Andrew Frankel - Road cars

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Lexus supercar sizzles

It’s been almost 20 years since a Lexus first went on sale in the UK and while I admire very much what has been achieved in this time, particularly in the area of customer service, I still find myself wondering why, with the resources of the world’s largest and most successful car company behind it, Lexus has never managed to build cars to rival consistently the best of its European opposition.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that to Lexus, Europe is a mere sideshow. From the very start its focus has been on the US (Lexuses – or should that be Lexi? – only went on sale in Japan in 2005) and the requirements on the States side of the pond are very different to ours. There, ride and refinement are the overwhelming dynamic priorities, while here we want a more even balance – cars that handle and perform too. But producing cars that are as great to drive as they are to be driven in is not something Lexus has ever shown much interest in. Until now.

One of few real benefits of being a very young marque is that you can do what you like with it without risking die-hard traditionalists getting in a lather about it. When Porsche decided to build a huge and ugly SUV, it was not short of people hopping up and down, bursting with righteous indignation. I know, I was one of them. But if Lexus decides it wants to build a 500bhp supercar, the only thing I’ll jump to do is get behind its wheel.

For ever since the first LS400 I drove back in 1990, the potential of Lexus, however unrealised it might be, has fascinated me. That four-door saloon with its clearly Mercedes-derived styling was a landmark. No car had ever driven so quietly, nor ridden so comfortably. It struck fear into the heart of every major luxury car manufacturer, and that was before Lexus’s Toyota parent happened to let slip that with the LS400, it was only practising. If its first saloon could be that capable, what could it achieve with its first supercar?

It’s called the LF-A and it’s sitting in the pits at Goodwood circuit, waiting for me to funnel myself into its stripped-out interior. Though the LF-A is a road car, it was decided to race it first at the Nürburgring 24 Hours ‘to aid research and development’ and, no doubt, allow its drivers to have a jolly good time. Though various mishaps denied it the finish its raw pace suggested, a man from Lexus told me that when the car was running trouble-free, it was 30 seconds a lap faster than the Aston Martin Vantage V12 RS that was in the same category. And that Aston is bloody fast.

Given that it was first shown to the world in 2005, surprisingly little is known about the LF-A. Officially Lexus won’t even concede that it will be offered for sale, though, privately, it is universally accepted that it will reach the market next year priced at around £250,000. For the lucky few who secure one (LF-A production will be limited to a few hundred), we know only that they will buy a car made from a largely carbon-fibre structure with a 4.8-litre V10 engine delivering over 500bhp, running through a six-speed, paddle-shift, manual transaxle.

It should be said now, the LF-A is not a pretty car, but when it comes to exuding menace few do it better. The engine has been created for the LF-A alone and while it runs innocently enough at idle, listening to it circulate the track as its engineers warmed it up earlier it sounded simply savage, even when silenced to comply with Goodwood noise regulations.

The driving position is ultra low and reminiscent of the 700bhp GT1-specification Dodge Viper I drove at Paul Ricard a decade or more ago. You can tell this is a race-prepped road car in a number of ways: there are several blanked out buttons on the dash, the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, and there’s even a speedometer in the central display. But when you fire it up, the engine responds like few I’ve ever encountered on the public road. Revs rise and fall so fast it appears not to have a flywheel and when I look closer at the rev-counter on the screen, I realise that today I will be changing up at nothing less than 9000rpm, higher than any comparable supercar of my acquaintance.

Yet for all the ferocity of its acceleration and its no-prisoners appearance, it seems that just a little bit of what we might expect of other Lexuses has been left in, for this is a fabulously easy car to drive, even flat out around somewhere as unforgiving as Goodwood. It’s quite heavy for a racer (Lexus will admit to 1500kg) and you can feel it in the slower corners like Lavant and the chicane, but in the high-speed turns that characterise the bulk of this circuit, the combination of iron body control and superb aerodynamic balance gives you the confidence to work it harder and harder.

How fast would it go around Goodwood? I once lapped a Porsche 911 GT2 road car in a very cautious 1min 27sec, and with slicks, wings, race suspension and brakes I’d expect the LF-A to have gone a substantial number of seconds faster than that. More importantly, though, while I found the GT2 difficult and intimidating, the LF-A was fun, accommodating and predictable. It’s the sort of car in which you could spend hours whittling away at your lap times, confident it would never misbehave, and emerge fresh from your stint already anticipating your next turn at the helm. The perfect long-distance racer, in other words.

Despite the paucity of hard facts surrounding the LF-A, the only matter of real importance that has yet to be quantified is how different the road LF-A will be. Privately, I have been told by more than one Lexus employee that the race LF-A is very close to the road car. I hope so: 20 years ago Lexus stunned the world with a luxury saloon and now it has the potential to do the same with a supercar. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.

*****

Boxster Jr would be the business

Just when you think Porsche might be losing the plot (and after the lacklustre new 997 and severely flawed Panamera, the thought had occurred), it’s suggested that I might benefit from a spin around the block in a new Boxster S. Several hundred miles later I still didn’t want to give it back despite, broadly speaking, not much liking convertibles.

When you drive the Boxster (or indeed its Cayman sister), the sense that you’re riding right in the middle of Porsche’s comfort zone is inescapable. These cars are so effortlessly able, so much better than anything else they might be compared to, you might wonder why Porsche continues to venture so far from what it knows best with cars like the Panamera, were the answer not so blindingly obvious. The lure of the lucre is irresistible.

Even so, in today’s straitened times Porsche should perhaps now be looking at extending its ranges in the other direction, not with smaller, more mainstream models for that would be fatal, but lighter, more focused and affordable versions of what it has already. It’s been over 20 years since the 911 ClubSport did exactly this, but never has the time seemed more right for another, and for it to be joined by a ClubSport Cayman and Boxster. A Porsche that costs less yet which is better to drive is a message that should not need much further explanation.

*****

Good things in a small Alfa package

I know that in this job we should always approach cars with a mind free from any preconceptions, but I’m not afraid to admit I was dreading driving the new Alfa Romeo Mito. As someone who spent large chunks of his childhood in the back of ’Suds, and who has been largely disappointed with almost every small- and medium-sized Alfa produced thereafter, the Fiat Grande Punto-based Mito came with that sinking feeling as standard.

Perhaps it was because I was expecting so little that I ended up enjoying the Mito so much. No, it’s not a landmark, nor is it close to being as good now as was the ’Sud in the ’70s, but it has real character, engaging handling and, in the 155bhp 1.4 TB Lusso I drove, proper performance. At a smidge over £14,000, it seems good value too. So, and for the first time in more years than I care to count, here is a small Alfa to which the automatic response is not to run away. Indeed if you’re in the market for such a car, it’s worth a good, hard look.

You may also like

Related products