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The Mercury Cars Guide : October 24th 2009
16--- Classifieds 62 300 400 • carsguide.com.au Saturday, October 24, 2009 Lexus LFA short only on heritage Lexus has made its first dip into the supercar market, and it seems they are on target to have an impact. Paul Gover reports from Germany AWESOME: The Lexus LFA comes complete with superlatives that range from unconventional to dramatic. THERE is only one thing missing from the world's newest supercar. The Lexus LFA has a For- mula One-inspired V10 engine, a top speed of 325kh/h, a body constructed mostly from carbon fibre, an impres- sive battery of new technology, a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 3.7 seconds and a pricetag on the high side of $500,000. If only it wore a Ferrari badge. Lexus has done a fantastic job on the LFA and it is hard to find any flaws beyond a front end that looks more like a doof-doof do-over on a Celica than something from one of the world's leading automotive de- signers. What is missing is heritage. His- tory. The belonging that only comes with time and familiarity and, yes, a few flaws and failures. The LFA comes from a brand that is barely 20 years old. With zero experience on the supercar front. Still, as I sit through the press preview briefing at the Nurburgring racecourse in Germany it is hard not to get swept up by the LFA. I felt a lot the same at the unveiling of the original Lexus LS400 luxury car, in Japan back in 1989. This time around, the same sort of uncompromising development that created a car and a brand has been put into the supercar program. The targets were high and, despite a range of threats including the global economic meltdown, Lexus has stayed on track. ''We did this because it is hard to make a sports car, not easy. It's an investment in the company,'' says the LFA's chief engineer, Haruhiko Tanahashi. He believes the LFA is a window on the future of Lexus, even if it doesn't have the hybrid power pack which seems almost compul- sory with every new model from Toyota's luxury arm. And he also shows a very un- Japanese attitude to what is neces- sary in a supercar. ''The LFA is a car with relentless power delivery and an accompany- ing exhaust note to give you good bumps,'' he says, before going on to talk about a car's heart and soul. The heart of the LFA is a 4.8-litre V10 engine with everything from titanium valves and dry-sump lubri- cation to an active exhaust system. The bottom-line numbers are 412 kiloWatts of power at 8700 revs, 480 Newton-metres of torque at 6800 and a redline at 9000 revs. ''It's as small as a traditional V8 and as compact as a V6,'' says Lexus product boss, Robert Tickner. The LFA is --- no surprise --- rear- wheel drive and has its six-speed manu-matic gearbox set in the tail, race car style. It helps create a near-perfect 48:52 weight distribution, a goal which also meant putting the radiators in the sides of the car behind the cabin and not in the nose and pushing the front-mounted engine way back to the firewall. The real breakthrough in the LFA is a chassis built from carbon fibre- reinforced plastic, with aluminium subframes to hold the race-style fully independent suspension and giant ceramic brakes. The CFRP cabin section is lighter than aluminium and stronger than steel, and development of the produc- tion process in Japan --- which is certain to trickle down through the Toyota family --- would probably have been enough on its own to justify the spending on the LFA. But there is more, much more, from a digital dash that changes colours depending on the driving mode to superb leather-wrapped in- dividual bucket seats, a Torsen-style limited-slip differential, four driving programs for the car's computers, and even a giant rear wing that rises on hydraulic struts. Even so, the objective is always the same. ''The driver takes the lead, the car follows,'' says Tanahashi. Sitting at the LFA press preview in Germany I list a few of the superla- tives being rolled out to describe the car. They run from unconventional to dramatic. I cannot wait to get behind the wheel, but first I have a question for Tanahashi. ''Can you tell me, please, why this wing is so noisy?,'' I ask. Tanahashi waits for the transla- tion, then gives a very un-Lexus reply that tells me a lot about him and his car. ''I told my engineers to make it work correctly, not to be quiet,'' he replies. driving The LFA drives more like a proto- type racer than any road car I have experienced. It is incredible taut, wickedly responsive, and able to take a race- track caning with almost zero com- plaint. It is so, so fast that I only get close to the limit a couple of times, and am never remotely tempted