If you want a measure of just how far the supercar art has come in the last generation, consider this: When safety concerns closed the gates of the old Nurburgring to top-level racing back in 1983, the lap record stood at 6 minutes, 25 seconds. It was set by Stefan Bellof, one of the brightest talents of his or any other era, driving a purpose-built Porsche 956 Group C racecar weighing less than 1,750 pounds, powered by a 650-horsepower engine and wearing huge slick tires and utilizing full ground effects.
Now, however, if you have a reasonable idea of which way its 140-odd turns go and are not a complete idiot at the wheel, you could get in this new Lexus, go around the same circuit and be back before Bellof had time to do much more than take his helmet off.
No, the 2013 Lexus LFA with the new Nurburgring package is not quite the fastest road car ever to lap the 12.9-mile circuit in the Eifel mountains, but when you consider it comes with normal treaded tires rather than the lightly cut slicks some rivals wear, its seven-minute, 14-second lap gives you some idea of its potential.
More of Everything, Please
To turn an LFA which, let's not forget, is still a rare and special thing, into one fit for the 'Ring, Lexus has taken an approach not dissimilar to that Porsche adopts when turning a 911 GT3 into a GT3 RS. There's no single huge change to grab the headlines, just a thorough reworking of the car from end to end.
Most obvious is the new aerodynamic package. It consists of a far deeper carbon front spoiler, balanced at the back by a large fixed rear wing in place of the standard car's extendable item. At the sides you'll notice small winglets have sprouted ahead of the front wheel arches, to give the 2013 Lexus LFA some extra front-end bite through the Nurburgring's many fast corners. Harder to see are revised side skirts, designed to better control the flow of air from front to rear.
At each corner you'll find new forged aluminum wheels covered by Bridgestone tires of the same size as the standard car, but made of a different compound, construction and tread pattern more suited to the hostile environment of the racetrack but still perfectly sensible in all but monsoon conditions on the road.
What is more difficult to see is that the whole car has been dropped by 10mm to lower its center of gravity and reduce airflow under the car. It isn't obvious by looking, however, that the engine is tuned to produce another 11 hp and the gearbox has been coaxed into shaving 0.05 second off the shift times.
Lexus freely admits the purpose of the extra power is simply to offset the additional drag that was an almost inevitable consequence of adding 30 percent more downforce to the car — so it still needs 3.7 seconds to hit 62 mph and top speed remains 202 mph.
No prizes for guessing where Lexus decided to introduce us to its newest, maddest motor. We're grateful for one sighting lap in a stock LFA. Not only does it give us a reference point against which to judge the new car, but having not raced at the 'Ring for eight years it was useful to be reminded which way the track went.
As we drop down into the driver's cell of the new car, several things occur at once. There's very little to the simple, stylish interior and it's all the better for it. There's none of the confusing clutter you find in Ferraris these days. The replacement of all the leather with either Alcantara or carbon fiber works well, but its new super-thin race seats are just a touch too figure-hugging for us.
The man on the gate waves us through without a second glance. He's been doing this all day. We have not. Here we are, 571-hp supercar at our command, and the entire length of the world's longest, greatest racetrack to ourselves. When we die, this is what we hope heaven looks like.
We flick the controller into Sport, dial up the quickest transmission map and turn off the electronic safety nets. Then common sense sets in and we turn them back on again.
Like Jerry Maguire
It's got you before the first corner. Show me someone who can listen to this engine shriek to 9,000 rpm without a deep emotional response and we will show you someone in urgent need of a hearing aid. In the last couple months we've driven the Ferrari FF, Lamborghini Aventador and Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0. And, aurally at least, the 2013 Lexus LFA's Yamaha-designed V10 has the lot licked.
Now we're into the tricky turns at the start of the lap. There's clearly more grip, but something else, too: Even given its higher limits, this LFA is easier to drive than the standard car.
The track opens out into a section so fast it might even be quicker than the main straightaway if we could remember where it went. The extra power isn't apparent, but as the car steams through curves and over crests at more than 150 mph, it feels more settled and stable as the wings, suspension and tires work together to help maintain its attitude.
All the fabled corners come and go: the Foxhole, Adenau Forest, Bergwerk and then the rocket up the hill to the horrible Karussel. It is a tribute to this car that we're able to drive it this hard on a track so dangerous and faded from memory. It doesn't make it easy for you, but it's a damn sight more accommodating than you have any right to expect from such a powerful and ferocious thing.
And then we're into the section that confused us even when we used to spend several weekends a year here. This is the part of the track the cameras never reach because it's so far from the pits, where the road never runs straight for more than a second or two, combining 30 or 40 turns into one bewildering ride. If we're going to throw it off, it will be here.
But it takes care to treat us right — the constant twinkle of its traction control light evidence that it's working as hard as we are. And then there's a right-hand curve from which you are spat at around 100 mph onto a straight stretching seemingly to the horizon. The LFA gets to 180 mph easily enough but you can now feel the big wing holding it back.
The kink under the bridge should be flat but we've not been away so long to have forgotten the merciless bumps awaiting those who inadvertently stray offline. We lift, streak through at 170 mph and curse for not going faster.
The next lap is a little quicker but toward the end it's clear the tires are less keen than we are to continue, so we dawdle down the straight at an inconsequential 140 mph and think about this machine.
On one side, there's no denying you could buy a ZR1 Vette for a fraction of the money and go pretty much as fast. Does that knowledge make the Nurburgring LFA less special? Not to us. It's not just about how fast you go, but how you go fast. More important is the way it's built, the way it delivers its performance, the sound it makes and its ability to involve its driver in every action. The 2013 Lexus LFA stands out as an ultra-rare piece of precision engineering. And if that's your thing and you can afford it, it's worth buying even at its crazy price — not least because you'll be one of just 50 people on earth who will have that opportunity.
Personally, we'd save a fortune and have just as much fun going hardly any slower in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, but that probably says as much about us as the LFA.
Ultimately, this isn't a car for a hooligan. It's for someone who appreciates (and can pay for) the finer things in life — the sort of person who'll happily spend $10,000 on a Swiss chronograph knowing it hasn't a hope of keeping time as well as a bit of battery-powered junk costing 1,000 times less. It is a car for connoisseurs and collectors.
And they, we think, will love it forever.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.