They Gave Me a Lexus for My Birthday! A day in the life of an automotive journalist

The following was written in late 2013 as a sort of introduction piece for a planned e-book about automotive journalism that never came to fruition. The book was to be a collaborative effort, but was eventually scrapped (for the time being) due to time constraints and the like. I thought I’d publish it here for your amusement. A lot has happened in the intervening time, including boosts to my own career, the cop mentioned in the story moving on to another town, and model years have progressed to 2015. C’est la vie. 🙂


January 7 was my birthday and I’m an automotive journalist. For the week around my birthday, I’ve been test driving a 2014 Lexus RX350 F-Sport. The fact that I got a Lexus instead of, say, a Yugo on my birthday week is actually just the luck of the draw.

The following, though, is a typical run-down of the kind of things that happen for an automotive journalist on a typical day. Or at least that happen to this one on his typical day. Your mileage may vary.

In the morning, I removed car seats and various odds and ends from the Toyota RAV4 that had been my test vehicle the week before. After quickly giving it a once-over with a vacuum, wiping the seats, and once more checking the cubbies and storage spots for errant items, I sat in the driver’s seat for the last time and maneuvered the car to a position where the lighting inside was good enough for a quick shaky-cam film for I did a seven minute interior review of the RAV4, snapped a final photo of the dashboard to record the odometer reading to calculate mileage for the week’s test drive, and left the engine running and seat warmers on as I watched the rough video to be sure it was good enough for use.

Just then, a brand new 2014 Lexus RX-350 F-Sport pulled in front of the house. I left the Toyota and walked to the delivery driver from Automotive Media Solutions, a company that represents several automakers in the Rocky Mountain area. They’re nice people and always appreciate that I return the vehicles clean and (on cold days like this) warmed and ready to go. We swapped keys talked for a few minutes as I inspected the new vehicle and he checked the old one, then shook hands and the RAV4 was no more.

On this day, we had appointments in town (where I live, everything is roughly 40 miles away). I grabbed my camera and jumped in the Lexus to quickly drive it to a good location for some interior photos. I usually do this as the cleanest point in the interior’s time with me will be the moment the car arrives (after a detail from the media company) and the moments before they come to retrieve it from me. I took some quick shots and got what I needed, then went back home and installed the towels, car seats (I put towels across the seating in these cars because we have toddlers), put my tripod in the trunk, added a few hand towels (for detailing if a photo op appeared) and a couple of water bottles and then went into the house to retrieve the family.

About an hour later, we pulled into a parking lot for our first appointment. This is what went through my head:

Wow, check that out, a 1990’s Camry. That’s the era that poured the concrete around the “boring car-ified” reputation they’re still trying so hard to shed. Ooo, a Dodge Dart Rallye in that badass incandescent green they have. Love that. Hey, a parking spot. Oh wait, it’s next to a 1980’s DGAF pickup. Move along, don’t want to scratch up the Lexus on the first day. There’s a spot next to a Caddy. Perfect. Love that horizontal wedge they’re going with on the nose. Great look.


Later as we drove around town, headed for the drug store, my wife commented on the car we were in.

This is a really nice car. Too bad it’s so expensive. The RAV4 had a nicer dashboard, though. Roomier. This is a lot better than the red one we had a few weeks ago, though. What kind of Consumer Reports rating does this Lexus get? Lexus is Toyota right?

Oi. Sometimes the toughest thing about being a “car guy” is that most of the people around me aren’t car geeks. Not to pick on my wife, of course, as she’s not even close to the worst of them.

Later on, we parked at another lot, this one where my wife had an appointment that would last about an hour. The kids were fast asleep in their car seats behind us. “I’ll just go in,” she said.

I sat in the Lexus and quietly busted out the owner’s manual. It was the size of a Tolstoy novel. I flipped through.

Luxury cars, if you don’t know, aren’t really about the powertrain, the warranty, the EPA ratings, or any of that stuff. Most of the things we automotive journalists generally think about when we’re taking a first look at a consumer-ready vehicle are irrelevant when you step up into the posh realm of the luxury automotive market.

In luxury autos, it’s all about details. You’re not paying for a better engine, faster transmission, more plush seating (any more), or bigger headlights. You’re paying for the tiny details that took the car from boilerplate up to the penthouse: the thoughtful placement of extra storage spots, the plush fittings and the more carefully chosen ergonomic treatments. In short, you’re paying for the finer things that cost too much, in terms of workmanship and time, to be put on a run-of-the-mill factory line vehicle.

I fiddled with the joystick for the infotainment system and got used to how it worked, and toyed with the various controls and switches located throughout the driver’s cockpit to familiarize with their use as I referenced the fat book in my lap.

My wife returned and from there, we drove home and I pointed out of some of the cool stuff I’d discovered while my wife had been gone. She pretended to be impressed and interested. Then the kids started to stir, so we put their Jammy Jamz CD back into the player and swayed to the instrumentalized, elevator version of 18 and Life by Skid Row as I half-mumbled the words, piloting the car home.

2013RAV4-Aaron-JeffHalsey-AOA-300x200That evening, I ran down to the convenience store for some caffeine (writers, by and large, are generally stimulant addicts) and saw a friend in the parking lot. She was in a car I hadn’t seen her driving before, a Chrysler 300C.

“Hey, sweet,” I said, indicating the car.

“Ya, it’s my son’s new car. A 2005. He bought it yesterday.”

“Nice. I’ll have the 2014 at the end of the month if he wants to check it out,” I said. “That is Chrysler’s best of the best when it comes to big luxury cruisers,” I said, pointing at the white car in front of me.

“Yes, I really like it, but I will stay with my Cadillac,” she said. She drives a 1990s era Cadillac that may not be pretty on the outside, but is a serious land  yacht of comfort when you’re inside. “What’s that you have now? It’s pretty.”

“A Lexus RX-350 F-Sport. It’s pretty high falutin’.”

“No doubt. The mirrors just folded! That’s cool.”

The town cop approached just then.

“Hello, officer. Am I being detained?” I asked, squinting at him.

“No, citizen,” he laughed. His name is Robert. It’s our standard greeting. “Nice Lexus. This the new one?”

Ahhh, yes. A fellow car nut. The hood would be open in no time..

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