laps and the mind-boggling price, it's enough to man a drive nuts, I tell you. And if that doesn't do it, I promise you, the revs will.