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Lexus racing to the hot rod league

Other brands before it have taken on a sideline of “hero car” models where sports looks and high performance earn the brand extra status.

Lexus can make this move with justification: Lexus cars do race in various categories overseas, including at the famed Japan Fuji Speedway. And it's that first letter, F, that will mark the Lexus premium performance vehicles.

First car in Australia, in about a year, will be the IS-F based on the existing compact IS250 which now has a 2.5-litre V6 engine delivering 153kW of power.

The IS-F hot version will be aimed at European performance sedans.

There's even talk of it running a five-litre V8 of 300kW, an eight-speed transmission (from the LS460 flagship saloon, perhaps) and limited slip differential to get better power to the ground. Lexus Australia manager John Roca says the IS-F signals the expansion of the Lexus range outside its traditional luxury-vehicle segment.

“This IS-F is the embodiment of performance,” he says. “Just by looking at the vehicle, you know that it is something special. It will be the ultimate in performance cars and Lexus's first performance-specific model.”

Lexus sister brand Toyota is about to release its performance version here, the TRD Aurion - the V6 has been supercharged to give a predicted 235kW of power.

Holden performance arm HSV is doing well in sales while Ford has its Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) and Mitsubishi is preparing a supercharged 380 V6, with 230kW of power being suggested.