The marque: Nowhere to Mercedes rival in one leap.

The history: Americans like big European cars with a quality feel. Toyota spotted this, knew all about quality, studied the competition and created its own luxury brand. Out of nothing. Just like that.

The result, in 1989, was the Lexus LS400. It looked a little Merc-like, had a V8 engine so smooth you could balance a coin on it at idle, and cosseted its occupants in luxury. The shiny wood was from Yamaha's musical instruments division, the switches set new standards of accuracy, the luminous dials were fascinating. It was good to drive but -- amazingly -- some critics found it too quiet.

The Americans loved it and bought hundreds. Toyota then set up the Lexus brand in Europe, where it has had a harder time over sales but still gained instant credibility.

We have seen several LS generations, plus the sportier GS, the IS and the 4x4 RX, all badged as Toyotas in Japan.

Defining model: The first LS400. It set the template.

They say: Luxury and elegance.

We say: Adored by Americans, ignored in Europe.

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