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Lexus IS-F and LFA 2013 Review

The IS F CCS-R (left) and the LFA. Source: Supplied
People imagine being a motoring writer involves nothing more than stepping out of one Ferrari and into another.

People imagine being a motoring writer involves nothing more than stepping out of one Ferrari and into another. Totally untrue. Complete exaggeration. Sometimes you have to traipse all the way over to a Lamborghini. Or a Maserati. Heck, there are even days when you have to make do with an Aston Martin.

But no one ever thinks, "Ah, motoring writer. All you do is step from one Toyota to another. You lucky bastard." That sounds perilously close to real work. Last week, though, I was stepping from one Toyota to another -- and an exercise in drudgery it was not. Some qualification is required. These were no ordinary Toyotas, but cars from its luxury arm, Lexus.

And they were not even ordinary Lexuses, either, but a trio of the most interesting cars Japan can make. They're all lined up on the grid at Fuji Speedway, a couple of hours south of Tokyo. You might not be familiar with this racetrack but you probably know Mount Fuji because it's as Japanese as sushi. On a clear day, like today, the perfect volcano you've seen in a million brochures is the backdrop to the track.

Lexus uses letter sequences to name its cars, carefully selected from an upturned Scrabble box after a big night on sake. So waiting to be sampled are an IS F, an IS F CCS-R and an LFA. I can't make anything out of that lot, but take it from me that's a triple-word score.

The familiar car here is the IS F, the Lexus rival for the BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG. Give or take a tweak or two, this is a five-year-old car. It's based on the recently superseded IS junior executive and has a 311kW 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet, driving the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It can reach 100km/h in less than five seconds.

But if this was an experiment, it would be the control. The untouched petri dish, the sugar pill. By the length of the long Fuji straight, it's the least exciting here.

Lexus IS-F CCS-R

The IS-F CCS-R is that car transformed into a recreational substance. It is completely unsuitable for the road -- illegal, in fact -- but totally appropriate for a track. It's a comprehensive makeover. The interior has been stripped out and fitted with a roll cage, racing seats with six-point harnesses, race wheel and instruments.

Almost nothing of the original cabin remains -- no rear seats, carpet, roof lining or door locks. The bare metal substructure has been painted matt black and the gearshifter and controls are boxed in carbon fibre. There's a kill switch, fire suppression system and 120-litre safety fuel tank.

The orange and black exterior gets a similar dose. It's a full body revamp, including a front splitter, large rear wing and roof ventilator. The windows are polycarbonate and doors light weight.Under the bonnet, the engine and transmission are stock items to keep maintenance simple, but they now bristle with cooling systems. There's also a mechanical limited slip differential instead of the Torsen diff on regular cars, and racing final drive gear. The suspension and brakes are track rated.

A CCS-R is made by Toyota Racing Development, which takes a body-in-white IS F off the assembly line then spends months putting it together by hand. The project was begun five years ago by Yukihiko Yaguchi, the engineer -- and enthusiast -- who was in charge of the IS F itself. The idea was to make a racecar that amateurs could use: a "gentleman racer".

"Everybody can drive it," Yaguchi says. "It's approachable for a wide range of skills." By the time I've squeezed in through the roll cage, belted into the buckets and flipped the wheel into place I feel anything but gentlemanly. I'm in a car with 311kW that weighs just 1.4 tonnes and is running slick rubber. Fuji's appealing corners beckon.

Lexus has spattered the circuit with so many cones designed to offer guidance on braking and turn-in points the result is more confusing than helpful. I'm sitting a little lower in the car than ideal for forward vision, too. The brakes are stronger than I expect and it's a stop-go approach to some corners. Then turn-in is quicker too, and I miss a couple of gear changes as the shift lights above the wheel cascade to red faster than pokie wheels.

The CCS-R feels exactly like what it is, a racecar. It's raw, very loud and thumps into gears. It goes and grips and pulls up like nothing on road tyres can. Controls like the brake pedal have the hard-as-nails feel you almost never get in a road car yet it's faithful to inputs and as forgiving as your mum. Lexus has sold about 10 of these and it's difficult to think of an equivalent from Europe. It's the real deal in a way that most race-trimmed road carsmerely replicate. And tons of fun.

What could top that, you're wondering? Certainly not the donor IS F, which on the track does a good job of showing how comprehensive the CCS-R treatment is. It's the final car I drive and after the racer, it seems to have no brakes and an overwhelming tendency to understeer. But of course, it is road legal and something you could live with every day. Which would be impossible in the CCS-R.

Lexus LFA

What you really need, though, is an LFA. Now, it's a little odd that Lexus even wants us to drive this car. LFA production ceased a year ago, almost to the day, after 500 had been built. Lexus says demand outstripped supply, but it seems to have a lot of them left over. And all the ones at Fuji are special Nurburgring editions, of which just 50 were made. None of these came to Australia, although Lexus did deliver 10 regular LFAs.

Price might have been a disincentive, because it's absurdly high. Or it might have been the fact that it took 10 years to finish the project after Lexus changed tack half-way through. That's a long wait for any car.

It has to be said, though, that Lexus did a very thorough job. I drove the standard LFA at Sydney's Eastern Creek a year ago and came away loving it. By rights, it shouldn't get five stars because I've never driven it on a real road and that might show up its faults -- perhaps it rides like a supermarket trolley.

Then there's the price, which would get a Ferrari-and-change. But it gets maximum points because after a longer gestation period than a blue whale, it can still hold its head up with the best. The Nurburgring edition, with 8kW more power than the standardcar, modified suspension and aerodynamics, lapped the famous 21km German track in 7 minutes 14.64 seconds.

That only looks slow next to the latest supercar, Porsche's 918 Spyder, which turned in a 6.57 Nurburgring lap recently. The 918 has everything Porsche can throw at it, including a hybrid system that delivers extra oomph.

The LFA set its time two years ago with nothing but a soaring naturally aspirated V10. The LFA, in other words, is the last and quickest of the old non-hybrid naturally aspirated breed of supercars. It's simply a delight to drive and I'm one of those who thinks it looks the part too.

Would I buy one over a Porsche? Maybe. What about a Ferrari? Difficult to say. But it's not absurd to say, as it would have been once: "Motoring writer -- lucky bastard. All you do is step from one Toyota to another."

: 4.8-litre V10 petrol
Outputs:  420kW at 8700rpm and 480Nm at 7000rpm
Transmission:  Six-speed automated sequential, rear-wheel drive
Price:  $840,000 plus on-road costs (estimate)


So good it demands an encore.

Engine: 5.0-litre V8 petrol
Outputs: 311kW at 6600rpm and 505Nm at 5200rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Price: $200,000 plus taxes (estimate)

lexus is-f ccs-r


Satisfies your inner Schumacher.

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