Lexus is not messing about. After six years of development, including at least one major rethink along the way, the company's LFA supercar is finally ready and there is to be no gentle introduction. Instead, they've just handed me the key and a handy little sticker that grants access to the Nordschleife industry pool. That's confidence in your product (and quite a lot in me).
So any questions over Lexus's motivation for producing a supercar, or its timing, will have to wait. Right now it's full concentration on the task of not stuffing one of only four completed production LFAs, each priced at a whopping 361,000 Euros ($534,000).
Yes, you read that right: a Toyota that costs around $150 grand more than the rather splendid Lamborghini Murciélago SV.
But it is worth considering just some of the technology that Lexus has employed in the LFA's construction before dismissing it out of hand. Technology that includes a custom 4.8-liter V10 producing 552hp, extensive use of carbon fiber composites in the chassis and body construction, and a transaxle six-speed automated sequential gearbox.
There is, however, one piece of technology absent from the LFA that you might expect in a Lexus, and that is hybrid drive. Lexus's intention with the car is to keep the driving experience as pure as possible, which means keeping weight to a minimum, and that rules out electric drive. So what we're looking at is a high-tech Japanese take on the old-school front-engined, rear-drive supercar.
Twenty seconds in and it feels (and sounds) like the LFA has been worth the long wait. Although in supercar terms 552hp and 354lb ft are pretty much the minimum standard, these figures don't adequately describe the magnificence of the LFA's V10 engine. For this is an motor that doesn't stop until it hits its limiter at a heady 9000rpm, one that gains and sheds speed so quickly and with such a sharp timber that it feels like a pure race engine. Which, in a sense, is exactly what it is because, air restrictors aside, the road LFA runs exactly the same powerplant as the LFAs that Lexus raced in the 2008 and 2009 Nurburgring 24 Hours.
Admittedly, the engine does need to be revved to deliver the sort of performance suggested by a 0-62mph time of 3.7sec, but believe me, there is absolutely no chore in that, because from 6000rpm the engine goes ballistic, producing one of the best engine notes of any car on sale. Its noise is similar to that of a V10 BMW M5, but higher pitched and a lot louder – more like a Porsche Carrera GT. Yamaha helped Lexus develop the engine, and the result is a compelling combination of the smoothness and polish you expect from a Lexus, but with much more rawness and intensity.
And then you change gear, and the experience becomes even more unreal. Because Lexus wanted the engine to rev with as little inertia as possible, it opted for a single-clutch gearbox. But it also says that this arrangement gives a greater sense of involvement than a double-clutch unit, and it's not kidding. There are four modes – Auto, Sport, Normal and Wet – and with the exception of Auto there are seven different shift speeds for each.
Choose the most extreme setting and the changes are brutal. On full-throttle upshifts at or near the limiter the 'box works very well and is quick; the LFA accumulates speed at a quite staggering rate.
But at anything less than maximum attack – for instance, when I later leave the track and try the LFA at road speeds – it feels a little too involving. In the less extreme modes the change is slower and marginally less physical, but still not smooth, and in its slowest setting it can feel like it is slipping the clutch. On the whole, the gearbox is one of only two things I'm not so sure about in the LFA.
The other is the steering, which is electrically assisted – an unusual move for a supercar. While it is super-precise and quick, it takes some getting used to, mostly because it is very light. There is some flow of information from the wheel, and the movement away from the straight ahead is progressive, but the LFA does not steer as intuitively as the best sports cars.
The experience is mired further by a ludicrously flat-bottomed steering wheel. Lexus say this reduces the mass of the wheel and therefore gives a more natural self-centering action. Make of that what you will, but if that's the case, why does the race-going LFA have a conventional circular wheel?
However, small question mark over the steering aside, the LFA handles brilliantly, both on the track and road. There are two consequences of Lexus's extensive use of carbon fiber. First, at 3,263 lbs, the LFA is pretty light for a front-engined supercar, especially one with the luxuries of sat-nav and a plush cabin. The stripped-out, mid-engined Ferrari 430 Scuderia may be lighter, but the more equally matched 599 GTB is around 220 lbs heavier.