Lexus LFA: A Technical Exploration by AlphaLuxe (Part 2 of 2)

06/30/2020
Billy Johnson

Some of the greatest cars in history were born out of the necessity to win races, improve brand identity, or as engineering exercises to push the limits of technology that will trickle down throughout a product line.  The Lexus LFA is one of those examples.

HISTORY

The Lexus brand kicked off with a bang in 1989 after Toyota invested $1 Billion dollars in creating the LS400.  That car put the Germans on notice by raising the bar for luxury sedans the same way the Honda/Acura NSX did for Italian supercars.  The 90’s were truly a special time for Japanese cars.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

In the early 2000’s, Akio Toyoda (grandson of the founder of Toyota) was climbing the corporate ladder and honing his craft behind the wheel as a driver.  He would become the main proponent (and one of the development drivers) that brought the LFA to life.  In 2007, Akio actually raced under an alias driving a pre-production LFA in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring driving for the newly formed Gazoo Racing Team (that would go on to win the 24 Hours of Lemans for Toyota in 2018).  He still raced professionally even after being promoted to President of Toyota Motor Company in 2009.  That is just so cool and never seen in large corporations.

Having met with a ton of corporate resistance, Akio reasoned that the Lexus brand needed an iconic halo car to act as a technical showcase of what the company can do, and to inspire the rest of the product line (the same way the Viper did for Dodge in the early 90’s).  From Akiyo rising to a level of power to push the project forward, to overcoming substantial technical hurdles, a lengthy 8 years had passed from the first prototype in 2003 to the production of the LFA in 2011.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

No expense was spared in creating the LFA.  From the crown jewel of the car’s V-10 engine to its bespoke carbon fiber chassis and body, there were far more challenges that Lexus had to overcome than most existing supercar manufacturers.  Because of this, Lexus lost money on all 500 LFAs that were sold, even despite its $375,000 price tag.  The LFA is often criticized for this price, but it’s a bargain compared to the $448K Porsche Carrera GT.  Even its direct competitor, the aluminum-chassis Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano had a $330K starting price and could quickly be optioned higher than the LFA.

ENGINE

The LFA has one of the best sounding production car engines ever built.  This was accomplished by working with Yamaha to create an engine that sounds like an F1 car.  Toyota is a large shareholder in Yamaha and has used their engineering services on many Toyota engines from the famed 2000GT to the MR2, Supra, Celica GT-S, and more.  Yamaha not only builds some of the most sophisticated engines on the planet in their championship-winning MotoGP bikes, but the company started by making pianos and continues to have a large presence in the music industry.  When they are tasked with making an engine sound good, it’s not surprising that the result is so amazing.

Photo credit: Xinzhu Li

Lexus started from scratch without the luxury of using an existing engine that was developed for racing, like Porsche did with the Carrera GT, or sharing architecture from an existing engine, like Lamborghini/Audi and BMW did with their V10s.  A V10 was chosen because Formula 1 cars of the day used that configuration, V12s had too much reciprocating mass to rev quickly, and V8s couldn’t rev as high.  With a clean-sheet design, the LFA’s engine was set at the ideal 72-degree V-angle for the smoothest and most balanced, even-firing configuration for a V10.  Surprisingly, it is the only production V10 to do so.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

The engine features Toyota’s dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) heads with titanium valves, forged pistons, titanium rods, and magnesium valve covers.  The 4.8L V10 has an 88 mm bore, 79 mm stroke, 12.0:1 compression ratio and produces 553hp and 354lb-ft of torque.  With a stratospheric 9,000rpm redline, it’s the highest revving production V10 of its era with the greatest power density of 115.21 horsepower per liter.  That is an impressive feat when you look at its competitors:

Car Displacement Bank Angle Cylinder Firing Redline Power Density
Lexus LFA 4.8L 72* Even 9,000 rpm 115.21 HP/L
Audi R8 / LP-560 5.2L 90* Odd 8,500 rpm 108.1 HP/L
Porsche Carrera GT 5.7L 68* Odd 8,400 rpm 105.79 HP/L
Lamborghini Gallardo 5.0L 90*, Split-Pin 72* Crank Even 8,000 rpm 104.6 HP/L
BMW M5 5.0L 90* Odd 8,250 rpm 100 HP/L
Viper 8.4L 90* Odd 6,800 rpm 71.43 HP/L

Placed low and far back in the engine bay, the majority of the V10 is behind the front wheel centerline.  Utilizing a dry sump system, the LFA can handle over 2Gs of cornering without the engine starving of oil.  Atop the engine sits 10 individual throttle bodies and a one of the most engineered intake manifolds ever produced.  Designed like a musical instrument, the manifold was split horizontally with baffles of specific thickness and rigidity to generate F1-style induction acoustics for the driver.  Branching off the intake manifold are two long alien-looking runners that connect to an airbox with dual ports to boost low end response.  Above 3,000rpm, the secondary ports open for higher flow and more power.

