The Lexus UX has positioned Lexus optimally in the compact part of the mid-sized premium brand SUV sector. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the revised version
Ten Second Review
One of the market's most profitable segments at present is that for premium-branded mid-sized SUVs of the more compact sort. Lexus is a late-comer to this sector but in characteristic style, has brought something different to it in the form of this UX model.
The UX competes directly against cars like the Volvo XC40, the Jaguar E-PACE, the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and the Mercedes GLA. The angular Lexus NX, which previously represented the company against rivals such as these, has been repositioned a little further up-market as an alternative to slightly larger medium-sized models (think Audi Q5s and BMW X3s).
So, does the UX stand a chance against such an army of fiercely talented competitors? Well the looks are certainly a little different to what's on offer elsewhere in this sector - and so is the core powertrain, a non-Plug-in petrol/electric hybrid. There's also an alternative UX 300e battery full-electric version available if you want it.
Lexus believes that over 80% of buyers will never have owned one of the company's products before. Will they like this one? Let's find out.
A few engineering changes have enhanced the handling of this revised UX. Steering feel has been improved with a redesigned rigid joint between the top of the steering gearbox mount and the suspension member, plus shock absorber damping force has been re-tuned. The 'F Sport' model now gets standard Adaptive Variable Suspension too. Otherwise, things are as before, which means that all models get 250h badging and use the same 2.0-litre self-charging full-Hybrid petrol engine, with fourth generation Lexus Hybrid technology and 181bhp on tap. So you can't plug it in but you will get exemplary fuel returns, even though this unit has to be had mated to electronic continuously variable transmission CVT auto transmission. It's available both with front-wheel drive and with Lexus's E-Four AWD system. Performance is good enough to take the car to 62mph in about 8.5s en route to 110mph.
Lexus says that particular efforts have been made to reduce any "rubber band" effect in the operation of the hybrid system and transmission, by optimising the level of electric motor assistance and engine rpm to generate a sense of linear acceleration without the engine running at high revs. You'll still feel this issue a little though if you stab your right foot down. Handling's better than you might expect thanks to the impressively stiff GA-C global architecture platform. This model's surprisingly light for a Hybrid too, thanks to weight-saving measures in the body construction, including the use of lightweight aluminium for the side doors, wings and bonnet, as well as a resin material for the back door.
The alternative version of this model is the all-electric UX 300e. This derivative's 54.3kWh lithium-ion battery generates plenty of power - 204hp, with 300Nm of almost instantly available torque which spears you away from rest like a hot hatch. 62mph from rest occupies 7.5s but top speed is limited to 100mph and you can use steering wheel paddleshifters to alter the level of braking regeneration. Driving range is pretty limited though, rated at 196 miles.
Design and Build
Does this look like an SUV to you? For us, it's more of a family hatch than it is any kind of crossover - but maybe that's just the point. Lexus is trying to blur the boundaries here to make movement into this car from, say, a BMW 1 Series or an Audi A3 that much easier. From a stylistic point of view, the Japanese brand says that its aim with the UX wasn't to conform to the established, solid crossover look, but to achieve a strong and stylish silhouette that was more distinctive and dynamic. This design approach can be seen in the way the front and rear wings flare strongly outwards in relation to the car's basic form, which flows out from the lines of the spindle grille to envelop the cabin. At the front, the arrangement of the headlights and the spindle grille are incorporated into a deep, strong shape created by the hood and bumper to try and generate a sense of security. At the rear, a condensed styling treatment contrasts sharply with the flared wings to try and emphasise the UX's crossover qualifications.
The UX measures 4,495mm long, 1,520mm high and 1,840mm wide and has a 2,640mm wheelbase. An 870mm couple distance ensures ample space for rear seat passengers in the surprisingly roomy cabin. The instrument panel has a low, unobtrusive design and the slim A-pillar mouldings have been shaped to improve visibility and give the kind of commanding outward view that is expected of a crossover. The key change made to this revised model lies with the adoption of Lexus' latest multimedia systems, which dispense with the previous much-criticised trackpad for control, using a touchscreen format instead; 8 or 12-inch monitors are fitted, size depending on chosen trim. All have sharper graphics, 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Adroid Auto' connectivity and "Hey Lexus" voice recognition, plus the larger display has built-in navigation.
