TWENTY years is a long time whatever line of business you are in, but in the car industry it s nothing short of a lifetime. In 1990 Lexus launched the LS400, its very first car in the UK and aiming squarely at the luxury heavyweights from BMW and Mercede
TWENTY years is a long time whatever line of business you are in, but in the car industry it's nothing short of a lifetime.
In 1990 Lexus launched the LS400, its very first car in the UK and aiming squarely at the luxury heavyweights from BMW and Mercedes. At the time few thought the new Japanese brand stood a chance against the established players - how wrong they were.
The mark of how far Lexus has come in such a short space of time is completely encapsulated by this, the LFA. Producing a bona fide supercar is not the work of a moment, and to get a end product that truly hits the mark requires a very large commitment. But when your brand slogan is "the relentless pursuit of perfection", that's not a problem.
Sure, you can buy a supercar from most of its key rivals for something around �100,000-�150,000. But Lexus has neatly sidestepped this particular market and gone straight for the big boys: Ferrari, Lamborghini, even Koenigsegg. The LFA is a no-compromise hypercar monster.
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Climb in through the relatively-conventional doors, and dropping into the seriously supportive bucket seats puts you in front of a stylish and yet comfortingly familiar dashboard. This may be the fastest car Lexus has ever made, but it's still a Lexus: you don't have to break a limb to get in, you can see out properly, the climate control does as it is told and
if you want to potter around, the LFA will play ball. It's hard to imagine a car this fast ever being so civilised.
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As luck would have it, our test included many laps of the Goodwood race circuit, known for being not only very fast but also very challenging.
Rolling along the pit lane in first gear below the speed limit, and the LFA is as docile as a supermini. But when the green light shines and you stamp on the throttle, it shows its true colours. At low revs there is a distant hum from the 552bhp V10, gathering in complexity and volume as the revs rise.
Pass 5,000rpm and it sounds like it has reached a crescendo, but this absolute gem of an engine has barely passed halfway. 9,000rpm is an absurdly high rev limit for a 4.8-litre engine, and as it hits the red line the noise that surrounds you is a truly epic mechanical wail.
Many cars are described as sounding like an F1 racer, but the LFA is the only one that could slip onto the grid at Monaco and not sound out of place.
There's very little time to absorb the sound however, as the acceleration is devastating. 62mph passes in a lightning 3.7 seconds, with the 100mph barrier smashed inside eight seconds. The automated transmission requires a simple flick of the paddle to engage the next gear, and there's no let up - the top speed of 203mph always feels within reach.
But what impresses even more is the way that the LFA allows you to explore the limits of its grip and balance. The electronic safety system can be left on safe in the knowledge they intervene only when necessary, and instead the driver can push harder than its price tag would deem sensible. It never intimidates, yet it communicates precisely what is happening underneath: it strikes a remarkable balance between user-friendliness and providing big thrills.
And what is the price in question? There will only be 500 units of the LFA worldwide, with just 20 hand-built each month. UK sales won't begin until 2011, and to be in the queue you will need to stump up �336,000.
That is unquestionably a huge amount of money, but this is an engineering masterpiece that will be treasured and enjoyed by the lucky few. If you can afford it, the LFA really is one of a kind.
LEXUS LFA - �336,000