4L DOHC V-8 All right, we've finally got our arms around the gem-quality Toyota Motor Corp. Lexus 4L DOHC V-8. Here it goes:

Think of some of the existing luxury/sport V-8s out there as representing various members of the Corleone family of Godfather fame. There are very telling similarities that get to the "personality" of V-8s.

The Godfather himself? It has to be BMW's strong, silent and confident 4.4L unit. Like Vito, the BMW V-8 is unassailable in its stature in the market, but a little remote and unobtainable, being that BMW's really jacked up the price recently. The engine everybody else's V-8 wants to emulate.

Then there's Fredo. Always in the thick of the action or making moves behind the scenes, but the chronic underachiever. The personality correlates with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s Infiniti 4.1L DOHC V-8. Undersized and underap-preciated, it still comes from notable stock.

Cadillac's 4.6L DOHC Northstar is the Sonny Corleone of the V-8 market. Brash, hot-blooded, a little rough around the edges - but packing a punch that'll put you on the floor. The Northstar's always been something of a braggart in the market, because for years it's had features - and peformance - that other competitors only now are matching.

Ah, Tom Hagen, the orphan "half brother" taken in by Vito, later trusted with the business of the family business. Probably smarter and more "together" than any of the rest, but ultimately on the outside looking in, never truly one of the family. This one's easy: Audi's unassuming 4.2L all-aluminum V-8. It's always tried to play with the others, but never gets much of a chance. Got better with more displacement and now with five valves per cylinder. Like Tom, a force within limits.

Then there's Michael. Cool and calculating like Vito and Tom - but tragically imbued with Sonny's need for savage release. Power isn't necessarily something he wanted, but now that he's got it, there's a ravenous need to prove he's worthy.

That's the Lexus DOHC 4L V-8 all over. This engine started life in 1990 at 250 hp and its engineers figured that was plenty for a world-class luxury flagship.

But the times changed and competiton got tough - whether they like it or not, the engineers had to summon more power; this engine had to get tougher - yet still never look, or feel, like it's breaking a sweat, because that's always been the underlying philosophy. The goal was to prove that Lexus, a decade after its introduction, is for real - that it's worthy of being discussed with the old-money competition.

At launch, it had deficits: mainly, not enough muscle. A solid first effort for a company without much experience with large-displacement engines, its refinement and NVH package was never in question. Yet stiff competition dictated that the ante be upped, and Toyota engineers threw in their chips, mainly in the form of variable valve timing with "intelligence" (VVT-i), which enabled a solid horsepower increase and a nice plumping of the low- and mid-range torque.

In the decade since Lexus' introduction, this engine has assumed a leadership position. We don't think Toyota ever thought its beautifully well-bred 4L V-8 needed more power, but when it became apparent it had to have it, like Michael, it delivered with a meticulous vengeance.