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Lexus LFA


Very, very disappointing.

You probably know that the single Lexus LFA supercar owned by Toyota Australia is currently visiting New Zealand for a promotional tour, as part of Toyota New Zealand's launch programme for its new Lexus GS and RX ranges.

One of the worst-kept secrets among the motoring media was that the LFA was being transported to Hampton Downs this month, and being made available for test drives to journalists attending the official GS/RX event.

Closely supervised test drives, mind: the LFA is one of only 500 ever built, it boasts 412kW/480Nm from its front-mounted 4.8-litre V10 engine and is worth close to a million dollars – at least based on a currency conversion from the Australian price, as no LFAs have been sold in New Zealand. It does 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds and can hit 325km/h.

The car even comes with its own minder: four-time Australian Rally Champion (in Toyotas of course) and sometime V8 Supercar driver Neal bates, who demonstrates the car during hot laps and sits in the passenger seat when excited journalists are allowed to drive this road-and-track rocket.

It's a generous offer to drive a precious car from Toyota, and we're told the night before that there's only one thing that will halt proceedings: a wet track. The LFA's extreme power and monster tyres do not mix well with surface water.

So next morning, as roll into Hampton Downs, it's wet. Naturally. And to cut to the chase, it stays that way until we board the coach to go home three hours later, when the sun suddenly erupts in spectacular fashion.

Like I said, very disappointing. But we do get a memorable LFA experience. There's to be no self-driving, but Bates takes us out for hot laps as promised. A shame to be sitting in the passenger seat, but you do at least get to experience the sensation of acceleration, feel the brutal nature of the gearchanges through the backrest and marvel at the video-game dashboard graphics.

Actually, we got two memorable LFA experiences, if you count the opportunity to simply stand by the pit wall and listen to it roar past. The sound is amazing from inside the cabin, but from the outside it sounds absolutely sensational - like a Formula 1 racer. Current F1 cars are now powered by V8s of course, but back in 2000 when the LFA project was initiated, they were V10s. The LFA was a long time coming. And it's been around for over three years now, so it's hardly new.

But it's still exciting to see it in action on the track, in the hands of an expert who has done thousands of high-speed kilometres in the thing. Very disappointing not to be driving, however.

"The thing is," explains Bates from the behind the wheel, as we slither around another streaming wet Hampton corner at 70km/h, "everybody was grumbling about not being allowed to drive the car because it's wet. They think we're being over-cautious. But they come out here in the passenger's seat, feel what it's like and they go back into the pits deciding they really don't need to drive after all."

Incorrect, Mister Bates. I would still have seized the opportunity to drive the LFA. But it's probably just as well I couldn't. You are not only a skilled driver, you are also very wise.

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