The LF-A was a commercial failure. And a total legend
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, July 18, 2021 / Loading comments
- Available for £500,000
- 4.8-litre V10 naturally aspirated petrol, rear wheel drive
- There are quicker cars, but very few that feel as special
- Engine is a thing of wonder, transmission not so much
- Fantastic reliability, material and build quality
- This is what happens when the sky’s the limit
Search for a Lexus LF-A here
Just before the LF-A went on sale in 2010 we were gasping at the idea of a £250,000 Lexus. The laughing really started in earnest when the pricing was finalised at not-far-short of £340,000 in the UK – twice as much as the superb Ferrari 458 Italia and £130,000 more than a Ferrari 599.
What you have to remember is that simply mentioning Lexus in the same sentence as Ferrari seemed utterly mad. That’s how alien the LF-A was, but the passage of time and the prices you’ll have to pay for a used one today demonstrate beyond all doubt that it was no ordinary Lexus. It was an extraordinary car full stop, irrespective of the badge.
The letters in LF-A stands for Lexus, Fuji Speedway (where ‘F performance’ cars like the LF-A and IS-F were developed), and Apex, representing the pinnacle of Lexus’s manufacturing efforts. We said Fuji just then but the idea for the LF-A sprang from the construction on Toyota’s proving ground at Shibetsu on Japan’s Hokkaido island. Toyota engineer Haruhiko Tanashi, who had been instrumental in developing the ST167 Toyota Celica GT-Four, reckoned that the Shibetsu tracks presented a perfect opportunity to create a genuine supercar. Toyota’s chief test driver Hiromu Naruse agreed with him. Crucially, so did Toyota boss-in-waiting and enthusiastic wheelman Akio Toyoda.
After some time spent driving existing supercars to see what made them ‘super’, the trio realised that a front/mid-engine rear-wheel drive layout was optimal. The rest of it would pivot around a simple to express but tough to execute ‘best or nothing’ philosophy. All that was needed was board agreement, a big stumbling block as the project depended on a huge investment in specialist parts that would never be reusable in any other Toyota or Lexus.
Amazingly, approval was given. Prototypes were completed in mid-2003 with claims of a 199mph top speed but very little else in the way of detail. By 2004 working prototypes were being hurled around the Nürburgring. A concept was shown at the Tokyo show in 2005 and a four-year 24 Hours of the Ring race programme was instigated to prove the car’s reliability under extreme pressure. A roadster version was mooted in 2008 but it never made production. And so on and so on. In fact, the biggest event in the car’s pre-history was actually a non-event, when the original plan to build it from aluminium was binned in favour of carbon fibre for extra lightness and strength. That decision didn’t come until well into the programme, rendering most of what gone before redundant.
By the end of 2009, just 175 of Toyota’s 50,000-plus workforce had been honoured (in their eyes) with the task of starting the road car build process at Lexus’s LFA Works plant in Motomachi plant. The planned rate was twenty cars a month in readiness for the commencement of sales in 2010. Unlike the American sales programme, which was initially lease-based, UK sales were all direct and only via the now-defunct Lexus dealership in London’s Park Lane. Wherever you lived, Lexus reserved the right to buy cars back within the first two years at either market value or list price to deter flippers.
Five hundred LF-As were made in a two-year run from December 2010 to 2012, of which fifty were Nürburgring Package (NP) cars. This Ring-honed variant was disclosed at 2010’s Geneva show but customer builds didn’t start until January 2012. For a £63,600 premium NP received a range of chassis-related enhancements – a bigger, redesigned chin spoiler, canards, fixed high-level rear wing, 10mm lower suspension, exclusive wheels and Bridgestone Potenza RE070 extreme performance tyres – with just a small 10hp uplift in power to 562hp in order to counteract the extra drag generated by the new bodywork and to maintain the standard car’s performance figures. Carbon seats trimmed in Alcantara plus a carbon console and door cards completed the NP’s subtly racy look.
NP buyers were offered one-on-one instruction from a Nordschleife chief instructor plus a year’s Ring pass, which even if you went every day probably wouldn’t have been enough to top LFA test driver Akira Iida’s time of 7m 14s set in August 2011. That was 14 seconds inside the regular LF-A’s time. You could get a standard LF-A in just about any colour outside the standard selection of 28 hues but the NP only came in matt or gloss black, orange or white. Number 500, the last LF-A built, was an NP in white with a black spoiler and interior.
