Simraceway Stand-off #1: Lexus LFA v. Mercedes SLS
For this week's SRW Stand-Off, I decided to compare two cars that not that many people think are really comparable. The Lexus is more thought to a be a one-off hypercar, extremely exclusive and very techy, while the Mercedes seems to be more common (relatively), and build around old-school recipes. But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Both are stuck, by design, between the raw speed and efficiency of pure supercars on one side, and both could be described as GTs, compliant and comfortable, with a big engine upfront and drive to the rear wheels. Both were their own brand’s flagships at the time, and as such they were pretty expensive, though they are pretty cheap in SRW. Perhaps more importantly, they share close specs: more than 550hp, less than 4 seconds to 60mph and a top speed of around 200mph.
Reading these specs, it’s obvious that they will have another common trait: oversteer. And oh boy, do they deliver. You can have their tails hanging out whenever you want, and sometimes when you don’t!
They, however, have also some pretty profound differences. While they have similar lap times (less than three tenths at Watkins Glen!), they produce it in a pretty different way.
Let’s start with the Lexus. And I must say, even if this is the second time this car pops up in a review, and even if I did clock some more miles between them, I’m still amazed by the way the car handles. You would never guess how precise it is, how balanced it remains through the corners.
Even with a V10 stuck at the front of the car, the weight distribution seems to be absolutely perfect. And so what you get is an awesome front end, as pointy as you’d want it, while still having a rear-end that turns with it under braking, and will do big slides if you want it to. Body roll is extremely controlled as well, making the car very predictable when pushing hard.
That can’t exactly be said of the big Merc. It’s heavier (around 200lbs more), lazier and it rolls a lot more. It isn’t a boat, but jumping into it after the electrifying Lexus, it’s sometimes hard to understand the grip limits, especially when faced with understeer. It’s easier to drive, more approachable, but less of a track car. But the SLS backs that more laid-back, less focused approach by having one of the most incredible character you can find in a road car in SRW. This car is just happy, and wants you to have fun all the time. It’s helped, it has to be said, by a great V8, torquey as hell. This feels more like an old-school muscle car, while it seems the Lexus out-germaned Mercedes on this one.
Not that it is boring. You could never call boring a car fitted with this incredible engine, even if it was, say, a Prius. It howls, screams to a nearly 9,000rpm redline, with lacking some punch lower in the rev range. This, coupled with the perfect chassis of the LFA, combines to form one of the most enjoyable road cars to trash around a track.
It has one issue though. While it felt faster, and a bit more engaging than the SLS, it was actually slower pretty much everywhere. Reviewing the cars, I was able to get to a very satisfying 1:53.128 around Zandvoort, after 10 laps of hard work. Then I took the Merc for a spin, and got to a 1:51.206 in three laps. That’s pretty disappointing, seeing how the LFA likes to be pushed to the absolute limit.
But it wouldn’t stop me from choosing the Lexus. Now, I’m not saying that the Mercedes is a bad car. It’s freaking amazing, a good laugh and always loads of fun, without throwing some good driving qualities away. In a direct comparison though, the Merc’s less focused settings make it feel a tiny bit
clumsier, less involving, less happy at the absolute limit.
I would always miss the edge the Lexus has. It just wants to be driven very, very hard. Its engine is unique, and anyway, you can still drift it around every corner if you want to! But I guess it will depend on what you want a road car to be: simple fun, or an edgy blade. I bought both. But the LFA was higher up my list.
see how they did on the overall Leaderboard: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF