Dubai, to me, was a place I’d merely fly through, and never to. Its shiny skyscrapers and malls aren’t enough incentive for me. And from all I’d seen and read, I can’t help but think of the city as all consumerist hype and no soul. Kind of like Las Vegas, but even less character.

Then Lexus flew me in for a special guest experience, and I realised there is nothing like Dubai. It is one of the world’s fastest-growing cities by sheer will. It dreamed of being spectacular, and set about to flesh out that dream, which is now a fait accompli.

For a city that didn’t have an asphalt runway until the 1970s, it is remarkable how it has become the jewel of the UAE, defined by luxury and unruly extravagance. The Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world, is a sprawling display of cosmopolitan capitalism, and a stone’s throw away, the Burj Khalifa, is the tallest building in the world (it was eager to beat Taipei 101 to get the title). After you have paid and worn yourself out by the crowds and snaking queues, you soar to the top in possibly the world’s fastest elevator. Who knows? But keep your eyes peeled on the skyline. It is garish and unapologetically artificial, but yet magnificent in its own way.

Who better to explore a city of luxe than with Lexus? The brand likes luxury as much as Dubai, but while Dubai sees luxury only as oil, posh hotels and skyscrapers, Lexus sees it in greater detail – intimate meals, good conversation and the essence of time. The word, “luxury”, has evolved over the years. Living smart and living well are not mutually exclusive. Vince Socco, the executive vice-president of the Lexus Asia Pacific division, shares his love for the brand. “I love how it remains true to its Japanese roots. The spirit of ‘omotenashi’ – Japanese hospitality – permeates every aspect. Together with the sense of ‘takumi’, or craftsmanship, they allow us to bring our passion to life and to exceed expectations.”

Lexus sees luxury in greater detail – intimate meals, good conversation, and time

With competition in the luxury vehicle department ever so stiff, Lexus has aimed to differentiate itself by allowing people to experience the brand beyond its cars. Dropping its former product-oriented tagline, “The Pursuit of Perfection”, the brand is in favour of a more lifestyle approach. Its brand language has become a lot bolder and dynamic, which you can see in the Slide hoverboard and Sport Yacht concepts. You won’t see Lexus entering the boating business, but you get the drift.

Hence, the special guest experience that occurred in mid-October, an all-expenses-paid holiday for its most prized customers (flights not included). “It is more than an event,” Socco continues.

“It is a promise. Since day one, Lexus has committed itself to delivering not only the finest luxury automobiles but also the best ownership experience. This experience was meant to elevate our guests’ engagement with our brand and our cars. It was also designed to underscore the transformation of Lexus from being a luxury automobile brand to becoming a luxury lifestyle brand. We wanted this to be as holistic as possible.”

It isn’t every day that you can run an LS 500 F Sport around a racetrack. Multiple Lexus cars (others included the LS 500h, RC F and GS F) were test-driven around the Autodrome circuit, home to many championships, including the Hankook 24H Dubai endurance race. The rest of the itinerary included a ride in an elevator up the Burj Khalifa (of course), a leisurely boat ride around the Dubai Fountain, a wildlife safari tour and a crash course on how to train a falcon, a bird of prey known to dive at over 320kph.

The trip ended with a beautiful campfire and delicious barbecue in the middle of a desert, with the bonus of shisha, belly-dancing and inebriated men singing along with the jazz band. Lexus spared no expense to pamper us.

But besides the fabulous hospitality, the one thing that stuck was our visit to the Intersect by Lexus, an unassuming retreat that offers guests a sense of belonging and subtly sells the lifestyle the brand embodies. Designed by Masamichi Katayama, the Intersect is not a showroom but serves as a stylish oasis of design, art, literature and surprisingly, good food. Anyone can come here to hang out. Have lunch, purchase an artisanal craft or read one of its many books over coffee, something they are very serious about. A third Intersect will open in New York City this 2018.

Whether it promotes greater brand loyalty remains to be seen. Until then, you must know that I hadn’t given much thought about Lexus before this trip. I now see the brand in a wholly different light. Vince was right about the Japanese hospitality. As far as I’m concerned, that alone explains the essence of luxury.

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