LF-As continued to be registered long after 2012 because it took a long time for the scale of the engineering achievement to dawn on buyers. According to Wikipedia at least, three were sold in 2019 and one unsold LF-A was still somewhere in the Lexus dealer network as of December 2020. We’re not sure if it’s still around now, and if so what the price might be, but if it is and Lexus decided to honour the last sticker price – described at the time as ‘eye watering’ by motoring scribblers who didn’t really understand the LF-A and who couldn’t see past the badge – then that would be a major bargain for someone because LF-As go for a hell of a lot more than that now. A 500-mile 2012 car (no 430) was sold at RH Sotheby’s Amelia Island auction earlier this year for $720,000, equivalent to around £520,000, and you’ll see bigger price tags that that on dealer cars.
Many believe that the hand-built LF-A is still good value even at today’s lofty prices. Lexus did give us a clue about future values by declaring that they were losing money on every car, in best Bugatti Veyron style. You can see why. It was one of those cars that looked better the deeper you went into it, a dense and intricate engineering masterpiece whose design hasn’t aged. Even today the punched-out vents and jutting body panels still promise pure functionality and the triangulated batch of tailpipe stubs still add just the right touch of track-bred exoticism. Despite its uncompromising specification the LF-A remained perfectly practical, adding to its appeal. It was backed by a byword in customer satisfaction, and that Formula 1 V10 scream never got old.
Which when you add it all up means that if you’re in the fortunate position of being able to nab an LF-A in 2021, well, lucky you. There aren’t many about for sale, another indication that current owners love their cars and/or expect prices to continue rising, but if you do manage to round up a couple of candidates here’s a guide on what to look out for. Strictly speaking, this is more an insight into the car than a buyer’s guide detailing faults because searching for known LF-A problems or commonly experienced issues won’t reveal much. Of course there will be the normal failures associated with proprietary parts, consumables and the like, but in all the guides we’ve put together we’ve never come across a car with such a stain-free record. Spoiler alert: start doubling up on the lottery tickets.
SPECIFICATION | LEXUS LF-A (2010-12)
Engine: 4,805cc V10 40v aspirated
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],700rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],800rpm
0-62mph (secs): 3.7
Top speed (mph): 202
Weight (kg): 1,480
MPG (official combined): 15.6
CO2 (g/km): 379
Wheels (in): 9.5 x 20 (f), 11.5 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 265/35 (f), 305/30 (r)
On sale: 2010-2012 (and beyond)
Price new: £340,000
Price now: from £500,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The compact and light 72-degree 1LR-GUE V10 552hp 4.8-litre V10, dry sumped to allow it to be mounted low down behind the LF-A’s front axle line, was a wonderful unit. Each car’s engine was the responsibility of a single builder who physically signed it off. With design input from Yamaha, it was crafted from aluminium, titanium alloy and magnesium and made the same 552hp as Lamborghini’s Gallardo LP560, with serious power (and noise) coming in from around 7,500rpm. The redline was 9,000rpm and there was a fuel cutoff at 9,500rpm. Maximum power was delivered at 8,700rpm.
The Ferrari 599 was 200kg heavier than the Lexus, but its 6.0-litre V12 was 60hp more powerful, giving it an identical 0-62mph time. The Ferrari felt crazier on the road in terms of outright speed but the LF-A’s very oversquare 88x79mm bore and stroke allied to 40 per cent lighter titanium conrods, titanium valves, forged aluminium pistons and individual throttle bodies gave it an immediacy of response that was like nothing else you could buy for the road. The motor’s other-worldly lack of inertia meant that using all the revs was not only possible but perfectly natural. Lexus had to specify a non-analogue tachometer as a regular needle couldn’t accurately track the speed of the pickup. They said it would go from idle to the red line in 0.6 seconds.
The 0-100 time of 8.2sec wasn’t spectacularly quick. Both the 458 Italia and the Gallardo would beat it on overall performance stats, though in fairness to the Lexus it didn’t have a launch control programme to work out the best balance of revs and traction. Human drivers would struggle to find the sweet spot between bogging the engine and frying the clutch. None of it mattered when you got it over 7,500rpm. Tanashi described the giddy racket made by the exhaust (which lived in the transmission tunnel to centralise occupants and overall weight) as ‘the roar of an angel’.
