Even though pictures of the LFA have been circulating for years, nothing prepares you for the sight of the Lexus mixing in everyday traffic. In our collection there are more beautiful shapes and brighter colors, but without doubt the most striking shape is the LFA. It looks like it has arrived from Mars, circa 2050.
Inside is no different. The LFA's cabin is wonderfully different from the others, with a wash of hi-tech graphics and a movable rev counter. Ergonomics and ease of use are not a strong point, though. As each person tried the car, it was a running joke watching them search for the handbrake and work out how to engage reverse (you have to go through neutral in both directions). If this were any other Toyota product, this would be a disaster, but in the supercar game, it all adds to the experience.
On the roads that track north into Snowdonia, roads that skate around reservoirs and are empty enough to use these cars, Lexus's first attempt at the supercar formula feels every inch the real deal. At low revs there is a marked shortage of torque, but by 6000rpm the LFA's V10 is pulling strongly. By 7500rpm, the wail resonating through the cabin is so great that it feels like you should be reaching for the upshift paddle, yet there's still 2000rpm to go, and to get the most from the LFA you need to use absolutely every last one. Change up at the second warning beep and the V10 drops right back into its sweet spot.
How that gear change happens, though, is entirely up to you, because there are four different gearbox modes and a choice of seven shift speeds. None of which is entirely perfect. In its slower modes, the gearbox feels frankly clumsy, especially if you go for a gear change mid-corner. In its faster modes it is brutal. Despite the many different modes, there isn't really a happy middle ground. So, we left it in max attack and lived with it.
On wide, smooth roads, the LFA feels incredibly well sorted. Given that it is the only front-engined car here, it could be forgiven for being less sharp than the mid-engined cars, but turning for high-speed bends the LFA feels impressively alert. Blessed with the dry roads, there is grip, too – plenty of it from the custom Bridgestone tires. Driving the LFA here, you have to wonder how, exactly, it came to exist, because it really is so far removed from anything else to wear a Lexus or Toyota badge. The engine is so manic, the gearbox so single-minded and the chassis so serious that it feels more like a GT3 racer than a road car.
Which proves to be the LFA's undoing when the roads narrow and the bumps become more severe. The grip is still there, but the car is too easily deflected from its line, especially into braking zones. And the steering – which, unusually for a supercar, is electrically assisted – lacks feel when you need it most. It is still possible to cover ground quickly, but the process isn't especially enjoyable.
That fact is brought into sharp contrast by a swap into the Ferrari. On country roads, the 458 Italia simply annihilates.
Like all modern Ferraris, the steering wheel has a manettino switch grouping together suspension, gearbox, ESP and throttle maps. But the 458 wheel also incorporates controls for the turn signals, lights, wipers and one final button that allows the suspension to be decoupled from the preset groupings. With the engine and gearbox in Sport or Race and the suspension in its softer setting, the 458 is devastatingly effective, with enough compliance to ride the bumps and enough control to cope with the considerable speed.
Given that, on paper, just 10hp separates the LFA and 458, it is staggering quite how much faster the Ferrari feels. There is not only more low-end torque but also more punch at the top end. And the 458 makes better use of its power with faster, smoother shifts from the dual-clutch gearbox and a more sophisticated traction management system. What it comes down to is that where the Lexus fights the road, the Ferrari flows. And this inspires confidence, especially turning into a corner, where the Ferrari's steering – although remarkably quick at just two turns – provides real feedback.
Is it the quickest car in the real world? Quite possibly. It certainly outpoints the Lexus, and to get close to the 458 in the 911 you'd have to drive at and possibly beyond the limit.
What about the Noble? In truth, in a straight line and on a good surface the M600 will match the Ferrari in its 550hp Track mode. Can you use another 100hp on the road? Yes, but sparingly and only with maximum concentration. On a bone-dry road with cold tires it will break traction at the top of third gear, and much sooner if any cornering forces or bumps are involved. However, if the straight is long enough there is nothing the Ferrari can do about the M600's immense shove. The Noble also displays a level of composure and chassis balance to rival the Ferrari and it has the best steering setup of any car here.
So, yes, you might just be able to cover ground quicker in the Noble, but with so few safety systems you'd be crazy to do so. Instead, you flow through the corners and then dip into the endless power down the straights. In that respect, it feels like an earlier Ferrari – one that, like the M600, had a twin-turbo V8. Which is no real surprise, because a modern-day F40 is exactly what Noble wanted to produce.
That, though, is not enough to carry the Noble farther in our contest. Because, like the Lexus, it is a car we suspect will be bought to enter a collection rather than exist as an owner's only supercar. Both are spectacularly enticing, thrilling cars and there are days when you wouldn't want to drive anything else, but both come with compromises. For its price, the LFA lacks performance, while only committed Noble enthusiasts would spend $315,000 on a car with a not especially inspiring interior from a relatively unknown brand. In the final reckoning, it is the Lexus that is first to fall, because despite its exquisite quality, mesmerizing engine and otherworldly looks, on challenging roads it simply isn't as well sorted as the Noble.
Which leaves two very different machines that represent the pinnacle of two alternative views on how to make a supercar. On these roads, the GT3 RS is quite exquisite to drive – rich with feel, noise, vibration and challenge, because it is the more difficult of the two to drive quickly. As with all 911s, you have to work with the weight distribution and not against it, using the throttle to get the nose into corners and make the most of traction on the way out.
In the Ferrari, the experience is entirely different. The variance in steering and throttle inputs is much narrower, the car seemingly flowing from bend to bend effortlessly, and with precious little inertia. While you are aware of the clever electronics working in the background, they never dominate the experience; instead, you are left wondering at the 458's quite exceptional ground-covering pace.
Which is better? The Porsche looks to be good value in this company, and for one final run on a perfect road it offers the more intense thrill. But next to the Ferrari it looks a little one-dimensional; to really appreciate the GT3 RS, you need a track. And good though the 458 Italia is on a circuit, first and foremost it is a quite outstanding road car: practically as fast as the Noble, as thrilling as the Porsche and as dramatic as the Lexus, plus the most usable of the lot.
If the Lambo had been here, the 458 Italia would have beaten that, too. It is without question the new supercar benchmark. Over to you, McLaren...