Across the automotive industry, one trend has become crystal-clear in recent years: not having a robust range of SUVs is tantamount to commercial suicide. Moreover, smaller SUVs, in particular, have enjoyed the greatest fortunes, with ever-increasing volumes of car buyers opting for high-riding – though not necessarily spacious – crossovers, instead of conventional hatchbacks.
Video: 2019 Lexus UX preview drive
Henceforth the Lexus UX has burst onto the scene, and it's a landmark model for the Japanese brand that should - if the company's read on the market is correct - allow it to tap into the swelling demand for city-friendly SUVs.
What is it?
It's Lexus’ first-ever compact crossover, and an SUV alternative to the slow-selling Lexus CT hatchback that serves as the Japanese brand’s entry-level model. Sharing its underpinnings with Toyota’s C-HR but using larger and more powerful engines, the UX is engineered to be more carlike than most SUVs, while still possessing an air of ruggedness.
How much is the Lexus UX?
Pricing for the UX begins at $44,450 for the entry-level UX 200 Luxury, which is powered by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine and drives the front wheels.
The higher-spec UX 200 Sports Luxury retails at $53,000, while the sports-styled UX 200 F Sport costs a little more at $53,450.
Opting for the 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain of the UX 250h adds $3500 to those price tags. Want all-wheel-drive? It’s only available on the UX 250h hybrid, and at $61,000 for the UX 250h Sports Luxury AWD and $61,450 for the UX 250h F Sport AWD, ticking the box for four-wheel traction comes at a significant impost.
Who is it for?
Lexus says it’s intended for ‘Urban Explorers’, but more realistically the UX range is more likely to find favour with those buying their first luxury vehicle, as well as older folks looking to downsize from a larger car. As a small SUV it’s not intended for those with families – that’s the function of the larger Lexus NX and Lexus RX.
Is the Lexus UX easy to live with?
The UX resides on the smaller side of the small SUV category, with a silhouette that’s more car-like than wagon-like. Rivals like the Volvo XC40 and BMW X1 feel significantly roomier, but if all you’ll be carrying is just yourself and maybe one passenger, the UX is ideally suited. The front seats have lots of adjustment, the steering column adjusts electrically (unheard of in this segment) for reach and rake and all controls fall easily to hand.
The high-set centre console also imparts a sportscar ambience, and the cabin finish is impeccable. The paper-like texture on the dash trim is an especially nice touch, leather quality is superb in the Sports Luxury and F Sport, and there’s a broad range of colour configurations to choose from – especially if you spring for the Sports Luxury or F Sport grades.
Equipment levels are also generous. Few of the UX’s rivals are as well-equipped, and the Lexus UX Sports Luxury boasts some segment-firsts like a head-up display, power-adjustable steering column, cooled front seats.
A 10.3-inch widescreen infotainment display with sat-nav is standard across the range, too, and a power-operated tailgate and wireless charger are standard in all models bar the base Luxury grade (and can be optioned in that model if you so wish).
It really only begins to come undone once you start to demand more versatility from the interior. The rear seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, but legroom and headroom are limited. The boot is also minuscule for an SUV, and the high floor can make it a chore to load heavy or cumbersome objects. There is at least a sizable area under the boot floor to make use of, but most competitors easily eclipse the UX for cargo capacity.
How well does the Lexus UX drive?
In short, the Lexus UX drives very well, especially in petrol UX 200 guise. Power and torque are modest for the segment, but the CVT automatic extracts the best from that engine while also feeling a lot more natural than those types of automatics tend to feel. There can be a momentary indecisiveness when taking off from a standstill on an incline, but generally, the UX 200 makes driving a very simple act.
Ride and handling are also great. Even on the bigger 18-inch wheels and lower-profile run-flat tyres of the Sports Luxury, there’s only a mild sensitivity to small bumps that might irritate on long journeys. Otherwise, it does an admirable job of smoothing out the road and delivering a drive that’s typically Lexus: fuss-free and comfortable.
As a first effort for a small SUV, the Lexus UX is a convincing proposition. It’s a lot more resolved and satisfying to drive than, say, Lexus’ own NX, and shows the way forward for the brand in general in terms of design and fitness for purpose.
Yes, the versatility criteria could be better catered for, and several direct rivals show up the UX in that regard, but Lexus is banking that small SUV shoppers won’t be as perturbed by things like boot capacity as those looking into midsize and large SUVs... and to be honest, they’re probably right.
When it comes to quality, driveability, eye-catching design, equipment fit-out and front-cabin comfort, the UX has all the right ingredients. Whether the practicality shortfalls will penalise it is up to the market to decide.