The Lexus LFA Driving Experience - What is it like, to drive the ultimate Toyota Supercar that happens once every 40 years...

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The Lexus LFA Driving Experience - What is it like, to drive the ultimate Toyota Supercar that happens once every 40 years...

February 26-27th, 2011

San Francisco Bay Area and Sonoma County

 

 

2011_2_27-LexusLFAday-1-86The Joyride

It all started with an email from Ryan, a good buddy of mine. "I got you slotted for 3:20pm, Sunday February 27th... Please keep it confidential and no guests!... promise me if you want a chance at driving the LFA"

This was a Lexus private event hosted to show prospective buyers and pre-ordered guests what they will expect and more of the LFA that they ordered or will order. Ryan B of a third party organization, who was on the planning of this event was kind enough to slip me into the slot for the event, and despite me not having a fraction of the resources to actually order one, I had the opportunity to drive it in an environment most owners will not even dare. On hand were two LFA and a fleet of IS-F (sort of a Cessna trainer) that we used to get familiar with Infineon Raceway. The two LFA, of course, was a production sampler that was roaming the USA for this very purpose and other promotional events and appearances. The yellow one is the very car Paris Hilton was photographed next to a month prior…

The first day, I was scooting about town most of the night with the newer of the LFA, the yellow one, for photos in various places around San Francisco. Ryan B was able to rent out the car for the night for us to joyride and blip the V10 to redline in neutral, at every intersection where there was a camera…traffic light cam or cell phone cam.

I think we managed to trigger every shutter within 50 yards of the car. Some bystanders jumping up and down, and guys on Broadway Blvd for once taking their eyes off the miniskirts and gazing at the LFA as it drove slowly past. Girls lowering their heads to see WHO was driving it, and even a spontaneous greeting with a random Ferrari F430, who flashed his high beams in approval and a fleet of Scions that sort of chased us around like paparazzi after Lady Gaga in town.

Later in the night, we rendezvous at the Fairmont Hotel with Tom N., a potential customer, and Jim from Toyota Motor Sales USA, who was gracious enough to buy the group of us staff dinner. We all spent the couple of hours to talk about various other cars we've all owned. What an interesting man Tom was, and a collector of many rare cars, and his best line of the night was “A fancy red Ferrari will spin heads, but only the Rolls Royce Phantom will have people chase you into a building, even after you get out of the car….”

 

 

The Track Day...

The second day we all met early in the morning at Infineon Raceway to drive the ISF then hard on the toes in the LFA.

I was surprised to see BOTH LFA from Lexus present, getting fueled, tire pressure checked and with OBD checkers attached to make sure there was no issues with any part of the electronics. I mean it just looked like a pair of GT500 team cars getting ready on race day. Adjacent to them, were a dozen IS-F with fresh tires all sitting neatly in two row formation. Lexus officials and hired professional drivers and instructors were on hand to show us around the raceway and go through the basics of performance driving fundamentals. I’m usually on the instructor side of such events teaching people but this time I was very happy to be on the student side of the event, and sitting quietly and listening intently.

2011_2_27-LexusLFAday-1-7After 2 hours of roaming the pits with my digital SLR just shooting photos, I was called to the ISF and a nice gentleman named Bill showed me the ISF in some detail and strapped me into my own ISF. Bill jumped into the ISF just ahead of me and it was time for “follow the leader”

With some humble experience I had in many race venues and even a few occasions on the Infineon full track before, I sort of took my liberty to fling the ISF around staying right on Bill’s car and sometimes coaxing my ISF sideways a bit. The 2012 ISF is very different than the 2009 I drove in Lexus Performance Academy a while back. The 2012 IS-F behaved with lots of tenacity, the same predictable balance of the 2009 and other IS models, but this time there were much less intrusions by the electronic stability assist, and the computer boss inside the car seemed much less relaxed about what I wanted to do with the ISF… It no longer slapped me and denied controls when I tossed the car in all directions and it even allowed for a mild angle steady state drift. Now it’s deserving of the $55,000 price tag I thought… I mean well worth it.

