Known for comfortable luxury, we take a look at the Lexus brand’s emerging focus on performance.
Lexus is working hard to reinvent itself, to change its image from stuffy and squishy to poised and passionate. They’re doing this with their F SPORT performance-tuned models but that’s not all.
Two vehicles in particular really highlight the brand’s focus. One is a limited-production racecar and the other is not street-legal. Only 500 Lexus LFAs were built while the IS F CCS-R is loaded with competition-grade enhancements. These two totally different cars have essentially the same mission: speed.
Lexus invited AutoGuide to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to experience both of these exciting machines first hand.
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LEXUS IS F CCS-R
The race-prepared IS F CCS-R is a wolf in tiger’s clothing. Its bright orange paint and black stripes make it look as mean as it sounds, which is absolutely vicious. It grumbles and growls like an approaching hurricane, it’s uncorked V8 engine howling like a dragster running the 1,320.
Unfortunately, company officials didn’t let us drive this beast, for obvious reasons. The car is all-out racing hardware; it’d be like throwing a Boeing 747’s keys to a 15-year-old student still in driver’s training.
Lexus PR folks couldn’t afford to have some reporter that thinks he’s a hero put the CCS-R into the gravel on his first lap. They probably didn’t want to see the car rolled 14 times and incinerated while inconveniently parked on its roof. This is the sort of vehicle that’s best left to professionals, the people that can fully demonstrate its capability.
Compared to the production IS F the CCS-R is nearly 700 pounds lighter. Yes, 700 POUNDS. It features various carbon-fiber body panels and its interior has been totally gutted. Don’t look for ventilated seats or cruise control.
The car rides on featherweight forged 18-inch aluminum wheels and features racing brakes, racing exhaust, a racing fuel cell and for protection, a racing roll cage. Yeah, it’s a full-on racecar.
SEE ALSO: 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport Review – Video
The IS F CCS-R is motivated by a 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 416 ponies and 371 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed direct-shift automatic is Lexus’ transmission of choice, routing everything to the car’s rear wheels. Acceleration is impressive, the brakes and grip even more so.
That roll cage is like a steel skeleton but it makes climbing aboard more difficult than one might expect. The task requires plenty of awkward contorting; a touch of anorexia doesn’t hurt, either. Once you’re in the passenger seat and the racing harness is fastened you feel as snug as a drug in a thug.
With veteran driver Ken Gushi behind the wheel Lexus’ CCS-R dances around the circuit like a ballerina on stage. He can make the vehicle slip and slide, all without even breaking a sweat, figuratively, of course.
The car is very toasty inside, literally. Its feeble air-conditioning system is easily overwhelmed by a lap or two around the track, something that’s compounded by the Nevada desert’s heat. With Gushi at the helm, dehydration is a far greater threat than crashing.
The CCS-R is a wonderfully impressive machine, especially in the hands of a pro driver, but there’s another vehicle that’s just as breathtaking, and one the company actually let us pilot.
LEXUS LFA: LIKE, FU***NG AWESOME
The LFA is Lexus’ exclamation point; it’s a bona fide supercar that can give just about any exotic from Lamborghini or Ferrari a run for its money, probably with much higher quality as well. The test car Lexus allowed us to drive had more than 30,000 undoubtedly very hard miles on the odometer and officials said it’s had no issues. All they’ve changed thus far are tires and brakes.
The car’s architecture is constructed mostly of lightweight carbon fiber, 65 percent in fact; the low-slung two-door is a major technological achievement for Toyota. The structure’s remaining 35 percent is comprised of aluminum.
Engineers drew on Toyota’s heritage as a textile-weaving company when they were designing the LFA’s platform. They employed sophisticated three-dimensional looms to weave its various components out of carbon-fiber thread.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Lexus GS-F Spy Photos
Keeping it more exclusive than the most posh Las Vegas night club, production was limited to just 500 units, 176 of which made it to the United States.
As you might expect, the LFA is a monster on the track but at the same time it’s a world apart from IS F CCS-R. The latter is like a war hammer – brutal and bone-crushing; the former is best described as a samurai sword, sleek and elegant.
The LFA features an amazing mid-mounted V10 engine. This naturally aspirated powerplant displaces 4.8-liters and puts 552 ponies with 354 lb-ft of torque. But what’s even more impressive is how high it spins. Redline is 9,000 RPM. Best of all it sounds like a super bike or even an F1 car. The exhaust note is totally killer!
Unlike other high-performance machines the LFA’s powerband is delightfully linear. Thrust builds quickly and smoothly. For instance, the Nissan GT-R’s engine hits like a ton of cinder blocks once the turbo boost builds. The Lexus is not like this at all. Oh, it’s faster than an atomic jackrabbit but it’s elegant and slick at the same time.
A rapid-fire six-speed sequential automatic transmission sends power to the car’s rear wheels and can be shifted by the paddles on the steering column.
The LFA’s performance capabilities are astounding and its engine is the showstopper; it just keeps pulling. It was way too easy to change gears at about 7,000 RPM, a point that felt natural, but the high-winding V10 still had 2,000 more revs to play with. The car’s top speed is 202 miles an hour!
In the braking and suspension departments Lexus’ supercar is just as capable. Both are able to ingest and digest lap after lap of spirited driving with no apparent signs of fatigue.
We were only allowed two trips around the track in this impressive machine, but that was enough to get us hooked.
This was a rare opportunity to experience some extremely special and impressive cars. In the hands of a qualified driver they can be pretty terrifying, too. It’s hard to believe the same company built both the LFA and the dorky HS 250h hybrid.
Things are heating up at Lexus, let’s hope some of this excitement trickles down to their mainstream products sooner rather than later.
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