Look out. Toyota Motor Corp.'s upscale Lexus Div.'s got it in their collective heads that performance sells. You know what happens when Lexus sets its sights on uncharted territory.

The performance aspect of Lexus' cars has generally been okay, it's just that at Lexus, performance hasn't ever been the real focus.

Now Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes will have to pay attention to their respective and unique franchises on performance, because Lexus is ready to start battling on that turf with a new V-8 - and, well, it's pretty hot.

Nothing was ever wrong with the 4L DOHC V-8 on which Lexus' new 1UZ-FE largely is based; but that engine, until now, was used exclusively in the large LS400 and SC400 coupe, and its 260 hp was merely adequate. And in the high-end luxury league, 260 hp is mild these days.

For 1998, Lexus engineers have taken that basic DOHC V-8 and sculpted in a trick infinitely variable valve-timing system called VVTi (Variable Valve Timing - intelligent). The surgery yields an engine more startlingly transformed than some of those guys in Mortal Kombat: there's now a full 300 hp on tap for the newly revised GS sport sedan, and 290 hp - a righteous 30-hp advance - for the LS400 and SC400. VVTi increases peak torque for the LS/SC400 by a notable 30 ft.-lbs. (41 Nm), for 300 ft.-lbs. (407 Nm) in all, while the engine's new application for the GS line yields 310 ft.-lbs. (420 Nm) of torque.

So there you have it. The velvety driveability of the previous-generation 4L DOHC V-8 is retained, while VVT-i takes care of the heavy-right-foot crowd. Lexus says the GS400 will take down the 0-to-60 mph (0-to-97 km/h) run in six seconds - and that's serious business indeed for a 3,690-lb. (1,674-kg) sport sedan.

Lexus engineers claim VVT-i also actually improves fuel economy by eliminating valve overlap at idle, translating into an opportunity to reduce idle speed. And in the midrange, the ability to increase valve overlap reduces pumping losses on the intake stroke, which of course has a beneficial effect on fuel economy.

Want less emissions? VVT-i handles that, too, because it can increase valve overlap in certain engine speed ranges, forcing an "internal" exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) effect that reduces combustion temperatures and thus oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions.

This engine is techno-slick, as we expect from Lexus (and Toyota). But it's the strapping power and the enhanced speed range in which it's available (beating BMW and Mercedes V-8s and matching Cadillac's formerly class-leading Northstar) that makes Lexus' new V-8 so mesmerizing. This new engine is everything anyone could want in a contemporary luxury/performance V-8.