Behind the Wheel of the 2012 Lexus LFA

I drove the 2012 Lexus LFA, but – as with all ladies of breeding and refinement – it wasn’t easy getting in to see her.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

In fact, getting access to the car itself for a track test was the biggest challenge of automotive writing career. Lexus was a little nervous letting this aspiring amateur (OK, very amateur…) racer into the cockpit of their apex predator. They insisted on seeing my credentials before agreeing to allow me access.

When you get a chance to drive a $375,000 super car around a racetrack, you don’t argue with her owners. I sent along my certificates from the various racing schools and track days I’ve completed. I submitted a list of the performance cars I’ve tackled, including the 2012 Mustang GT, the 2011 Corvette ZR1 and a 2012 Jaguar XK Coupe.

But all of those fun cars pale in comparison compared to the LFA. As Lexus puts it, the cars is “the flagship for the F portfolio of Lexus performance models.”

The rear-wheel drive LFA sports a high compression, higher revving 4.8-liter V10 engine generating 553 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque for a top speed of 202 mph. The six-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox (ASG) with paddle shifters is linked by a tight torque tube for drivetrain integrity.

The LFA wears advanced Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic construction in her chassis and bodywork. To keep the machine as lightweight as possible, Lexus put together a lightweight aluminum alloy suspension component, complemented by Carbon Ceramic Material brake discs and electrically assisted rack and pinion steering.

But what does all that add up to when you settle in behind the wheel? I found out on a cool, windy morning when I met the Lexus LFA team at the Las Vegas International Speedway. Lexus had their lead driver – former NASCAR and Indy Car pro Scott Pruett – on hand to coach me in how to handle the powerful lady I’d be entrusted with for 10 laps.

During a couple early practice runs, Pruett drove a 2013 Lexus GS about 100 yards in front of me to “show me the ideal line” along the track’s turns and straightaways. But, if I’m honest, I knew Pruett was out there serving as a pace car,  preventing me from getting cocky and punching the throttle before I had a feel for the car. The pro was too polite to shame me with the truth, to his credit.

Once the practice laps were behind me, I could open up that V-10 power plant. At higher revs, the LFA whines just an octave below the tell tale shriek of a Formula One car.

As I flew into the middle laps, I found a comfortable way of describing the sensations of driving the LFA. I’d compare the experience to riding a motorcycle. No matter if you’re astride a metric sport bike or a bigger, heavier cruiser, you must feather the controls on a modern motorcycle. If you turn that right hand throttle too fast, you’ll shoot violently forward – maybe lifting the front fork into an unwelcome wheelie. If you squeeze that right handed front brake too hard, you’ll dig the front wheel into the pavement, snap your neck forward, and risk tumbling forward over the handle bars.

The LFA is just as unforgiving. You must ease that throttle in and out of curves, or you’ll spin out with oversteer. You don’t stab the brakes into turns as lighter pressure is all that’s needed to pull the reigns. As powerful a beast as the LFA is, her ultra high-tech controls and refined systems are so attuned to the car’s physics that every aspect of steering, accelerating and stopping become surgical.

With those precise controls comes the demand for quicker reflexes. You must keep your gaze as far down the track as possible and anticipate your driving choices much sooner with all of that speed underneath you. If you turn into an curve at the same speed you might with your car at home, the LFA is already past the apex and ready to understeer – threatening to chew into the off-track gravel. In short, such an elite machine insists that you pick up your game.

In the end. I handed the 2012 LFA over to her keepers in pristine order and with a genuine respect for what a wonderful machine she is. Cultured enough to provide a wealthy man with a ride to his corner office, she’s truly bred for the kind of irresponsible track day runs afford me in Vegas that day.