Do you remember back when I used to think the Porsche Carrera GT was the best-sounding car in the world? I remember. It was about 5 days ago, before I had the chance to drive the Lexus LFA. Now I know the LFA is the best-sounding car in the world, and I wish I could use its engine note for other things in my life, like my ringtone, and my text message tone, and possibly the sound my keyboard keys make when I’m typing this. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Backspace. Zoom. Zoom.
Before I get into greater detail on the Lexus LFA, let me tell you how my LFA experience came about. I was recently contacted by Audi Bridgewater in New Jersey, and they told me I could come drive a 2017 R8 they had, which was a nice gesture, so I added it to my giant automotive spreadsheet. Then they emailed back and said they also had a Lexus LFA for me to drive. I began salivating, and then we immediately picked a day when I could drive up and check it out.
So why does an Audi dealer have a Lexus LFA? Well, the dealership’s owner also owns a few other car dealerships, including a few Toyota stores, and I think a lot of the people who ended up buying the LFA were dealership owners, simply because the LFA didn’t sell all that well when it first came out in 2011. This particular LFA had been driven only about 380 miles since then — and before I left, the owner casually told me that replacing the carbon fiber panel underneath the car would cost $38,000.
The reason this panel is so expensive is that this entire car is so expensive — its base price was around $375,000 back in 2011, and values have remained surprisingly strong today. And the reason this car is so expensive is that it’s almost entirely bespoke: It has a unique engine, transmission, interior, gauge cluster, dashboard, design, blah blah blah, none of which is shared with any other Lexus model. This car was basically engineered from the ground up. And that’s how they came up with The Sound.
I first heard The Sound the moment I stepped on the accelerator outside the dealership, and I discovered something: The Sound does not come only at high RPMs, deep in the rev range. The LFA emits its glorious, amazing, truly incredible engine note at every RPM, reminding you that you aren’t in a Lexus RX, or even a Lexus SC 430, but that instead you may possibly be in a Formula 1 race car. Except Formula 1 race cars sound too high-pitched. This is better than that. This sounds like a Formula 1 car with more bellow. It is, in a word, amazing. In more words, it’s the single greatest exhaust note I’ve ever heard in any car I’ve ever driven, ever.
Beyond the exhaust note, the LFA driving experience has its ups and downs. Acceleration is brutally massive, but it’s almost hilarious how much the transmission dulls the experience. The LFA debuted right before the big dual-clutch craze, and it uses a sequential manual that really feels like it’s slowing down the car with each successive upshift — even in “Sport” mode. It’s amazing how quickly transmission technology can start to feel outdated.
Likewise, the car is highly composed through the corners, but steering isn’t as precise or direct as on the latest crop of exotic cars; it’s fast and athletic, but to carry on that “athlete” metaphor, the LFA is a former all-star who’s starting to show signs of aging, especially compared to the young guys coming up from the minors. It’s great, sure, but the R8 V10 Plus I drove afterwards is quicker off the line and sharper around corners.
And then we get to the styling. The LFA’s 553-horsepower 4.8-liter V10 is in the front, as you’re no doubt aware, and so the LFA doesn’t quite have the presence of a midengine exotic car. It also has something of a “Japanese” look to it, with unusual angles and cuts all around the car rather than one clean look like some Italian rivals have. On the road, nobody notices it; I pulled up at traffic lights next to people in all manner of “normal” cars, and none of them gave the LFA a second glance.
And this leads us to its price. The LFA is quite fast, but not amazingly so; it handles quite well, but not incredibly; it looks quite nice, but not truly breathtaking. Admittedly, it has some cool traits: The gauge cluster is just about the coolest in the car industry (even 6 years later), the seats hug you better than just about any chairs in the car world, production was limited to just 500 units for the entire world, the seat controls are a masterpiece, and I love how the center control stack buttons come to life when you turn on the stereo — and then go away when you turn it off. But is all that stuff worth $400,000?
To me, “worth” is almost a moot point as you climb into the $400,000 realm — largely because few people at that price point are struggling with a decision. You don’t buy an LFA instead of a Ferrari or Lamborghini; you buy it in addition to those cars, and I must admit that it makes a pretty nice addition — especially since the average LFA asking price right now on Autotrader is about $380,000, suggesting these haven’t lost much value.
In other words: It’s reasonably quick, it’s reasonably sporty, it’s quite quirky, it’s pretty high-tech, and it’s a relatively safe investment — and it delivers the single greatest engine note in the entire history of wheeled transportation. The Lexus LFA is the awesome $400,000 car that nobody seems to talk about.
Also published on Medium.