Toyota's luxury car brand, Lexus, is gearing up to launch a swag of new products, including a Mercedes M Class 4WD competitor and a bigger-engined IS sedan.

Toyota's luxury car brand, Lexus, is gearing up to launch a swag of new products, including a Mercedes M Class 4WD competitor and a bigger-engined IS sedan.

The next-generation 4WD RX300, which like the present overseas model will offer V6 power, has been given the green light for Australia and will arrive in late 2002 or early 2003. It is expected to be priced between $60,000 and $70,000.

This five-door wagon will follow an ambitious model expansion plan that will see the company release an all-new flagship sedan late this year, as well as a V8 roadster that will share many of the big car's components, and a 3.0-litre version of the entry-level IS sedan next year.

Also on the model plans for 2001 is a revamped ES300, with the Camry-based sedan to remain the only front-drive machine in the Lexus line-up. It arrives about August.

The more powerful IS300, which packs the 166kW 3.0-litre in-line six from the bigger GS300, will come with a five-speed automatic gearbox only. The engine gives the car a significant power boost over the standard car's 114kW 2.0-litre in-line six. It is expected to be about $65,000 and goes on sale about July.

With the smallest Lexus getting the GS300's engine, it is expected that this car, which is tipped to be redesigned in 2002, will get a larger-capacity six-cylinder engine when it arrives. However, there are no plans to launch the recently-introduced V8-powered version here.

The new Lexus flagship, the LS430 (Japanese market version shown), goes on sale in November and promises to deliver the most significant change to the big sedan since it set the benchmark for refinement and quality back in 1990.

Since then, there have been a series of updates for the LS400 but this latest model, according to the car's chief engineer, Moritaka Yoshida, is all-new and promises to deliver a more sporty drive.

A larger 4.3-litre V8 delivers a little less power (207kW compared with 209kW), but torque is up by a substantial 19Nm to 417Nm. It mates to a five-speed automatic.

The car's styling is new, but unlike the S Class Benz or upcoming BMW 7 Series, the Lexus keeps a rather slabby profile.

Developed in four years, the LS430 has a super-slippery drag coefficient of 0.26 and is said to be quicker to 100km/h than its closest rivals and return better fuel consumption.

Standard features will be impressive, with an electronic card to replace a key, the usual array of airbags and rain-sensing windscreen wipers - but it will be a year before satellite navigation appears.

Lexus claims this is the first car to offer a NOx sensor in the air-conditioning system. It automatically switches the unit into recycle mode when pollutants such as diesel smoke are detected.

Overall, the car is still the same length, but rear legroom has been improved significantly and the boot is much larger than before.

Pricing has yet to be finalised, but expect the base model to be about $170,000. A more luxurious version, complete with a power-operated rear seat and seat ventilation system, is expected to cost about $8,000 more.

Alastair Doak travelled to Alice Springs as a guest of Toyota.