Toyota shows new luxury Lexus sportscar

Toyota chose a swerving Formula One racing course to show its new luxury Lexus sportscar Thursday, to make sure reporters got the message the new IS F model is about revved up engine muscle and the thrill of nimble handling.

Toyota Motor Corp. is planning to sell 7,000 Lexus IS F cars globally a year, about 5,000 or 6,000 in the U.S., 500 in Japan and the rest in Europe.

The 7.66 million yen (US$67,000; EUR47,000) sportscar, which can hit speeds of 300 kph (186 mph), rolls out Dec. 25 in Japan, and in February or March in the U.S., Toyota executive Takeshi Yoshida said.

Reporters were given helmets before getting into the IS F. Then professional drivers took reporters for two laps lasting just a few minutes on the Fuji Speedway race course, reaching 240 kph (149 mph) at one point.

As the sportscar careened to turn sharp corners, reporters swayed in their seats, holding tight, hearing the engine growl at high speeds and sensing the pavement sped by.

Executive Vice President Akio Toyoda, the usually suit-clad grandson of the Japanese automaker's founder, appeared in a black racing outfit and even was one of the test drivers for the event.

Toyoda, who oversees Japanese sales, acknowledged the Lexus needs time to grow into a "premium brand" in Japan, where the nameplate was introduced just three years ago.

"The Lexus must have the emotional factor of being exciting to drive," he said.

The IS F is a more powerful version of the Lexus IS, which is already on sale. The letter "F" added at the end of the IS F stands for "fun" as well as Fuji Speedway, said Toyoda.

Toyota officials said the new Lexus measures up in acceleration and other performance to popular German imports.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova