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This year, Lexus pops the cork for its 25th anniversary. We turn the clocks back on the premium Japanese car maker and celebrate the brand’s many highlights, including the outrageous LFA V10 supercar

Since its inauguration, Lexus has aimed to take the fight to stronger premium brand names, such as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Audi and BMW, offering marginally cheaper alternatives to luxury saloons and crossover SUVs, as well as the courageous Lexus LFA supercar during economic turmoil. 

Lexus started life as Toyota’s luxury division, ever since then the marque has built up a reputation over the years as a manufacturer that epitomises high quality, reliability and strong finishes in customer satisfaction surveys. But where did it all begin?

Back in 1983, then-Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda summoned a highly secret, emergency meeting. Tea and biscuits were put aside when Toyoda quizzed fellow company executives: “Can we create a luxury vehicle to challenge the world’s best?”

What resulted was the F1 project – not to be confused with the pinnacle of motor racing – but ‘Flagship One’, involving painstaking amounts of market research and focus groups on luxury car buyers.

The result spawned the Lexus (a combination of luxury and elegance) LS400 saloon in 1989. Riding a wave of clever television and print advertising, the LS400 made its debut at that year’s North American (Detroit) Auto Show and proved to be an instant hit with punters. 

The LS400 needed to be. An extensive resource of 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 450 prototypes, 2.7 million kilometres of road testing and more than $1 billion went into developing the flagship saloon, featuring a unique design that shared little in common with previous Toyotas.

When the LS400 finally touched down in Europe in 1990, it was applauded for its high-quality cabin, superb refinement, a lower drag coefficient and better value compared to its rivals. The punchy 4.0-litre V8 motor, developing 256bhp, also gave the LS400 a higher top speed than the BMW 735i, at 160mph. 

Lexus succeeded in shaking up rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, whose sales took a significant hit following the LS400’s trumpeting market entrance. The Japanese marque shifted over 165,000 units of the LS400 worldwide and the premium saloon car gained a strong reputation for its ability to clock up well over 200,000 miles with proper maintenance. 

In 1993, Lexus launched the GS300 saloon to sit below the LS400 and go head-to-head with the BMW 5-series. Penned by famed designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the GS300 (standing for Grand Saloon) was introduced with a 3.0-litre inline-six engine, rear-wheel drive and independent double wishbone suspension.

Three years later the car maker unveiled its first SUV, the LX450, based on a revised Toyota Land Cruiser 100 and by 1998 the firm had broken into the increasingly popular crossover market with the release of the RX300.  

Into the millennium and Lexus seized the opportunity to enter the compact executive saloon market and do battle with the Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3-series. The company introduced its range of IS saloons, and while it was seen as an alternative, it failed to sufficiently unsettle its established rivals in the compact executive segment.

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Lexus experienced a crucial year in 2005. The firm launched the world’s first production premium hybrid SUV in the form of the RX400h and separated from parent company Toyota, while expanding into its home country for the first time and emerging markets such as China and South America. Sales particularly began to surge in South East Asia, the UK and throughout Australasia.

Not one to shy away from taking gambles, Lexus announced a new F-marque performance division in 2007, with Mercedes-Benz’s AMG and BMW’s M divisions resolutely in its sights. The first Lexus to wear the F nameplate, which pays homage to the Fuji Speedway and stands for Flagship, was the often forgotten Lexus IS-F saloon

Aimed at the BMW M3, Audi RS4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the IS-F was powered by a 5.0-litre V8 kicking out 416bhp. However, despite being mated to a ground-breaking eight-speed automatic transmission and covering 0-62mph in 4.8sec, the IS-F failed to make an impression over its superior German rivals. 

Arguably, Lexus’s finest moment came in 2009, when the Japanese marque heroically launched the LFA supercar amid a global financial crisis and economic uncertainty. 

Costing an eye-watering £343,000 the two-seater LFA supercar had a piercing 552bhp 4.8-litre V10 positioned as far back in the frontal engine bay as possible, to achieve a 48 per cent and 52 per cent front-to-rear weight distribution. The carbonfibre monocoque tub kept the kerb weight pegged at 1480kg, which helped the Lexus LFA sprint from 0-62mph in 3.7sec and onto 202mph, all the while possessing an intoxicating 9400rpm redline.

In 2010, Lexus launched an even more exclusive version – the LFA Nürburgring Edition – with only 50 units produced compared to the 500 of the original LFA. It flaunted a power hike up to 563bhp, re-calibrated gearshifts, lightweight alloy wheels and a large fixed rear wing. The car became the fifth-fastest production car at the time to lap the infamous track which bears its name, when it completed the notorious Nordschleife in 7min 14.64sec.

With Lexus sticking to a naturally aspirated V8 motor for its forthcoming RC-F performance coupé, and expanding its range of hybrid vehicles with the updated CT200h and new RC300h models, can the premium Japanese car maker’s “pursuit of perfection” put the brand on level-pegging terms with its European rivals? We can’t wait to find out.

Aaron Smith

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kcrally 12 April 2014

A battered old Lexus. I do

A battered old Lexus. I do like the hatch version.