Jumping out of the ISF after half hour, the staff immediately prepared me for a drive of my life in the LFA. 10 minutes of explanation of all the features, what the electronics do, and how things are operated in this exotic carbon-microchip car… It was my turn to roll it out. All by myself, and wide open track.

I had 3 laps on my own before I had to bring it back into the pits. The staff waved me off, and I closed the windows so as to isolate myself with intimate feel of my butt in the snug LFA seat. The electric seat adjust lever seemed nothing of a Toyota I knew, and seemed as it was made from Italian artist-carved platinum white gold, and ergonomically as well done as an iPhone. Couple of clicks on the cluster display mode button brought the sport mode gauge setup on the LCD cluster, the tach dial moved to the center, navigation went away to be replaced by the various temperature and VSC gauges I would need on track. Yes, I need them more than the map of the wine country. The big dial to the right I clicked till the transmission control was manual (paddle) and in sports shift mode. The fine-tune button, reminiscent of a Nakamichi cassette deck allows me to fine tune the clutch actuation speeds. All set to my preference, as much as I can understand of the many modes and features, my thumb moved to the smallish understated “ENGINE START” button. The LFA starter makes sounds of a Formula One external starter box, and nothing like the sound of any normal street car. “whiirrrrr” and the “Whammm!” the V10 starts reliably as any Toyota we know, and settles on the idle speed of 900rpm, but having a hint of skips and blips that ALL race bred engine should… “Ooooh” aggressive overlap cam profile? NICE!!

Just to hear something I longed to hear, I depress the throttle pedal… yes the far right pedal of the full floor pivot alloy pedal box on the floor.2011_2_27-LexusLFAday-1-51

The LFA V10 makes some F1 inspired noises in idle and responds like a motorcycle engine… Oh my god, this is serious!!

A gentle click of the right paddle engaged 1st gear, and slight dab of the throttle to make sure it moved forward… and off I went…

Just as precaution and knowing I’ll run out of 1st before I took my first breath out on the track, I started in 2nd gear out the pits. To my slight surprise, the car felt almost as if it had a torque converter in lower gears. The clutch meet was so gentle the electronic transmission was doing what my left foot with a pedal would do with a 3rd pedal if it had one, and if I had a sleeping baby in the back seat. I mean to the point it felt no different than my LS430 that I drove to the track.

Then lightening struck as I left the pits and I my toes grabbed the piano key gas pedal and squeezed it into the firewall. The V10 engine hopped into the devilish side of the cam lobes and in the most smooth and linear torque curve but seemingly harnessing the thrust of a F22 Raptor, 2nd gear went right up PAST the redline 9K to 9400…and I was half ready for that so another pull on the left paddle to make it go 3rd. It happened in less time than my blink of the eye, and turn 3 came up in what seemed about half the time it took an ISF. By turn 5 and 6 cresting over the hill, I was acclimated to the jet speeds and in my mode for mild sprint of my brains and the higher g-forces. Inch by inch, second by second I raised my speeds along the track, trying to sense for each contact patch and what sort of loads it was enduring. My mind had some idea of a car like this and what rhythms it would have in the dances it was designed to perform. I had a Gallardo in mind, something which I drove a few months earlier in another event.

Some few minutes passed and I was still flying along the raceway, and I began to really feel and realize that this car was still well within limits… One of those cases where my imaginary limits for this car drawn by the Lamborghini was not where LFA wanted to settle. Not being comfortable to actually flog it on the raceway to the limits, I tested the momentary limits by closing the lines and late braking on some of the more marginal corners. Coaxing and flinging the car into motions where it was destabilized and decomposed enough to stop following the normal alignment of the tires…ie, sliding a bit or loosening off the contact patch a little. WHOA! What normally would completely confuse an electronic stability control and any lesser car made in Japan, this car tracked much like a seasoned and dialed race car, and behaved beyond the adhesion limits predictably and confidently. Much in the same way a BMW M3 would allow you to ‘see’ and ‘predict’ the moments beyond, this car did the same…faster.

