By on December 1, 2011

Sometimes, there are perks in this business. Yesterday, I had the biggest perk so far: I saw a  $375,000 (base) supercar in the nude. And I could ask the man who built the LFA what he was thinking. He thinks the LFA could change Lexus as we know it.

Haruhiko Tanahashi is the Chief Engineer of the Lexus LFA, the storied supercar, population 500. A Chief Engineer at Toyota and hence at Lexus is much more than an engineer. He is the father of the car, he is responsible for the car from idea to realization and optimization.

A lot has already been written about the LFA. I wanted to know only one thing: Why?

Why build a car that is limited to 500 units, which are beyond the reach of a mere mortal? Will the LFA remain an exotic  island, or will its technology filter down into the whole Lexus line?

Yes it will, and it already does, says Tanahashi:

“Sure, there will be direct technology transfers to all Lexus lines. For instance  carbon, engine efficiency and more. But the most important cross pollination is not the car itself, it is the thought process behind the car. That thought process could change the philosophy of Lexus 180 degrees.”

Tanahashi gives just one example that is indicative of what may happen to the Lexus brand, should the ideas behind the LFA prove communicable:

“In the past, the engine sound has always been something we were trying to suppress. We were trying to remove all sounds from the car. I was told and I told my people: Sounds are bad, sounds are bad, sounds are bad. Especially the engine sound. We used to want that as quiet as possible.

What is different with the LFA is that you hear the music of the engine, and it has a beautiful sound. People want to hear that sound.

That is one example that you will be seeing – well, hearing – in other Lexus cars in the future.”

When Tanahashi and his team developed the LFA, they worked with Yamaha. Not only with Yamaha, the engine builders. They worked with the musical instrument builders at Yamaha. They turned the LFA into a musical instrument. Not a synthesizer that plays sampled engine sound. They turned the LFA into a veritable wind instrument.

Tanahashi’s Deputy Chief Engineer Chiharu Tamura demonstrates this for me on the most unusual LFA I had ever seen (not that I have seen many): A naked, disrobed LFA. They removed the outer skin of the car so that all that is inside can be seen and touched.

In the LFA, the air rushes into an opening on the engine side of the firewall. The air enters an echo chamber in the dash, and sound is emitted though small openings in the dashboard.

In addition, there is a membrane behind the engine computer that creates sound as the air rushes across the rear of the car.

Of course there was another question that needed to be asked, and that is the question of the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap time. Currently, the LFA lap time stands at 7 minutes, 14:64 seconds, which is “very fast” as Tanahashi states, and do I honestly want more?

Then the Chief Engineer kicks in, and Tanahashi feeds me the company line that nobody wants to set a record on the Nordschleife. Driving there is done solely in the name of science and testing, to optimize the ride, to make it handle well, and the 7 minutes, 14:64 seconds are simply a result of this test.

There must be a secret cue card which is used by all manufacturers, because they all say the same: “Record? Us? On the Nürburgring? What record?”

I roll my eyes so fast that I become dizzy.

Then slowly, a smile unfolds in Tanahashi’s face, he leans forward, lowers his voice, and says:

“My test driver Akira Iida says that from his point of view,  we can reach 7:12. He thinks it’s possible. Of course, that is strictly his own private opinion.”

Of course it is.


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29 Comments on “Inside The Lexus LFA: Soon You Will Hear How It Changes The Lexus Brand, Chief Engineer Says...”

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I have no doubt that Toyota can soundly trounce Porche, Mercedes, and Audi with little effort, if they choose to do so.

    And an added bonus will be that the car will actually not need thousands of dollars of repairs at the 4 year point.

  • avatar
    Charles T

    I’m at once encouraged by the sudden thrusting of these happy engineers into the limelight by Toyota (at the FT-86 launch too), and somewhat surprised that under the image of Toyota as a polished product-polishing monolith there bubbled this colony of black sheep marching to their own beat. It’s not like a Potemkin village performance would be of any benefit to the mothership, but it does feel, well, unexpected. Then I look at my MR2 Spyder and it seems less unusual; this has happened many times before.

  • avatar

    Dude, when you get a chance to get car porn this good, you POST PHOTOS WITH SOME RESOLUTION. This… this is not fair.

    And of course, the change of mentality is wonderful. In another article, it sounded like Akio was just flat bored by the old GS, and was ready to kill the whole car. He let it go through with a bit more flavor – but I get the feeling that cars that get fully developed under his watch will show a much greater love of what the automobile can be. I am looking forward to seeing what they are able to do.

  • avatar

    Nice to see Toyota making Sporty cars again.

  • avatar

    And yet this relentless pursuit of perfection always seems to result in cars that are more than slightly dull. Even when they are 200mph supercars. A Ferrari may not be as reliable, or even as fast, but it is a whole lot more interesting.

    My Alfa GTV-6 has an engine note that Jeremy Clarkson himself describe as “like having your soul licked by angels” when you wind the thing to the redline. But no Italian engineer spent more than six seconds designing it to sound that way. They built a lovely engine, and the sound is what it is.

    Maybe Toyota will loosen up a bit and make the cars actually have character. But I will believe it when I see it.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a red GTV6 and a black IS300: never were there two more different cars, starting with the screaming 3 liter* V6 in one and the ‘is-it-still-running?’ 3 liter I6 in the other. Now if you could only take the best of Italy and mix it with the best of Japan. Then again you might end up with an unreliable car that is no fun to drive. That would be unforgivable!

      * From an ’88 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde.

    • 0 avatar

      Jeremy Clarkson peeks at nameplates and national origins and stereotypes before coming to his rather predictable “conclusions.”

