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When Toyota's luxury division emerged for 1990, Toyota itself had been marketing cars in the U.S. for four decades. Two Lexus passenger-car models were offered in 1990: a full-size LS 400 sedan and a smaller, midsize ES 250 sedan. Both went through a series of generations, and remain in the lineup today. In between, Lexus broadened its selection of premium automobiles, turning to SUVs, crossover SUVs, and sporty coupes. Lexus also has been a leader in premium hybrid (battery/gasoline) vehicles.
Known for quiet riding, the rear-drive LS 400 would become Lexus's "flagship," turning into an LS 430 as engine size grew for 2001. An eight-speed automatic transmission went into the 2007 LS 460 model, which added a long-wheelbase version.
Lexus's other initial model, the ES 250, was related to Toyota's Camry. Early on, it became the most popular Lexus model. Like the bigger LS, the ES saw a succession of model-designation changes accompanied by engine-size increases, turning into an ES 300, ES 330, and finally ES 350.
Sport and luxury can mix, as demonstrated by Lexus's next products: the 1992 SC 300 sport coupe and a more powerful SC 400 that held a V-8 rather than a six-cylinder engine. Production continued until decade's end.
Sedans can be sporty, too, so for 1993 Lexus was ready with a GS 300 sport sedan. Redesigning for 1998 added a more potent V8-powered GS 400 companion. All-wheel drive became available as part of the 2006 redesign, which changed the V-8 model to GS 430. A year later, a hybrid (battery/gasoline) GS 450h joined the group.
When the time came to introduce its first sport-utility vehicle, Lexus came up with the LX 450, comparable in size to Toyota's venerable Land Cruiser. In fact, many considered it merely an upscale edition of the Cruiser. Redesigning for 1998 changed the model to LX 470, courtesy of a V-8 engine to replace the original six-cylinder. A bigger, 5.7-liter V-8 went into the 2008 LX 570.
Lexus turned toward the crossover-SUV market for 1999 with the midsize RX 300. Crossovers were car-based, and the RX had ties to Lexus EX/Toyota Camry sedans. Redesigning for 2004 as the RX 330 increased overall size, including a bigger engine. A hybrid (battery/gasoline) offshoot, the RX 400h, debuted for 2006.
A new, smaller sport sedan emerged for 2001: the compact IS 300. Redesigning for 2006 gave the IS bigger dimensions and a choice of two V-6 engines. A hotter IS F edition appeared for 2008, with a 416-horsepower V-8. Two years later, a new IS C model featured a retractable hardtop.
A completely different SC model debuted for 2002. Instead of a closed coupe, the new SC 430 had a retractable hardtop. Its tiny back seat was mostly fit for small youngsters.
In 2010, Lexus launched the second generation of its GX 460 luxury utility vehicle. First introduced for 2003, the GX fit between Lexus's car-based RX crossover and the big truck-based LX.
Fully aware of the phenomenal success of the Toyota Prius, Lexus introduced its first "dedicated" hybrid model, the HS 250h, for 2010. Bearing little resemblance to the Prius, the HS looked more like a conventional sedan. A second dedicated hybrid, the compact hatchback CT 200h, arrived for 2011. Meanwhile, Lexus had introduced the world's first V-8 hybrid, in the sizable LS 600h sedan.
Certain early Lexus automobiles were criticized for being essentially upscale versions of comparable Toyota models, which cost significantly less. More recently, differences between the two have grown. Lexus also has launched a number of models that have no Toyota equivalent.