Also notable was the downshift. All previous paddle shift car I had been in, made me wish for a 3rd pedal and a stick shift. This may be the first time I was satisfied and understood the merits of the paddle shift sports car. Audi R8 was good, and Gallardo was quick to shift, a 996 is gentle and easy, but none were confidence inspiring on the track when things were on tiptoe balance and you knew an untimed driveline shock can send you offline or ruin your mental timing for shifting. The LFA was all about every good attributes on each downshift, and things happened just when I wanted, and clutch met with gentle and positive way that I would do myself if it had a pedal… I can almost feel the pressure plate squeezing onto the flywheel electronically as if LFA ECU was connected to my brain. Lateral steady-state cornering, the car seemed to know that I didn't want an abrupt meet, and in flat out exits, up-shifting, the car knew I was trying to push this car faster into the next braking point and gave me an appropriate hard engagement. The integration of the gearbox and clutch actuators to the gizmos thinking within, was simply magical. Somebody at Lexus wanted to drive my style I guess? Or stole the data off my brain? It was programmed to do what I would want it to do, and even predict what would put a smile on my face. I’ve had my share of “smart car” but this LFA just redefined it to something I needed very little learning from a dynamic character standpoint, and seemed as if the car learned more about me than vice versa.

By the 3rd and final lap, I had become almost at one with the car, and was begging me to take him home… Of course now realizing again, that it would take my house, my wife, and kids as ransom for some Wall Street mafia deal to make that happen, I tried to savor my last lap by easing on the speed and just enjoying the V10 scream in each downshift, and feeling the instantly available and linear progressive 550hp on my lower back as it got pushed by a jet engine from the back every time I floored the pedal. It would cling to corners in utter forces that will peel my face off, and brake with tenacity that will make my eyes roll out of the sockets.

The red flag came out and I had to unwillingly peel off the raceway and into the pits, and the Lexus staff had to yank me off the car that I melted myself onto…

2011_2_27-LexusLFAday-1-29Doing a short musical chair game, I ended up on the passenger seat this time, and then a man named Scott Pruitt climbed in the pilot’s side. I recall this name from 20+ odd years ago, following Indy Car races up and down California. Huumm? Yes, he is now a senior member of elite grand prix drivers who rocked the world of motorsports and still exercises his skills in venues like the LeMan 24hours. Greeting him again from 1 hour before at lunch, he again shakes my hand, and I gladly shake it back with a big happy dog face, and wagging a tail I don’t have. We set off for another few laps. He had the green license from Lexus corporate to kill the LFA if needed to impress any soul that sat in the passenger seat. Scott took me on a HARD driving experience even he should consider HARD. I mean to the level where we were going so far over the limits if the car that we were NOT making the best lap times but we were wasting tires faster than a jumbo jet landing. Big smoky, four-tire-screaming dives into corners, overcooked early vector apex, and full standing smoking exits… and manhole sucking down force speeds down the straights. I can see the rear wing for the first time, raising its mast to grab air and pushing this car in braking, and rapidly dropping into the curve of the rear deck to get itself out of the way when it’s not called for.

Did he scare me? Well yes but only after realizing, again that we were playing with a toy costing as much as my house… But somehow both of us forgetting about all of this price tag and exclusivity out on the track, and THAT is probably a trait of any great sports car.

Conculsion:

The experience I had in the LFA was something completely unexpected. My mind wanted to write this off as another hyper-electronic car that hid any deficiency of a real car, just as all Japanese performance cars do today. The microchips and sensors built for the sole purpose of making the car do what it would not do in its basic pure form without the cyborg-ish attachments. GTR, Lancer, and WRX all seems to be a dog without its magical electronic wonders.

But the LFA was NOT. The LFA was a car that had all the right makings of a great automobile. Even without the electronics, the car would be a fine sports car. The car is made of fine balance, and hardware tuned to the right specs and behaviors, and created from ground up to a fine point standard of only being a driver's joy. It's not a car artificially transformed from a bread box or a stylish coupe. The electronics were there, just to help it transform into a grocery getting commuter when it needed to be, and on the track, gizmos seemed to just go away and become invisible for you so that you enjoy its pure state and balance. It was to me, a complete reversal of what I expected a “smart car” would be… Every crease and vent hole in the body has a purpose, whether it be to direct the air or cool something hot.

I’m sold… (but without a bank to rob) I can attest though, that this is one of my top 10 reasons if I ever needed a reason for a divorce, bankruptcy, or something of a reason to go see God earlier than expected. Also, now I learn from Paul W, one of the highly regarded Lexus engineer/PR person present at the event, that the transmission is an Aisin unit and similar to those used for the Porsche Carrera GT with actuators added and redesigned for the LFA.

At the end of the day, after snapping off the last available shots left in my camera memory card, I climb back into my own LS430 for the drive home.

Somehow, I felt more proud to be a Lexus owner, now that I know this marque that is Lexus and Toyota, has set a standard and had proven to the world that it is capable of crafting such magical automobile like the LFA. And even without an LFA in my own garage, for the first time, I felt that Toyota is now a company that will have heritage of great sports car this day forward. This feeling I have for this car, is the exact reason the LFA needs to exist, and is the very reason it should stay around for many years. The product alone may not make much economical sense for both the manufacturer or the customers, but it isn't about that. It exists to present a legacy, both present and into the future, and an identity of what Lexus brand is capable of and represents as a brand.

As for us at Club4AG. I'm hoping that a lot of the same thinking, if not the exotic components, will make the upcoming FT86 concept and rumored Scion FRS, a fine automobile that is just as fun as this super car is now.

--- Motohide Miwa (Moto-P)

Please send comments to moto@club4ag.com or discuss at http://forums.club4ag.com/zerothread?id=88280

added 3/6/2011:

Question ---"How fast did you take it?"
How fast? That's a very relative question.

In traffic, I went as fast as legally and realistically permissible, just as I would any other car in traffic.

On the raceway, there are physical limits to each race track, and limits of any automobile that will negotiate its turns and straights, its pavement, the day's conditions, and other factors. That said, there was no clock on the track to take lap times. Obviously, when things become a race, some people start to do amazingly stupid things, and Lexus wanted us to experience the car, not put it through a rigorous test of crashworthiness or survivability in such incidents.

A car can exhibit a lot of things below the speeds it is capable of. It can reach and surpass any limits at any speeds. Simply asking it to do things it is not capable of for any given moment of time, on a given location of the track, and given capacity of the driver. As such, I was more interested in how the car handled beyond the adhesion limits, when it was asked to do things over and above the limits of reaching maximum velocity for that specific place and time.

Coaxing the car's wheel beyond the ability for the front tires to grip and change direction, and rocking the car enough to break the balance. These are the points and character that cannot be objectively written as numbers in a catalog. Its not about the lap times or 0-60, or quarter mile. Any car with big enough tires and power can produce numbers. What really makes a truly refined car, and a great car, are of the behaviors that are intrinsic.

The LF-A did things very very well. Actually superb, in most respects and criteria. The car will break traction as predicted, it stays composed through wider range of conditions well past the limits of the tires. The dynamic balance is extremely honest, and the driver can see further past the present time, and predict where the car will go, and if events do not correspond to the intention of the driver, the car allows a lot of room and time to make that correction confidently. If you allow me to speak in terms of drifting, it certainly has a lot of room left for the driver to keep more options in control available.
Having such character, the car can finally be called FUN. And the fun comes from the pure capacity of the car to do what the driver intends to do.

The LFA allows more drivers to reach closer to its limits than cars that are more difficult and less predictable. It makes it more safe in a sense that it allows more options and communication to the driver with tactile senses and feedback. There are not a lot of tricky behaviors hidden within the LFA. It is an honest, basic car from dynamic standpoint. Its very quick and specifications are stratospheric compared to a mundane car, and one must always be aware that things happen very quickly and car covers ground at what seems to be at lighting speeds. But when comparing this car to competition of other ultra high performance vehicles, it's one of the most forgiving car I have ever driven at such performance envelope.

This trait is what makes the LFA a great car. Like I mentioned in the impression, the LFA is made from a pure foundation of a good car, and the electronics seems just to be there to allow it to be more mundane and easy to live with, and to extend the safety envelope to make faster speeds easier to achieve. While even without any of it, the car would be excellent, and electronic assist seem not be there to hide the flaws, and seems to present itself less and less as you become more aware of the platform, balance and character.

How fast did I go? I have no idea, I was having way too much fun, and learning way too much about this car that seemed to reach speeds so effortlessly. Perhaps if I had 1 hour more in the seat, then I would have had more time to read the speedometer and count the seconds it took to lap, but for the brief drive, that wasn't my priority. For me it was much more important to see what it did, when it did and how it did it. Every move and every decision I made, I wanted to see how the car tried to executed it. And the more that was predictable and comforting, without the hesitations, without the protests and drama, the more I fell in love with the LFA. Perhaps a Ferrari with its high strung road manners are something others feel to be lovely, and a Porsche with its taught and focused intent to be fast and harsh is another trait to love. The LFA is truly a Lexus in this respect. Its muted but capable in specs, and also allows much more civilized way of using it when its not flying at 200mph or pulling 1.2G's around a bend, and all of this available with the utter reliability relatively, of a Toyota brand car.

As a drivers car, if you ignore the sheer speeds, and just concentrate on the experience, I can almost say that an LFA is closer to a well tuned AE86, or a NSX, a BMW M3 or a Audi R8. It's dynamics are sheer joy for the driver who wants to become one with the car. It is very different from a GTR or a Lancer Evo, a Gallardo or a Subaru, where the speeds and handling comes very artificially from technological wonders. The latter type of cars always exhibit some flaws to the driver where the electronics left off. I'm not discrediting these cars, and I truly enjoy driving technological marvels as something we need to preview for the future.

However, the LFA doesn't seem to have any. Its pure and simple, and electronics are there but only to add to the core goodness of the car.

Keep in mind, I was probably going faster than any of those cars I mentioned, in the LFA. Just that fun factor was so much more present and never did I have to fight or be nervous about reaching such speeds, that I was much more immersed in the car, than the actual speeds. I did see triple digits down the straights, and things came and flew past the windows faster than most other cars I have been in... No denying about that, but somehow, it just felt so natural that it was there, and I was never less comfortable after a couple of laps than if I was doing that at half the speeds in something else that I drive daily... That is what makes this car incredibly attractive, and truly a Lexus original.

TF109B of Club Lexus ---
Good read, nice to hear things like that about the LFA. Very good descriptions! I see it's easy to find your limits in it. Like Autocar did with the 09 race car, Sutcliffe said he could sit there all day and set faster and faster lap times. It was as if the limits of the car were only dictated by how far you were willing to take it. Must be an amazing machine!
My response:
Yes it actually is... It's just such a docile, predictable car that the only thing that makes you hold back is simply that velocities this car attains.
And the more you become accustomed to the speeds and realize at each step that there is just that bit more, you contemplate and proceed.
Yes, the driver's own mental state and skill set are the only limitation to making it go closer to the LFA's capabilities.

But it is more important to note that no matter what the skill set, experience level, or talent, the LFA is fun at any level.
And at any speed, tossing and turning like a F16 fighter at your own comfort level.
That's because the inherent trait of the car is never nasty, and at any given speed, it is always asking you to take it further if you're comfortable.
Not a challenge really, but with the same invitation that you would kindly receive from your local Lexus dealership, the car seems to have that courtesy too. No Joke!