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The Genius Of Lexus: ‘License to Thrill’ A Must See

Are test drive races the future of selling cars?

Audrey Davis
October 18 2021

Have you ever thought you might make a great professional driver? 

It’s an idea that’s crossed all of our minds, whether we’re nailing a tricky turn or playing Forza online. But few expect that their racing dreams could actually become a reality – after all, even an amateur competition can require a large investment – not to mention raw skill. But what if automakers have been missing an opportunity to scratch that racing itch on a smaller scale? After all, there’s a reason why dealerships let you test drive your car before purchasing. So, is there a way to harness the excitement of a test drive while also turning it into a racing experience? 

Lexus is hoping you noticed that they raised the hood by nearly two inches: Lexus/Facebook

Lexus seems to have some answers to this question. Just about every brand these days is making ads promising drivers “high performance,” but Lexus has kicked things up a notch, creating an amateur racing competition that features the new Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance. The race, which Lexus has dubbed License to Thrillwas comprised of 14 auto enthusiasts who competed for a chance to own the new 2022 Lexus IS 500 before it hits the market. The whole event was captured in a promotional documentary of the same name, and it’s surprisingly watchable, given its very corporate origins. It might be worth considering if this is the future of marketing cars.  

A race for the chance to own one of these beauties: Lexus/Twitter

Practically speaking, Lexus probably can’t get away with making this big a fuss over all of their new cars, but the IS 500 seems worthy of a little fanfare. Its naturally aspirated V-8 is a throwback to older, noisier sports sedans, while still sticking to the comfortable, laid-back luxury that Lexus is known for. The amateur racers in the documentary seem genuinely enthused by it, although the presence of Lexus IMSA drivers Townsend Bell, Jack Hawksworth, and Aaron Telitz might’ve been a part of that excitement as well. And, although none of the drivers were able to come close to Bell’s two-minute three-second lap around the test track, there were still some impressive qualifying times. The eventual winner, Mike Pappas, qualified for the final lap with a two-minute and 15-second time that improved by three seconds in the finals, with two runners-up nipping at his heels. The slowest drivers, who were eliminated in the first of the competition’s three rounds, were all about 15 seconds behind their speedier competitors. 

The winners’ podium of ’License to Thrill’: Jalopnik/Twitter

And sure, this type of marketing campaign might not be right for the Honda Civics and Toyota Camrys of the world. But for a brand like Lexus, which is known for luxury but not always performance, it’s a stroke of genius. By offering enthusiasts early access to the IS 500, Lexus could be creating lifelong devotees, all while promoting a car that definitely deserves its fair share of buzz.



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