Reflecting a gestation that started back in the early 2000s, the six-speed gearbox was basically an automated manual with a single-plate clutch, so gearchanges weren’t as lightning fast as those of a modern twin-clutcher. You could speed up the changes either by engaging Sport mode, in which shifting was manual only (as opposed to Normal, where manual shifting was available rather than de rigueur), or by twiddling the knob on the right of the instrument panel. Manual changing in Sport mode with the knob on its fastest setting was the quickest way to drive the LF-A but the price for that was some fairly hefty jolting through the transmission. In any mode the trans would intervene with a change-up if you hit 9,200rpm. In a nice twist, Lexus made the upshift paddle’s action lighter than the downshift one’s. Reverse was accessed via a dash toggle.
In terms of running costs, the official urban consumption based on US figures converted to Imperial was 15.6mpg. You shouldn’t expect to get much more than that in overall use, the brim-to-brim mileage varying from 200 to 300. Give it death and the 73-litre petrol tank (which straddles the exhaust system) will become the main limiting factor on long journeys.
Lexus noted that servicing an LFA was more like servicing a race car. The principles were the same as those of a standard road car but extra complexity and access issues were involved. If you’re interested you can find a story on the internet describing how Lexus UK’s press car was taken to Toyota Motorsport’s LFA Center of Excellence in Cologne for a four-day going over that included X-raying brake discs and pads and high-speed testing on the autobahn.
If you key an LF-A’s VIN number into the right Lexus website you can pull up the car’s entire service history. The basic warranty was 4 years/50,000 miles, with 6yrs/70,000 miles on the drivetrain and 6yrs/unlimited mileage corrosion protection. Given the mileages that most of these cars (don’t) do, it’s very likely that the overwhelming majority of LF-As are still under warranty.
Nothing too fancy here, just adjustable coilover dampers (albeit very posh adjustable KYB dampers) with double wishbones at the front and a multilink arrangement at the back. Although Lexus did make the switch to carbon fibre for the main chassis, some of the original aluminium remained for crash-sacrificing purposes, so corrosion wasn’t impossible, though it was pretty unlikely if the car wasn’t being used as an all-weather daily driver. We’ve never read or heard about any issues in this regard.
The electric power steering was quick, though the feel through the rim was perhaps a little lacking when you needed it the most, ie on the sort of bumpy British B-roads that were never really envisaged as the LF-A’s main playground. Still, the LF-A was short enough to be agile and very placeable, even if the sightlines and pillars reduced your awareness of where the car began and ended.
At speeds on a racetrack the super-sensitive throttle demanded a state of high alert for potentially snappy back-end breakaways, but in a funny way that didn’t seem wrong for the car. In less extreme use, the flat underbody, rear diffuser and pop-up spoiler kept things tidy and the standard carbon ceramic brakes (with six-piston Brembo calipers at the front and four-piston units at the rear) made light work of bringing the sub-1,500kg Lexus to a halt, though the difference between full stop and light momentum reduction could be head-bangingly narrow. By normal standards, replacement CC discs were relatively cheap at around £2,750 a corner. The KYB dampers came in at about £7,000 a set.
Get underneath any LF-A and you should see its production number hand- written on various parts to verify its provenance. You will also witness at first hand the utter wondrousness of the car’s construction. The underside of an LF-A is more beautiful than the topside of many other cars.
The LF-A was originally supposed to be made from aluminium, but when Lexus discovered that a carbon tub with carbon body panels would be both 100kg lighter and four times stiffer, they ditched the original plan. To create the carbon parts, Lexus built its own laser-controlled circular loom, one of only two such machines on the planet. Rumour has it that the loom was dismantled at the end of the run.
Whitest White is the most common ‘colour’ for these but Lapis Lazuli blue is probably the most sought after. Scuffs on the lower sections of bodywork are not uncommon. All the body parts are expensive. New replacement bumpers are over £14,000 a go. The carbon door mirrors that were shaped to direct air into the intakes on the rear arches can sometimes be found on t’internet. We found a used pair for £2,500. A new windscreen will cost you £6,500. Try not to lose the high-relief ‘F’ badge on the side as a new one of those may be £4,000.
