The Lexus UX is bold new ground for the Japanese luxury brand, as it’s the first small SUVs the brand has ever made.
In fact, in its three decades, the brand has only made one other small car. That was the now out-of-production CT 200h hybrid hatchback, which didn’t fare too well here due to its less popular body style, pricing, and less than favourable legislation under the old CEVS law.
The UX looks far more promising as it ticks those three boxes where the poor CT struck out thrice. But the UX should also come as no surprise, since the brand has also undergone a wild transformation in recent years and is no longer Your Dad’s Lexus.
Lexus has already successfully spanned the high-performance divide with its F-badged cars, such as the wildly-entertaining RC F and GS F, offering strong competition to the Germans that are full of Lexus-specific character.
But small cars are even tougher competition and it’s not simply enough for Lexus to make a also-ran small SUV. Luckily, the UX is not.
First look at the UX shows a car that’s surprisingly small, something that’s to be expected since size-wise, it’s two steps down from the classic Lexus SUV, the RX. Even more appealing is the fact that starting from $153k with COE, it costs almost half as much.
At 4.5-metres long, 1.84-metres wide, and 1.52-metres tall, the UX is in the same ballpark for small luxury SUVs such as the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, though it’s closer to the latter in terms of profile – the BMW has the classic tall SUV stance (1,598mm tall) compared to the sleeker GLA (1,498mm) and UX (1,520mm).
As Chief Engineer Chika Kako told CarBuyer at the international debut of the UX, this has been done deliberately, as the UX is aimed at younger drivers and those with small families, and the emphasis is on style and drivability rather than off-road image and huge space.
If you count your car-buying dollar on visual impact though, the UX doesn’t disappoint. The super-frowny-riot-of-angles Lexus face is present in full bloom, and the funk factor is enhanced by the crossover styling in the form of the wide, contrast fenders.
Another nod to fashion is the unique rear end: like the new Porsche Macan there’s an attention grabbing, full-width lightbar on the rear end capped by fin-like projections, which lends an air of coupe-ness to the appearance. Though Lexus, quite refreshingly, doesn’t loudly market it as such, that makes the BMW X2 the prime competitor for the UX.
Referencing Toyota’s own C-HR (‘Coupe – High Rider’) and you have another link, as the UX shares much of its underpinnings with the Toyota C-HR, both utilising the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA), but like the link between the Lexus ES and the Toyota Camry, the two cars offer entirely different experiences.
Not every luxury carmaker bridges the small-to-big divide with equal aplomb, but the plush interior of the UX shows quite clearly that you’re not just paying for the badge.
There’s classic Lexus quality everywhere you look and touch, from the soft leather of the sport seats, to the sleek click of the switchgear, the pleasing heft of the gearshifter, or the takumi-made textile trim on the dashboard.
You can really see the driver centric slant in this photo of the UX’s cockpit
The Lexus Remote Touch infotainment system has a generous 10.3-inch screen, and while its scrollpad might appear less sophisticated than a rotary controller, with a simple point and click concept, it’s probably the easiest infotainment system to use.
Boot space is small, at 271-litres, though there is a deep, multi-compartment space below the floor. The seats fold down for additional space, but the aperture isn’t huge – this is not the car to get if you carry multiple bicycles around on a regular basis.
Four adults will fit with decent comfort, though the middle seat of the rear bench is best for short trips only – that firms up the idea that the UX is aimed at younger couples who would have otherwise bought a 2+2 coupe.
The cool thing is, the driving experience backs that up: Beneath the guise of an SUV lies a small Lexus that is actually quite a ball to drive, in a big contrast to its appearance.
Drive it gently, and the UX is very much Lexus as we’ve always known it. The new 2.0-litre is ultra-smooth, at low speed it almost feels like you’re driving a hybrid, there is almost no wind noise to speak of, and the whole experience is one where you don’t feel inclined to rush anywhere at all.
We’re sad it still has classic crossover foibles, the CarBuyer bugbears of jiggle from the suspension, and obvious tyre roar. While we find this less than acceptable, it seems buyers of crossovers, even luxury ones, have no problem with this as a whole.
Press on and you’ll discover a deeper side to the UX, one that has no trouble with high speed, actually encourages you to have fun behind the wheel.
The smooth engine transitions into a zingy high-revver, delivering transparent, unflagging power almost to the redline. While there is a CVT gearbox, it’s the new DirectShift tech – basically an automatic and CVT combined – so there’s little of the CVT dragginess, and the virtual shift points (there are 10) even hold the revs in satisfying manner without short-shifting early.
With 170hp on tap, the UX is rapid rather than gut-punching fast, and while you probably wouldn’t take it to a track day, it feels like it would be quite at home on a challenging B-road drive.
It backs up the driver-centrism of the cockpit, with the whole control surfaces canted toward you, the mode switch and ‘DSC Off’ knobs are, like in the uber-sexy LC 500 coupe, perched atop the instrument binnacle which itself features a big, sporty rev counter in its 7.0-inch display.
In other words, Lexus didn’t just make a small SUV that looks like it should, there’s considerable depth to the UX as well, one that embodies all the lessons that New Lexus has learnt, including an element of proper driving fun in a luxurious package.
Speaking of packages, the car driven here is the Luxury variant, which represents a S$10k premium over the base Executive model for including leather upholstery, memory settings for the seats, a blind spot monitor (with rear cross traffic alert) and panoramic view monitor. (below)
The Executive model is plenty generous with features already though including an electrically-adjustable steering wheel, cooled seats, Mark Levison sound system, and the Lexus Safety System (adaptive cruise control, auto e-brake, lane keeping) as standard. These are things that are rarely standard issue in the UX’s German counterparts.
Making the UX’s case stronger is the fact that it’s priced very competitively and comes with a long list of standard equipment that makes it nicer to live with and safer to drive as well. The only thing luxury crossover buyers need to bear in mind is the relatively small boot size.
In stark contrast to its small car predecessor, the UX pulls off the difficult task of channeling the best parts of classic Lexus into a appealing and fashionable crossover body.
In fact we’d go one further and say it’s the most accessible Lexus model ever made. With the UX, Lexus goes small in a very big way.
Lexus UX 200 Luxury
|Engine||1,987cc, inline 4|
|Power||170hp at 6600rpm|
|Torque||205Nm at 4400rpm|
|Gearbox||Direct shift CVT|
|VES Band / CO2||B / 132g/km|
|Price||$162,800 with COE|