LEXUS LFA
Engine: V-10, 4.8 liter, 552 horsepower
Acceleration: 0-60 3.6 seconds, 202 mph top speed.
Brakes: 4-wheel carbon ceramic disc brakes, 4 piston calipers.
Sound system: AM/FM/hard drive system with 12 speakers.
Price: $375,000

Lexus LFA: What a concept

If there was an unmistakable hit at the First Hawaiian International Auto Show last March, it was a distinctive yellow Lexus LFA, which drew crowds, stares and gasps from open till close each day of the show. And for good reason; this was the first time this super sports car had made a public appearance in Hawai’i.

Lexus, when it first appeared in the automotive world, was oriented toward the quiet and luxury end of the automotive spectrum-“showy” wasn’t a commonly used term in its repertoire. However, after issuing models to cover large to small luxury sedans and adding a line of SUVs, Lexus began to spin out the performance “F series” models.

Currently, the king of the “F” court is the very limited production LFA, a hyper performance, two-seat sports car. With only 500 of these models to be hand-built at the rate of 20 per month, exclusivity is just one of the major draws for enthusiasts. The fact the LFA is priced at $375,000 only further narrows the customer field.

Styling is clearly in the direction of a sports car, but unlike some that boast a “cool factor” only, here it is truly a function of the vehicle’s performance attributes. Note the large front and rear grills, side scoops, and rear spoiler; the openings are designed to not only plant the chassis on the ground at speed but direct cooling air to the carbon ceramic brake system.

At 50 mph, the rear built-in spoiler automatically rises to secure the rear wheels to the pavement.

Exhaust exits from three super-large pipes in the center of the rear end.

With a 4.8-liter V-10 engine producing 552 horsepower, aerodynamics are clearly important. The end result is a top speed of 202 mph. Zero to 60 time is a mere 3.6 seconds. A perfect 50/50 split weight balance front to rear is achieved because the super lightweight powerplant is up front and the six-speed transmission is mounted at the rear axle. And in Formula One style, the gears are instantly shifted with paddles mounted on back of the steering wheel.

Rounding out the racing heritage are the body and chassis that don’t skimp on the usage of carbon fiber, the lighter and stronger-than-metal material that brings to mind a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Except this one stays on the road.)

Luxury wasn’t left outside the doors, even though a continuation of the speed and power themes prevails. Beautifully leather lined, high-bolstered seats are provided to the driver and passenger. In a rather unique design, a very large center console sweeps up into the dash and is topped off with a video screen. All the comfort and convenience features are present-including remote keyless entry and starting, automated climate system, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and Bluetooth connection. Interesting options include electronic parking, a Mark Levinson stereo system and a power rear window shade. A form-fitting leather and carbon fiber steering wheel are presented to the driver, who looks into a video screen dash pod with multiple screen choices.

Below 3,000 rpm the sound and feel of the V-10-with ten individual throttle bodies-is relatively placid. But above cruising speed and over 3,000 rpm a bypass valve opens, and the sound shifts to racecar mode. Handling, as one would expect, provides take-no-prisoners cornering that is only aided by the lightning-quick paddle shifters.

Even with its limited production life span, Hawai’i is going to receive an allotment of this super car. And while it isn’t for everyone, if you noticed your pace increasing throughout the course of this article-and automotive beauty, power and exclusivity are descriptors that bring a mischievous smile to your face-a visit to your Lexus dealer should be an immediate priority. In fact, we think the LFA’s introduction warrants Lexus a permanent place in your personal assistant’s Rolodex.

To the Sky

LIGHT AND SMART AIRCRAFT

For many years, small private planes seemed to be frozen in a technological time warp. Aluminum frames with outdated, piston air-cooled engines left little appeal for would-be airborne enthusiasts.

Lately, however, a number of regulatory changes-as well as material alterations-have manufacturers rethinking engine alternatives. Paired with the concept of making planes more affordable to the hobbyist and the relative ease of obtaining a pilot license, the FAA in 2004 created a new class of plane, called light/sport aircraft, abbreviated as “LSA.”

These mostly two-seaters must weight less than 1,320 pounds (or 1,420 pounds for seaplanes) and are generally made of ultra-light yet durable carbon fiber. An added bonus, besides the price, is that some of these planes can be easily transported on the ground with a trailer.

Manufacturers have not ignored the fuel cost issues that have had a profound impact in the automotive market, most obvious in the sheer energy sunk into aerodynamics. The Cessna 400 uses composite materials for this four-seater fixed-gear beauty, with a 310-horsepower Continental turbo engine. Top speed is at 270 mph with the capability of cruising up to 25,000 feet and a range of up to 1,200 miles (depending on load). This $735,000 flier can handle inter-island travel with ease.

In the twin-engine arena, the Austrian manufacturer Diamond has introduced a diesel turbo aircraft called the DA42 TDI, which was certified in the U.S. in 2010. The diesel engines can burn either diesel or Jet-A fuel, and provide plenty of reliable power. But more important than fuel economy is overall range; with the addition of “winglets” and some key design elements, this plane can fly from Hawai’i to California.

The most extreme plane we came across employs the use of folding wings, allowing it to cruise on land like a car. Called the Terrafugia Transition Roadable Aircraft, it uses light carbon fiber wherever possible, including the structure and outer skin. The simple 100-horsepower, 1.4-liter engine provides a cruising speed of 105 mph at a reasonable 30 mpg. Pricing will start at around $280,000 with deliveries expected in 2013.

With Boeing introducing the carbon fiber 787 as a major jetliner, surely the era of carbon fiber private planes will explode with range, speed, and fuel economy being the beneficiaries. Keep your eyes on the sky! – E.K.