to try the car without the ESP safety net. Andthesound. . . From the deep sucking intake to the howling F1- style wail from the exhaust, it sounds very, very special. The press preview for the LFA is the bravest new-model preview I have driven. It begins with kilometres on the road in a very lightly-disguised car, before two very hot laps on the full Nurburgring course with a professionally-driven ISF as a pace car. The following morning, I am cut loose for a 15-minute free-for-all on the Nurburgring grand prix track, the very same course where Mark Webber won his first Formula One race earlier this year. There is incredible potential for something --- anything --- to go wrong on the three LFAs I drive. And, to be honest, they are perfect. But winding up to a rock-solid 285k/h on the autobahn, then thrash- ing around the classic Nordschlieffe at up to 275km/h, the car LFA is brilliant. The engine spins with incredible enthusiasm, the chassis never bucks or jumps or wanders, and the brakes are wonderfully powerful. This Lexus is far more enjoyable on the track than a V8 Supercar, and much more edgy and responsive. Yes, really. I can punch out of corners and feel real shove as the engine spins rapidly to 9000 revs, or brake hard and late while simultaneously down- shifting with just a light tickle on the alloy paddle. Out on the road, the LFA draws a few looks, but not many. After all, disguised prototypes have been commonplace at the Nur- burgring in the two years the pro- gram has been running. The seats are very comfy and supportive, vision over the nose is excellent, the dash is brilliantly informative without turning into a GranTurismo game, and there is plenty of space for two people. There is a lot of mechanical ''din'' at low speed, mostly from the trans- mission, but it is swallowed by exhaust noise as soon as you hit the go pedal. The automatic mode makes travel easy, although several times there is far too much clutch slip and the transmission is always headed for high gears to cut emissions and economy. On the autobahn, at better than 250, the car feels nailed to the road. It will be wasted on Aussie free- ways. Heading to the Nordschlieffe, strapped into a car with a rollcage and safety gear, I wonder what is coming. Within a couple of corners I am flying and having a dream ride on the world's best road in a car which is easily up to the challenge. I want to know how the LFA compares to the Nissan GT-R, but Tanahashi will only admit to a laptime better than 7 minutes 20. Which is right on the pace. I'm no fan of the GT-R but it's a bargain compared with the Lexus. Still, I cannot help thinking the lighter weight and raw focus of the LFA would make it far more enjoy- able on the track. Actually, I cannot think of any car I would prefer to drive around the Nurburgring. It's the same the next day as I tackle the F1 course. The LFA, this time undisguised but in sinister flat-black bodywork, is brilliantly quick and responsive. I keep pushing harder and it keeps going quicker. Until the transmission refuses an upshift. Twice. So I stop and, like the clutch-slip problem from day one, I'm told more work is needed on the software. So it's time to walk away from the LFA and try to put it the car into perspective. I know for sure that I have never driven any road car as hard, or as fast, as I drove the LFA in Germany. I also know that it is an engineer- ing success of the highest level, and proof that Toyota can do anything once it makes the right commitment. But the LFA does not look as good as the F458, and it does not have a Ferrari badge, and it will cost some- where beyond $500,000 in Australia. So, ultimately, it ticks every box but one. Even so, I cannot think of any supercar --- including the Bugatti Veyron --- I would prefer to take back to the Nurburgring for just one more day. www.djmotors.com.au firstname.lastname@example.org Glenorchy 275 Main Road, Glenorchy Phone: 6213 3 315 Brian Anning 0418 531 853 Chris Wakefield 0400 635 446 Allan Gebel 0428 729 659 Hobart 1a Brisbane Street, Hobart Phone: 6213 3300 Warren Amos 0417 544 829 Luke Mitchell 0408 545 146 Easy finance available with DJ Financial Services †To approved business clients only, with a $2,500 deposit over five years with a 30% residual payment. Interest rate 10.50%. 04 MAZDA 3 Maxx Front, side & curtain airbags 15˝ alloy wheels power windows cruise control 6 disc stereo Stock No. 321973 ONLY$16 ,990 DRIVE AWAY DRIVE AWAY -- NO MORE TO PAY at DJ MOTORS $9.00 per day† 02 NISSAN X-Trail ST 2.5 litre 4 cylinder 5-speed manual tow bar air conditioning power windows roof racks Stock No. 321976 ONLY$16 ,990 DRIVE AWAY $9.00 per day†
October 17th 2009
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