"Writer Joshua David Stein thought he was going for a test drive. Instead, he ended up starring in his first film."
Last year Lexus introduced the newest version of its Luxury Coupe, the LC 500. You might recognize the car from its cameos in Black Panther, or in the Super Bowl commercial for the same. But this was before I knew my beloved Eagles would fly victorious or that the movie would be the highest grossing Marvel movie ever. No, all I knew was that Lexus had introduced a new luxury coupe called the LC 500 and for that reason, such is the weirdo state of the universe, the auto industry, journalism, and the shambolic nature of my own life, I found myself on Ibiza, waiting in the shade of a Carrasco tree in a small town on the southern coast. I was in a holding pen, alongside a bevy of P.R. handlers, a guy who runs a Lexus enthusiast blog from his farm in Canada, and a woman offering makeup touch-ups.
The car itself was hidden behind lines of black curtains bisecting the town square. We had been kept in the dark about what the immersive drive experience would be but had been told it involved Mark Ronson, Very Famous DJ and producer. I pondered what the future held for me, noticed a woman speaking into an earpiece—that everyone had earpieces—and was soon told to follow a young clipboard-carrying woman with an English accent. We headed to a pretty white stucco church across the square and she bade me step beyond yet another black curtain on the side of the church.
Lexus is a 29-year-old car company owned by Toyota. The Lexuses–pl. Lexi?—I remember growing up was the Lexus ES, a boxy clean-cut two-toned car I long associated with the families who lived on the other side of Meetinghouse Rd., the nicer part of my neighborhood. Though I was only eight and had not the words for luxury, I knew it was a luxurious thing and belonged to the world of fresh fruit snacks, youth soccer, and sitting rooms where no one sat.
But the car that awaited me on the other side of the curtain was both far more luxurious and far less family-oriented than the Lexi of my youth. The LC 500, which starts around $100,000, represents the apotheosis of the company’s movement from making nice cars for wealthy parents to pick up kids from synagogue in to a high-performance luxury-saturated vehicle with jewel-like detailing. Inside, men and women can speed down the road, feeling edified as they sink into the leather seats, and watch the world blur past them.
I suppose what happened after I pulled back the curtain is at least tangentially related to the luxury and design of the vehicle. In short, I walked into a wedding party full of beautiful people, standing on a veranda overlooking the ocean. A woman gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Hola, Joshua!” she said. Another woman gave me another kiss. “Hola! Bienvenido!” A handsome man led me through the crowd, which numbered around 15-20 people. He was wearing a purple blazer. His blond hair kept from his aquiline face by a man-bun. In his hands, he held the keys to a Lexus. Bemused by the scene in which I so suddenly found myself, I smiled gamely and followed. I noted a camera crew was standing nearby, realized I was being filmed and grew rather sheepish.
The fellow with the man bun led me around the corner, where I saw the LC 500 parked. A word about the car: over the years, it seems to me, Lexus has gotten tighter, sharper, and stronger. The spindle grille, the signature design touch of a Lexus, has become cinched ever tighter at the waist until in this car’s resembles an hourglass. The angles have grown ever more acute and the engines ever more powerful. The LC 500, for instance, is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 engine with 471 horsepower. The design motto, I learned, was, “Even sharper and more refined,” which explains the headlights tilted malevolently forward. At the time, though, I slipped into the driver’s seat and prepared myself for whatever happened next which, as you might imagine, I thought was a drive. However, shortly after shifting into gear, the wedding crowd swarmed the vehicle and performed an elaborate flamenco dance near its bonnet as I watched.
I left, drove a few hundred meters until I came to a speed bump on which two people–a man and a woman–stood. At this point, I noticed the car’s cabin contained no less than two cameras trained at me. The man, who appeared to be wearing an early 1990’s hip-hop outfit, gestured me to stop. But that gesture soon turned into a-poppin' and lockin’ routine. After a few minutes, he returned to the side of the road. I honked appreciatively and drove on.
As I was driving, aware I was being filmed, I noticed the power of the LC 500 and also the pleasure of commanding it. The car has been compared to the Jaguar F-Type and Porsche 911, two luxury coupes with powerful engines. But the LC 500 is a cinched-up futuristic grand touring coupe in the body of a sharp-angled performance car. It’s a car made for life on the road, not just the road itself.
My vaguely technical thoughts were interrupted by the twists and turns of the Ibicencan terrain, the somewhat unsettling thought of what my face looked like at rest (knowing this was filmed) and, suddenly, by a police officer who signaled me to stop. Behind him, a construction crew appeared to be repairing the road. I stopped, knowing this was part of the immersive drive experience but also maybe freaked out that it wasn’t. But I quickly noticed the officer’s uniform was a cheap costume and no sooner had I realized that then the construction crew broke into STOMP-like dance routine.
It was very hot and this crew—indeed all the performers along the route—had been dancing, on cue, every fifteen minutes or so for a few hours a day for nearly a week. These dancers especially, who hauled trash cans and danced in boots, had it the hardest. Nevertheless, they persisted with fan kicks and barrel rolls. The rhythms were compelling and overall effect so pleasingly absurd I drove on with a feeling of intense joy and a little bemusement.
The drive ended at a beach club where I became part of a Busby Berkeley-style dance routine, executed by a troupe of dancers from London masquerading as guests. By this point, my cup runneth over. The sheer effort of the performers had obliterated any sense of ironic detachment. At the beach club, near the water, sat a few of the other journalists who had just emerged from their immersion but we didn’t speak very much of what had just transpired. Each of us, I’m sure, wanted to feel special for only a few minutes longer.
Later that afternoon, we retreated from the jaguar sun in a stunning villa. There was an abbreviated Japanese tea ceremony, meant to communicate omotenashi, the Japanese philosophy of hospitality which has become a large part of Lexus’ brand identity, and lunch with Koji Sato, aka Sato-San, the chief engineer of Lexus.
Then each of us was brought into a smaller villa where an editing console had been set up and wherein sat an audio engineer from London. It was explained to us that we would, with their assistance and the disembodied guidance of Mark Ronson, score the film of our drive using a program called Novation. Ronson had already specially crafted a portfolio of sounds appropriate for the film. He was lurking in the villa somewhere but might stop by. I quickly tried to pervert the process—my irony and crumb-bum cynicism by this time having recovered—by making a horror-soundtrack. “Make it like Dario Argento’s Suspiria soundtrack,” I told my engineer. He was delighted to, and a happy twenty minutes indeed we passed together in that small room.
A knock on the door interrupted our work. Mark Ronson, wearing a festive short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, had arrived. He wafted in, and I said hello, and he said hello back. The engineer and I were quite busy and I was a little abashed at how emotionally and artistically invested I had become. It was, I daresay, good. I had truly become something creative. Noth the engineer and I wanted to finish before the allotted time was up. Ronson suggested we use a little cymbal-heavy drum sample and we agreed. But he, perhaps sensing we were in a fine place, soon let us be.
I emerged from the dark room into a blazingly brilliant afternoon. The woman who had led the tea ceremony having dispatched her duties was playing a heated ping pong match with another audio engineer. Mark Ronson sat in a chair on the second floor of the villa fielding questions from journalists. “What is it about the Lexus LC 500 that you really identify with artistically?” asked a journalist from Estonia. Ronson paused for a moment and responded that it was the attention to detail that resonated so deeply.
I wandered around the villa to the front, where I saw five of the glimmering Lexus LC 500s parked in a row. They were spotless. The darkening sky reflected in the sharp lines of their bodies. Behind each one stood a man in khakis with a chamois, ready to step in if an impertinent piece of dust landed upon the hood. The cars were indeed beautiful. Brilliant metal beasts resting after a long day, they seemed neither bothered by nor unduly excited by the songs and dances which had so recently unfolded before them. I turned back to Ronson, to the villa, to the kimono’d ping-pong player and to the setting sun.
From $92,000; lexus.com.