If you’ve never been to a press day at a major auto show but always dreamed of being there for all the big releases and parties and executive speeches, I’m afraid I must burst your bubble: The shows just aren’t all that awesome. This year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit was no exception.
It’s true that there was some fun to be had, but it was mostly the same sort of fun that one has at a high school reunion. I had a blast karting with the Jalopnik crew the Saturday before the show, and I definitely enjoyed hanging out with my friends Matt Farah and Sam Smith late on Sunday. But the show itself was a giant MEH.
BMW launched a car with more letters in its name than most DNA strands. Ford rolled Ryan Seacrest out to read questions from a teleprompter while Bill Ford and Mark Fields read their responses from the same teleprompter, right down to cued laughter. Honda showed off a five-passenger Pilot with a bed. (What? That was a Ridgeline? Well, I’ll be damned.)
In fact, I was pretty much ready to head back to Caesars Windsor to continue my massive Spanish 21 win streak when I remembered that Lexus was going to be showing off some new coupe.
Lexus. Yawn. Okay. Whatevs.
By the time I got to the “Lexus Theatre,” which was really just a sectioned off space in the very back of Cobo Hall, I had no chance of actually getting in — the assembled khaki-and-polo crew was already overflowing out of the area. I was ready to bail on the whole thing when Lexus made an announcement that they’d have some overflow seating in their booth space where we could watch the presentation on video. I decided to head over there, grab about three plates of cheese and Breton crackers, and check out the assuredly boring show.
I mean, come on. It’s Lexus.
But from the moment Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, walked out onto the stage, I knew something was different. First of all, he didn’t introduce himself as the CEO. He introduced himself as “Master Driver,” accompanied by some video clips of what appeared to be Mr. Toyoda himself flogging the hell out of some mysterious whip.
Master Driver, eh? What’s that all about?
He then went on to address the feedback that Lexus received after the last NAIAS, which was largely that Lexus makes “nice, boring cars.” Sounds about right, I thought to myself. I mean, sure, Lexus makes some rear-wheel-drive cars with big horsepower numbers, but nobody ever confuses Lexus with BMW. Lexus’ bread-and-butter has always been front-wheel-drive Avalon copies and the RX line of crossovers. When you think of the stereotypical Lexus driver, it’s hard not to picture a woman in her late 30s with a Kate Spade bag and a “MADISYN CHEER ’19” sticker on the back of her lifted Camry.
Then he talked about the LF-LC concept car, a vision shown at the 2012 NAIAS, which pretty much everybody assumed would never be built. The car was gorgeous, even if it was the most egregious example of Predator Mouth that we’ve seen yet. He reminded us of all this by rolling an LF-LC onto the stage. Toyoda went on to say that nobody thought that Lexus would build such a car, and that people thought that Lexus would always be a safe, boring brand.
Then, he drove a fucking stake into the hearts of all those who dared to hate Lexus.
Enter the LC 500: a rear-wheel drive, 467 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8-powered bullet aimed directly at BMW and Mercedes. And no, it’s not a concept. It’s a production car — one that should terrify every German automaker, and maybe even the pony car stables at Ford and GM. It makes the M2, shown by BMW earlier in the day, look quaint. It was, simply put, the most exciting launch of the show, stealing the thunder of every other automaker in attendance.
And as I pondered the meaning of this new coupe, predicted to be priced right against the AMG and M offerings of the teutonic clans, I wondered if maybe we haven’t been giving Lexus proper credit for a while now. After all, I am not alone in thinking that the IS 350 and its F variants are the best cars in their respective classes. I know that nobody has ever actually seen a GS in the wild, but shouldn’t we have been congratulating Toyoda and crew for having it in the lineup? And the RC is a compelling entry in its own right, especially in F trim.
In a day when BMW, Mercedes, and Audi are trying to be more like Lexus, with expanded crossover entries and front-wheel drive, entry-level cars, shouldn’t we be applauding Lexus for boldly thrusting its middle finger in the air and building genuinely exciting cars, CAFE be damned?
I think we should. I think it’s time that even the most staunch beige-mobile haters grudgingly admit that it’s Lexus and Mr. Toyoda, Master Driver, who have become the best friend an enthusiast could have. At the same show, where nearly all other automakers were slobbering all over the virtual knob of automated cars, Lexus is bringing back cars for drivers. At a show where Ford tried desperately to become some bullshit lifestyle brand, Lexus said, “Nice story, bro. We’re gonna make a better Mustang.”
So to you, Lexus, and to you, Master Driver Toyoda, on behalf of all drivers, I’d like to say one thing.
I probably can’t afford an LC 500 any time soon, but just knowing that you’re making one is likely to ensure that I’ll check out whatever rear-wheel-drive Lexus I can afford when the time comes.
Finally, Snoop will be able to be right. This is a Lexus that flexes, and I think we’ll see it from Long Beach to Texas and everywhere in between.