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Lexus looks to hit Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS and BMW M where it hurts with a naturally-aspirated V8 performance coupe

Lexus, Toyota’s premium car division, will not let the sports car market go. It’s better known for hybrids, SUVs and large saloons in this country, but its ambitions for a lucrative segment have bubbled to the surface in recent years, most obviously in the congenially flawed IS F.

However, it has never really threatened to break the monopoly enjoyed by its mostly German rivals. The RC F, a muscular coupé in the BMW M4 mould, marked the start of a fresh offensive. It was followed by the GS F, a bigger four-door super-saloon.

The RC F's naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 produces 470bhp and 390lb ft

Aside from their badges, the strand linking the two is the engine: an updated derivative of the naturally aspirated V8 petrol engine that gave the IS F so much trouser length.

The choice looks like a strange one. Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche are well into model cycles that place unstinting emphasis on forced induction, typically with fewer cylinders and less displacement.

That Lexus has chosen to buck this trend is partly a function of its global positioning (it is at least as interested in American buyers as it is European ones) and partly due to the faith it has in its own alternative tech, including the unusual use of the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle.

Be that as it may, the challenge facing the manufacturer is not merely one of horsepower or efficiency. There is also the comparative quality of the handling (the IS F’s major failing) and the task of convincing customers that the RC F – and, by extension, Lexus – now has the reputation worthy of an extremely image-conscious end of the industry.

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Without being mentioned specifically, the now-departed LFA supercar, a calculated machine of startling and intoxicating savagery, is the bedrock upon which a superior stature may yet be established. If the RC F proves capable of generating a modicum of that car’s adulation, Lexus will be on the right track.

Lexus RC F First drives