They do say that hand-building isn’t a plus point in cars anymore, like it was in the glory days of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, but the LF-A gives the lie to that. Obviously machines were used in the construction process, but the freakishly fine quality and detail of the LF-A cabin’s components and the care with which they were assembled testified to the obsessional samurai swordmaker work ethic of the top Lexus takumi craftsfolk.
Every dash fastener had ‘Lexus’ engraved on it. The complex and heavy Mark Levinson 12-speaker audio system was redesigned for lightness, the RX450h control pad for the nav/audio system being one of the LF-A’s few non-bespoke items. The magnesium and aluminium wiper and winker control stalks were as delicate and slender as bonsai-trimming scissors, and the billet aluminium pedals and carbon steering wheel were as lovely to look at as they were to use.
The cocooned driving position and the comfort of the electrically adjustable seats (on straight, smooth roads at least) were first rate as long as you fitted between the pronounced shoulder bolsters, and the traversing driver display – this was the first Lexus to get digital dials – was suitably esoteric with a refreshingly small number of menus to navigate.
Cabin oddments space wasn’t generous, and there were no cupholders (as Jeremy Clarkson repeatedly pointed out on the Top Gear road trip to Mexico) but, although you could never describe it as a golfer’s car, you could get a squashy bag in the shallow but usefully wide space under the tailgate. Or you could use one of the small but perfectly formed carbon Tumi suitcases that came with every LF-A. The glass panel covering the cargo space meant you couldn’t leave expensive items in there while you were away from the car.
It’s doubtful that the LF-A could have been made anywhere other than Japan, and you could probably hone that down still further to Lexus. It was a remarkable creation, a glittering example of what the motor industry can do when there’s no budget sheet to stick to and the workforce is fully invested in a perfectionist dream.
Yes, the new price of the LF-A was six times that of a Nissan GT-R, and on an objective basis you could never say that the excellent GT-R was six times worse than the Lexus, but that’s a false argument. When the conversation turns to the indefinable element that we’ll clumsily call ‘specialness’, the price of the LF-A becomes irrelevant. Think of any fabulous no-expense-spared piece of craftsmanship, whether it’s a watch, a Riva or a Kyoto knife blade. The LF-A was the motoring equivalent. The engine alone must go down in history as one of the all-time greats and the peerless quality of the car’s materials and construction fully lived up to that dizzyingly high mechanical bar. The design has arguably matured as the car now looks more imperturbably comfy in its own skin than ever.
Some will say that they prefer the Carrera GT but those lucky enough to have experienced both cars find it difficult to nominate a favourite between the two. Others may have wondered why there wasn’t more techno wizardry on show in the Lexus, but in hindsight we can now see the LF-A’s relative lack of electronic complexity as a major bonus in terms of long-term ownership. Nothing seems to go wrong. At least, if it does then it’s very well hidden from public view. Lexus customer service and backup is arguably motoring’s biggest parachute but one of the many wonders of the LF-A is that you’re unlikely ever to need it.
The short run of 500 (which included the Nürburgring Package cars) and the shortage of vehicles now available for sale means that the LF-A is way more exclusive than any of the cars to which it was negatively compared back in 2010. You can imagine that would bring a satisfied smile to Akio Toyoda’s face, but your grin will be a lot wider every time you unleash the V10’s high-revs howl through the titanium silencer. The engineering integrity of the car allied to Lexus’s legendary backup means that you can indulge yourself in that sort of activity more or less at will.
Prices are fluid. Buyers will happily pay whatever they think an individual car is worth because they know it’s a solid banker. Unless you’ve got a direct line to a private seller (a few of whom had more than one in the garage) you will need the best part of £500,000 to enter the game via a dealer, or nearer to £700,000 for an NP. There’s just one regular LF-A for sale on PH Classifieds at the moment, this left-hand drive 4,000-miler currently residing in Switzerland. On offer at £550,000, it was registered in 2013, the year after production stopped. In March this year our Matt unearthed an identically priced Swiss LHD import to the UK which we assume has sold because the ad has gone. Left-hookers might put some UK buyers off but they make the market for resale a lot wider. Not that you’ll be wanting to sell it when you’ve bought one.
Search for a Lexus LF-A here
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