Photo credit: AJ Latteri

The exhaust merges together shortly after the block into a unique vertical orientation underneath the high mounted carbon fiber torque tube.  This enables a narrower center tunnel for the occupants to be placed closer together.  The use of titanium for the muffler was another feature that was ahead of its time.  The carbon fiber torque tube connects to a rear-mounted single-clutch automated 6-speed transaxle that was developed in-house by Toyota-owned Asin.  This layout greatly centralized the mass between the front and wheel centerlines for improved handling and response.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

Most people don’t understand the difficulty of driveshaft harmonics, but the fact that the driveshaft accelerates so quickly to 9,000rpm in every gear without shaking itself to pieces is an extremely impressive engineering accomplishment.  In most front-engine cars, the driveshaft will never see anything close to 9,000rpm because the transmission is connected to the engine and the driveshaft slowly increases with road speed.  The two other cars that use torque tubes are the C7 Corvette and AMG GT, which have 2,500rpm and 2,000rpm lower redlines than the LFA and don’t rev nearly as quick.

CHASSIS

During development, the decision was made to make the LFA’s chassis out of carbon fiber instead of the original plan to use aluminum.  This increased stiffness and reduced the car’s weight by 221lbs.  However, it significantly delayed production and posed a major technical challenge.

Lexus relied on Toyota’s textile background (which actually bankrolled Toyota’s entry into making automobiles in the 1930’s) to create a custom radial weaving loom that looks a lot like a SciFi Stargate.  By weaving the carbon fiber strands around a given component, rather than wrapping a flat sheet of woven material around an object, parts can be made smaller and stronger.  This enabled the LFA to have one of the strongest and thinnest a-pillars ever produced.  In all, the LFA’s total body mass is 65% aerospace grade carbon fiber and 35% aluminum.

Photo credit: Xinzhu Li

From inception, the LFA was designed to be a front midship, rear-drive layout because it was deemed to deliver the best balance, while much easier to handle and safer for less talented drivers than a traditional mid-engine supercar layout.  A lot of effort was focused on centralizing the mass between the axles for better handling.  All of this helps the car achieve a preferable 48/52 rearward-biased weight distribution and a very low 17.8” center of gravity.  A Porsche Boxster with a low, flat-6 engine has a 18.5” center of gravity.

At 177.4” long, 74.6” wide, and 48” tall, the LFA is dimensionally similar to a modern Mercedes AMG GT, but is 2.7” lower, 1.6” shorter, 0.9” narrower with a 0.9” shorter wheelbase at 102.6” giving the LFA a shorter overhang.  The front suspension consists of a hybrid double-wishbone layout that features a dual pivot lower mount (to improve scrub radius), and a multi-link rear.  Most of the suspension rides on monoballs and balljoints rather than flexible bushings.  The monotube remote reservoir KYB coilovers continue the LFA’s Japanese-only supply chain and allow for minor ride height and corner weight adjustments.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

Lexus stated the car has a 3,263lb curb weight but many magazines reported curb weights in the 3,470-3,570lb range.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to weigh this one for ourselves.

AERO

The LFA is pretty well thought out from an aerodynamic standpoint, especially the sharp edges at the rear of the car that help the reasonably low drag coefficient of 0.31.

The rear wing is a proper airfoil and raises at speeds above 50mph.  The small fender-mounted spoilers look a little out of place when the wing is down; but once raised, a center panel with an integrated spoiler also raises to sit flush with the fenders.  The LFA has a lot of well-executed little details.

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

Underneath the LFA is a mostly flat-bottom to keep the airflow under the car smooth and fast.  Front and rear diffusers combined with the wing produce 522lbs of downforce at the car’s 202mph top speed.  That’s more than any of its competitors, according to chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi. 

Photo credit: AlphaLuxe

The prominent upper air intakes feed the two rear-mounted radiators.  This is a pretty ingenious layout that makes use of the low-pressure area generated behind to help suck air though the radiators. Meanwhile, the passenger side lower door scoop feeds a transaxle oil cooler while the driver side is blocked off.

CONCLUSION

The LFA represents the pinnacle of Japanese innovation and manufacturing because the entire engine, drivetrain, suspension, and manufacturing methods were from made in-house from scratch with very little outsourcing.  That’s almost unheard of these days.

Toyota set out to flex their technological muscles, shift the perception that Lexus is a performance brand, and create one of the best sounding cars ever built.  The reason the car even exists is due to the efforts of Akio Toyoda.  The future president of the company and a man who is passionate about performance, racing, and a talent behind the wheel as a driver.  For a car manufacturer to have that much emphasis on performance and racing from the head of the company on down, is pretty cool.

 

Read Part 1 of our in-depth review of the Lexus LFA by clicking here: Lexus LFA Drive Review by AlphaLuxe

 


Author’s Biography: Billy Johnson

Billy Johnson is a (freelance) American professional race car driver who has competed in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and 24 Hours of LeMans from 2016-2019 for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, driving the #66 Ford GT at LeMans, and winning the 6-Hours of Spa Francorchamps.  He is the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS Champion for Ford/Multimatic Motorsports driving the #15 Shelby GT350R-C Mustang with Scott Maxwell.  Billy also works as a development driver for programs including the Ford GT race car and road car, Ford GT MKII, Shelby GT500, GT350, and Mustang GT4 race car. 

Billy’s passion for cars began early in life where he read all of his dad’s car magazines cover to cover and grew an appreciation for European, Japanese, and American cars.  Over his career, Billy has raced everything from prototypes, sports cars, NASCAR, formula cars, karts, and vintage cars for marques varying from Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW, Acura, Mazda, and Nissan.

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