Smaller and livelier than the RX, will the new UX SUV redefine the Lexus brand?
What we liked:
• Enjoyable performance from UX 200
• Frugal real-world fuel use from UX 250h
• Decent driving dynamics
Not so much:
• Ride on F Sport wheels
• Lack of rear-seat accommodation
• Could be expensive
Unknown quantity hits the right spot
Lexus is shortly to launch its smallest SUV in Australia. Due to go on sale here around November or December this year, the Lexus UX will be available with conventional or hybrid powertrains and in three levels of trim. Both powertrain variants drive through the front wheels, although Lexus will offer buyers of the Lexus UX 250h (hybrid) the option of a low-power electric motor to drive the rear wheels as well.
In a world where consumers are redefining SUVs to suit personal tastes and circumstances, the Lexus UX is the final piece of the small, prestige SUV puzzle.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Volvo and even Infiniti are already selling small SUVs that look more at home in the concrete jungle than in the bush. The Lexus UX is no different in that respect. In fact, it shares more with some of its rivals than with most of its stablemates.
Driving the Lexus UX after a week or so spent with our long-term Lexus RX L highlights the difference in nature between these two SUVs. Whereas the RX L feels like a traditional style of Lexus SUV, the UX is an altogether different beast, starting with the impressive engine powering the UX 200. There’s plenty of performance and a soundtrack that’s a bit raspy, yet still refined. And the sporty note picks up a notch with the powertrain switched over to the Sport modes.
One journalist attending the global launch of the UX complained of the conventional front-wheel drive UX 200 that it was too noisy – which might be a first for a Lexus. But in any case, I don’t agree; the UX 200 is quiet when cruising or driven gently around town.
It’s only when you open the taps that it becomes a bit raucous – yet not so raucous as to deter the driver from taking the engine right up to the redline. Performance matches the engine note too, the UX 200 feeling sprightly from standstill to beyond 60km/h.
At that speed the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) changes mode to a conventional belt-and-pulley system and the engine drones at a steady pace as the UX picks up speed. But prior to that it accelerates with more verve. This is due to the CVT’s additional fixed-ratio (mechanical) first gear and a torque converter in lieu of a clutch, a drivetrain element introduced with the latest Toyota Corolla. In first gear the UX 200 accelerates with the direct, mechanical responsiveness of a manual.
For the short drive program on local roads around the Swedish city of Stockholm, the UX 200 used fuel at the rate of 9.7L/100km. In contrast, the hybrid model, the Lexus UX 250h returned a figure of 5.8L/100km over the same course, but with some slower city traffic affecting the result.
All-wheel drive without the rear driveshaft
The UX 250h sampled was an ‘E4’ model with an electric motor at the rear (producing 5.3kW) for additional traction in slippery conditions. Although the combined output of the Atkinson-cycle engine and the two (three?) electric motors in the UX 250h outstrips the 126kW rating of the conventional UX 200, acceleration lacks the briskness of the front-wheel drive model, but for customers who prefer acceleration to be quieter and smoother overall, the UX 250h is no doubt the preferred option.
Both cars were trimmed to F Sport level, with the same 18-inch alloy wheels and Bridgestone 225/50 RF18 run-flat tyres. In Sports and Sports + modes the steering weight increased, but in other modes the level of assistance lightened the steering, but it remained responsive and reasonably communicative, without any hint of torque steer.
The UX cornered with a reasonably flat attitude, which was some compensation for the underlying firmness in ride comfort – felt especially over speed humps. Smaller bumps were soaked up in a compliant yet controlled way.
Tyre noise was prominent on Sweden’s coarse-chip road surfaces – even freeways – and the production UX may actually run quieter on Australian freeways. For the drive program the two cars tested were pre-production vehicles, which would explain some squeaks and rattles present in the dash.
New interface for infotainment systems
Inside, the F Sport seats were comfortable and secure, with tilt and lumbar adjustment to reach a level of support that will be ideal for most adults. The infotainment screen is relatively large, but the general presentation of the dash and instrumentation is improved from the angular style of older models in the Lexus range. There’s a touchpad in place of the mouse-like haptic controller that has been a fixture in Lexus models for the past decade. Many will likely welcome the touchpad, which is certainly easier to use than the old single-point controller in a left-hand drive car.
Rear-seat accommodation in the UX is barely adequate for adults of average height. Headroom is compromised by the sunroof fitted to one vehicle tested. Without a sunroof headroom is better, but the cant rail is very close to the head when climbing in or out.
Legroom is tight as well, although there’s adequate knee room for adults and passengers can tuck toes under the front seat – they just can’t stretch out as they would in a limousine.
The boot is small, but we’re told there are two load floor options available for different markets. If Australian consumers get the Lexus UX with the low floor, the seats won’t fold down flush with the floor. With the high floor presented in the Swedish test vehicles, a folding lip for the floor drops down with the seat to provide a runner across the gap, making through-loading easier. The low floor is practically ruled out for Australia, we’re told, because the UX Luxury grades will be fitted with space-saver spares – and there won’t be enough room under the floor to accommodate even a compact, temporary-use spare wheel.
Lexus isn’t currently discussing Australian pricing for the UX, and that could be the new model’s undoing. Depending on the premium charged for the hybrid powertrain and the pricing for the three trim levels and options – to say nothing of the starting price for the range – the UX may struggle to match the vaunted opposition from Europe. Those details aside, nevertheless, the UX is shaping up to be a credible entrant in the segment.
How much does the 2018 Lexus UX 200 cost?
Price: TBA, but projected to start from around $50,000 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Safety rating: TBA
How much does the 2018 Lexus UX 250h cost?
Price: TBA, but projected to start above $50,000 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Motor: Two permanent magnet motors
Combined output: 131kW
Safety rating: TBA