      My personal experiences with reliable (NSX) Japanese supercars vs unreliable (Ferrari & Porsche) of the same era (one of the benefits of attending private school with rich kids), made me a ricer at heart for quite awhile. Now, P is reliable, and F is getting better, while Honda still hasn’t bothered improving upon their 20 year old NSX, so the tables may be turned a bit. The LFA is simply out of my reasonable reach; and besides, ostentatious limited edition collector porn just isn’t my thing anyway. But reliability and livability are still positive attributes of cars you actually drive, not just read about others driving.

      • 0 avatar

        Jeremy Clarkson peeks at nameplates and national origins and stereotypes before coming to his rather predictable “conclusions.”

        In this specific case you are mistaken. Clarkson had his GTV6 before he was famous. It was the car that, in part, ignited his passion for automobiles. He has also been critical of its as well saying once “The Alfa Romeo GTV6 had the worst gearbox I’ve ever encountered, the worst driving position and the worst record for reliability. Nevertheless, I bought one.”

        Perhaps his most famous Alfa quote is “you cannot be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned one … it’s like having really great sex that leaves you with an embarrassing itch.”

  • avatar

    I sense a slight irony in Bertels remark. So, this supposed gamechanger is the fact that engine sounds are sexy and an integral part of the sports car experience? Wow, what a revelation. I guess nobody at Porsche, Jaguar or right about anybody in Italy got that memo?

    • 0 avatar

      To be honest, after 20 years experience with Japanese cars, I’m not surprised at all if this is a new discovery for them. Now, if only the Lexus designers could understand beauty…

      • 0 avatar

        Touché. The Japanese have never ever understood soul and passion in design. Only in separate instances, never taken as a whole.

      • 0 avatar

        @Ingvar – I would argue that soul and passion mean different things to different cultures. The Germans and the Japanese seem to be pretty passionate about perfection and engineering elegance, for instance.

        The Miata, S2K, NSX, and even the LFA absolutely have their own kind of soul. Look at the carbon work on the LFA again and tell me an engineer didn’t love some them some of that. The Italians certainly have their niche in fiery (unreliable) transportation; the Brits have somethings special, and so do we brash Americans – but I don’t think any of us “gets” soul more than anyone else. The angle is just different.

        In fact, outside of the Fiat 500 and the Sesto Elemento, one of which sounds less interesting to drive than its competitors, and the other of which is absurdly priced, I don’t really see the Italians doing a fun, light, passionate car. Their supercars are pretty overwrought at this point. I do have hopes for the Alfa 4C though…

  • avatar

    Rip all that sound-making nonsense out of the car and you’ll probably save enough weight to get a 7:12 around the Ring.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “In the LFA, the air rushes into an opening on the engine side of the firewall. The air enters an echo chamber in the dash, and sound is emitted though small openings in the dashboard.”

    In other words, you have described the HVAC system – like every other car!

  • avatar

    I’m not a huge fan of the new GS’s looks, but it sounds like it’s received a dose of sport. Maybe it’s working already? It’s certainly good news, and I hope the market responds well.

    I see Alfa Romeo’s been brought up as an automaker with “soul”, but just read the reviews – as much as we all want to love the Brera and 8c, they aren’t all that great to drive. They’re nice to look at and listen too, but isn’t superficial beauty the opposite of soul?

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Does he mean that HS 250 will get a 9K rpm V10 exhaust note?

  • avatar

    why is it that Toyota engines always sound lousy?

    Honda engines sound great to me and I don’t think they make any special efforts. I am sure none of the European brands are doing the echo chamber and sound membrane thing just to get great engine sound. The engineer in me can’t help but think all that effort is excessive and misdirect.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. The engineer in me (not mechanical though) can’t help but think the best sound of a perfect engine should be no sound.

      Sound = friction somewhere that’s best eliminated

    • 0 avatar

      Is that a joke? The V10 in that Lexus sounds amazing even in race car form. The V8 in the IS-F sounds pretty darned good, and the lowly Camry V6 has always sounded better than the units from Hyundai and Ford. Honda 4 cylinders can definitely sound good over 3K RPM.

      Besides, if you think other manufacturers don’t tune their exhausts for sound, you are just naive.

      Ford puts sound tubes in the Mustang just to bring out the V8 sound. Lambos have a huge amount of acoustic tweaking to get them to sound like that. And now BMW is literally *playing a fake V8 sound over the stereo* on the M5. So while you might be “sure,” you are also wrong.

  • avatar

    It’s still an ugly car.

    The NSX and Nissan Skylines were interesting and in their own way beautiful.

    The LF-A has not grown on me at all. It looks bland, bland and bland next to its rivals.

  • avatar

    The new exhaust on my motorcycle adds very little in HP, saves less than 5 lbs off the bike, but oh the sound is wonderfully rich and makes it all worth it.
    The sound of a car is one of the senses we appreciate the most.

  • avatar

    The 2003 Odyssey i just traded in on our new 2011 Sienna sounded WAY better than the gravel-thrown-into-a-clothesdryer-with-a-shovel sound of the Sienna. It may be stronger on paper, but even in a minivan, Honda made a great sounding, great performing engine. The Toyota pulls fine once it’s into the revs, but *man* it sounds terrible.

    Having said that, there are signs of life at Toyota. The SE package on this van is simply fantastic. It handles well and is actually fun to drive. In a minivan.

    The non-SE vans I test drove were rubbish IMO. It’s amazing what some suspension tweaks and a chief engineer who has the bit between his teeth can do to change things.

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