GOTEMBA, Japan -- I tightened the crash helmet, and they strapped me in. There I sat nervously ensconced in the carbon-fiber cocoon of the No. 51 Lexus LFA racer that I had watched scream around the track in May at the grueling Nurburgring 24-hour endurance race.
Then came the thunderous roar, and I was hurtling through a stomach-churning, back-wrenching, teeth-clenching spin through the Formula One circuit at Japan's Fuji Speedway.
No, I wasn't driving. I could hardly do justice to an engineering tour de force such as the LFA.
Rather, in a push to promote the performance credentials of the Lexus and Toyota brands, Toyota Motor Corp. put journalists in the passenger seat to be wowed by a professional driver in the LFA -- and then let them try out for themselves some sporty new versions of more humdrum Toyota models.
Was it enough to transform Toyota's image of staid utilitarianism into one of exhilarating performance? Not yet, maybe. But it was a step in the right direction.
Toyota is desperate to spice up its reputation and cultivate a fun-to-drive DNA. The Japanese carmaker sees peppier styling and driveability as one way to set it apart from up-and-coming rivals such as Hyundai, which can match it on quality and reliability -- not to mention price.
"We want to offer more cars that are fun to drive and make people think 'Toyota is interesting,'" Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said at the test drive event.
Hence Toyota's rollout of a new lineup of specially tuned cars under the monikers Gazoo Sports and Gazoo Racing Meister of Nurburgring, or GRMN. The aim is to zest up street models with a sense of sportiness derived from Toyota's years of racing at the famed German track.