There's not a massive amount of rear seat room, but a couple of adults will be OK. Out back, the load area isn't huge - it's 791mm long - which means the front-driven version can take up to 320-litres loaded up to the tonneau cover; it's 283-litres with the E-FOUR variant and 367-litres with the UX 300e.
Market and Model
Both front and all-wheel drive versions of the UX 250h, are available and prices start at around £33,500 for the base UX model. An 'F Sport Design' grade has been added to the line-up, so you can have the look of sporty 'F Sport' trim at a lower price. As before, 'F-Sport' and top 'Takumi' variants complete the line-up. The base UX grade features a navigation system, dual-zone air conditioning, full-LED headlights, 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and 17-inch alloys. All UX models get an improved Lexus Safety System+ package of camera-driven kit, which gains 'Intersection Turning Assist' and 'Curve Speed Reduction' as part of a wide range of features.
Key features for the 'F Sport' include an 'F Sport'-themed sporty interior and exterior styling features, including 'F Sport' 18-inch alloy wheels and a front spindle grille, plus F Sport front seats with fabric and Tahara upholstery, pedals and steering wheel in the cabin. The specification also includes rear privacy glass, heated, power-adjustable front seats and a heated steering wheel. The Takumi, named in celebration of Lexus's skilled takumi craftsmen, offers smooth leather upholstery, integrated front seat ventilation, a bespoke Mark Levinson 13-speaker Premium Surround Sound system, a 10-inch multimedia display, a 360-degree camera, a driver's head-up display, a sunroof, a Blind Spot Monitor and a Rear Cross Traffic Alert with braking function system. Premium Pack and Premium Plus Pack options are available to add in more luxury.
If you're interested in the all-electric UX 300e, prices start from just under £43,000 and there's a choice of standard, 'Premium Plus Pack' and 'Takumi Pack' variants.
Cost of Ownership
You might be approaching this UX wanting diesel-style returns from petrol power - and that's pretty much what you get. Let's look at the WLTP figures. Mated to front wheel drive, the Hybrid engine with the front-driven model delivers up to 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 120g/km of CO2. For the E-FOUR AWD version, the figures are up to 47.1mpg and up to 136g/km. As you'd expect, to get the full benefit of the potential efficiency of this Lexus, you've got to do your part as a driver - and that means proactive use of the various modes and systems provided. You'll need to keep a very careful eye on the Hybrid system gauge that replaces the usual rev counter on the dash, making sure that the needle stays as often as possible in either of the blue 'Eco' or 'Charge' zones.
Those in a frugal frame of mind will also want to keep an eye on the various graphical screens provided by the fascia's centre-dash colour monitor. Go to the 'Trip Information' part of its 'Vehicle' section and you'll find under 'Past Record' a screen that graphically shows your success - or otherwise - in terms of recently achieved frugality. Another option on this screen is the useful 'Energy Monitor', there to show at a glance at any time what's charging or being driven by what. The graphics for this are provided in simpler form as one of the selectable settings provided by the central instrument binnacle display screen.
The alternative version of this car is the all-electric UX 300e, which has a WLTP driving range of 196 miles and can be recharged from a 7kW garage wallbox in 7 hours.
You might wonder whether the market really needs another posh little SUV like this Lexus UX, but we would contend that this segment wasn't really complete until this premium Japanese brand entered it. True to form, this Oriental maker is the only one of the established players in this class to offer the option of self-charging full-Hybrid power and that in itself will be enough to garner this UX plenty of sales in a market where plenty of buyers want an alternative to diesel. Obvious rivals offer Plug-in Hybrid technology - strangely lacking here, an oversight that might in future look somewhat short-sighted. If you really must plug in your UX, you'll have to choose all-electric UX 300e variant, but that's pricey and has restricted range.
So the standard UX 250h is the version to choose and if you'd like one, a better comparison point would be with an ordinary Focus-style family hatch rather than with any kind of SUV: this car is a Lexus CT200h replacement in all but name. Think of it in those terms and it makes plenty of sense. As Lexus models tend to do.