BY NOW you’ve probably read through our first review of Lexus’ edgy compact SUV, the UX. But in case you haven’t, here’s a quick summary: it drives surprisingly well.
So well, in fact, that one of our first reactions was to think that it would make for quite a decent performance car. Wait, what?
Compact SUVs have long been the antithesis of performance, with versatility and cabin space the things that buyers really want alongside the faux-ruggedness of an SUV bodystyle. The ability to carve up apexes isn’t even a tertiary consideration, let alone secondary.
Yet after flinging a UX 200 down a particularly curvaceous road outside of Stockholm, where Lexus held its global launch even for the UX, it was obvious that Lexus’ first compact crossover had a chuckable and well-balanced chassis, along with direct and accurate steering, two essential attributes for any good performance car.
Big lifts of the throttle combined with some weight transfer to the front makes it rotate quite neatly too, and it feels like there’s the soul of a hot hatch lurking under that heavily-creased metal. Even the CVT, a drivetrain normally hated for its gluggy response and elastic feel, delivers crisp shifts in manual mode that are at least on-par with a conventional automatic for rapidity.
However, when we put the question of whether a high-po variant was in the product plan to the UX’s chief engineer (and Lexus’ executive vice president) Chika Kako, the response was only lukewarm.
“Currently we haven’t considered it,” Kako said through an interpreter.
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“It has potential to have a UX F, but we will think about that,” she continued. “The intent of creating this vehicle is not just to create something that’s accessible or cheap, but to create a vehicle for somebody that really likes the package that we’ve come up with.
“Within those customers, if there are customers that want a super-high performance version of the UX we’ll of course have to study and consider.”
The lack of a performance plan is a shame because, for now, the sportiest model in the line-up is the base petrol UX 200, which has just 126kW and 205Nm at its disposal from a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated inline four. The hybrid UX 250h has 8kW more, but is heavier and not as fun from behind the wheel.
It needs a brawnier powerplant. Mercedes-Benz and Audi each have the GLA 45 and RS Q3, and both are genuinely quick in their own right. Having 280kW and 228kW respectively certainly helps, and the former can hit 100km/h from standstill in 4.8 seconds. That’s not to say that Lexus should aim to equal those numbers, but the UX 200’s 9.2-second 0-100km/h stat doesn’t do justice to the car’s latent talent.
The answer may lie in an unconventional approach: hybridisation.
“We have our F models, and going back to hybrid technology we want to have a more performance-oriented, sporty image of the hybrid technology that we could offer. We can’t talk about what’s going to be next, but that’s something that we want to introduce,” Kako said.
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If that approach was indeed slated for a faster, angrier version of the UX, it would certainly adopt a different strategy to the eco-minded UX 250h.
“With hybrid, having the [electric] motor and how you tune and calibrate that, you can really change the level of dynamics of the car itself. We’re studying right now what’s the optimum way to do that.”
Turning up the wick on the UX would likely necessitate an AWD driveline, and the UX’s all-paw configuration does away with a conventional mechanical connection from gearbox to rear wheels in favour of a rear-mounted electric drive motor. Currently the UX 250h AWD can only produce a maximum of 5kW from its rear motor, but installing something with a lot more oomph (along with a more muscular engine up front) could provide the UX with the numbers needed for performance SUV status.
However it’s all theoretical at this point. Kako counts herself as a driving enthusiast – and the way her latest creation handles is evidence of that – but it seems Lexus is waiting to see if demand is there before it jumps into the hot SUV arena to fight the Germans. Is a Lexus UX F something that would make you sit up and notice?