The Lexus UX excites not just the smallest, least expensive Lexus SUV with the same cool lines, but it’s also built with the competition in mind
Photos: Lexus, Derryn Wong
The Lexus UX is the Japanese luxury brand’s first small SUV ever. We recommend you read our quick-n-dirty guide to the what, when, how, and how much, of the UX and watch our walkaround video below to get a quick orientation on what it’s all about, before delving into the review here.
That’s what Lexus is doing now, having gone from ‘we sell really refined cars’ to ‘we sell experiences’, and with the UX it’s not just entering a new segment, but also targeting its youngest demographic to date.
There are two big questions that will define the fate of the Lexus UX.
The first, and the one which will be answered right now, is: Can Lexus make a convincing compact car to set the loins of young (or young-ish) car buyers alight?
A long look at the UX is almost enough to answer ‘yes’, since it’s arguable that crossovers live and die almost by their looks alone.
When it comes to design, the UX isn’t just alive, but kicking too. Lexus has been grabbing eyeballs with its design chops as of late, and its knife-edge, angle-fest SUV are arguably even more flamboyant than cars like the RC coupe.
Proportions-wise, the UX isn’t as tall as a regular SUV, in fact it has more of a slender, shoe-like profile compared to a boot-like one. In fact, at first glance it reminded us of the first BMW X1, a car later revealed by Lexus engineers as one of its benchmark competitors.
The result is a the razor-sharp, futuristic RX/NX style wrought small, with the riot-of-angles muscularity, gaping spindle grille, slender and triangular LED headlights. It also looks particularly interesting in dark green (Terrane Khaki Metallic).
Where the lines differ slightly are around the rear, where the L-shaped tail-lamps stick out into the wind (they actually reduce aerodynamic drag) and combine into a single, full-width lightbar, something of a recent trend, as seen on the Porsche Cayenne and Audi A7.
Inside, the cockpit is reminiscent less of the RX and NX and more of the IS sedan: The layout is very driver-focused, with the console angled towards you, with an ensconced feeling rather than the typical roominess of a crossover.
Again, unlike other small luxury crossovers, there’s little evidence of cost-cutting here, it simply looks as if Lexus took a shrink-ray to a bigger Lexus’ cockpit. The materials and hand-feel are at the same high level, and it’s particularly visible in the beautifully-patterned fabric trim panel, and blue upholstery.
A 10.3-inch infotainment screen is standard on all Singapore-bound UXs bound to the love-or-hate Remote Touch control system that’s easy to use – it’s essentially a laptop-style touchpad – though sometimes hard to be precise with.
One new addition is audio/radio controls that are now integrated into the handrest, which is quite useful as you can skip track, change mode or volume entirely by touch, negating the need to take your eyes off the road.
The 7.0-inch TFT instrument display is another nice touch, one that you currently won’t find on other luxury crossovers.
Naturally the Luxury model as driven here has more niceties (climate seats, Mark Levinson sound system, surround view camera) than the base Executive model, though final equipment specs are to be confirmed.
On the safety front, an impressive eight airbags will be offered on all UXs, along with the Lexus Safety System+, comprising of adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and Pre-Collision System that detects pedestrians and bicycles.
Cost aside, that does reflect quite a healthy list of standard equipment for Singapore’s UXs.
On the move the UX feels larger than it really is, like the closely-related C-HR with its bulging fenders and smaller greenhouse, though the Lexus has the edge in visibility and less claustrophobia thanks to larger windows all around.
The room in the rear isn’t huge, if you have giants over 1.9-metres occupying the front seats there is scant legroom for those in the back, but average-sized people will be fine, and ferrying four adults is well within reason.
Notably, the UX has much less boot space than other luxury crossovers, at 270-litres it’s almost half as capacious as the X1’s boot, and has about as muich space as a compact hatch. So those who carry bicycles or larger objects will definitely have to fold the seats down.
The ‘but’ is that Singapore’s cars, with the 18-inch standard wheel size, ditch the spare wheel for a repair kit, and that frees up some room beneath the rather large underfloor storage.
The foldable tonneau cover (above) is also a relative delight to use, compared to rigid-locking ones which are heavy, and scratch the interior plastic.
The UX has a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine with a CVT.
To those used to turbo torque and instant-go gearboxes, that’s not good news, but again, Lexus has tempered the UX with a new approach while preserving its ‘classical’ methods.
With a claimed thermal efficiency of over 40 percent, Lexus sets it up to be one of the most efficient gasoline engines around, and yet, it’s not short on power too with a meaty 171hp peak.
Drivers can tune the experience with the LC-derived mode switch located above the wiper stalk – Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+ – and even in its most aggressive setting, the power delivery is almost pure smoothness.
In the past, it would tend towards the docile, boring scale, and that would be down to the soul-sucking nature of a CVT, but the CVT in the UX 200 is a special one.
Dubbed Direct Shift CVT, it has a conventional torque converter and single-speed planetary gear that’s used for take-off and acceleration, after which it hands over to the CVT.
Lexus says this helps reduce the rubber-band feeling while acceleration, and also allows the CVT-section to be lighter and more reliable as it has to handle less high torque forces.
It doesn’t magically endow the UX with turbo-like forward shove, but there’s an enjoyable directness that’s not present on a conventional CVT, while still preserving that inherent easy-to-emulate-a-chauffeur Lexus character.
The handling supports that too. The UX hasn’t got the jackrabbit feel of the BMW X2, but that’s likely because such an approach might be too undignified for a Lexus.
It’s surely more of a cool crossover, rather than hot hatch, and while we would have liked a little more steering feedback, the UX does very well on twisty roads, we could soon place our tyres with good accuracy, despite the feeling of largeness it delivers from behind the wheel.
One disappointment that stands out is the amount of road noise we encountered – above 50km/h it’s noticeable and you have to raise your voice a little to speak, which isn’t something we can say about almost any other Lexus.
The consolation here is the the competitors are typically no less noisy, and are worse in other areas (engine vibration, wind noise) so on a segment-level view, it’s still decent.
And where the UX has a definite advantage over them is in our personal crossover bugbear: Ride quality.
Sweden has excellent roads far better than Singapore’s, but we did find segments of rough, Lion-City-like tarmac and drove them repeatedly at speed. The UX is very much like its bigger brothers here, shuffling bumps away with imperious ease, and not wallowing into depressions either.
In fact, if there was a little less tyre noise in the cabin, the UX would be a luxury limousine amongst small crossovers in refinement terms.
From the number of new additions paired with classic Lexus traits, it’s quite clear Lexus is pushing a unique experience here for drivers to savour, but with a twist.
The UX is a car that makes big contrasts to the competition, but doesn’t pretend they don’t exist.
It’s certainly attractive enough to its target audience (Lexus says younger families or couples, but with crossovers this popular nowadays it’s basically anybody with a pulse) and like other small luxury SUVs, it has compromises, but they aren’t deal-breakers.
The second question, and one that can’t be answered yet, is how much is the UX going to cost?
Obviously the base UX 200 Executive model will be the prime mover, as the least expensive version. Borneo Motors hasn’t released pricing details yet – the car will debut at the 2019 Singapore Motorshow, but Lexus Asia vice-president David Nordstrom has promised ‘extremely competitive’ pricing for the car.
Lexus has gone from ‘making really, really refined cars’ to ‘delivering unique experiences’, and if the price is right – i.e. less than its competitors’ – then the UX will be first modern Lexus to push that to the masses.
Lexus UX 200
|Engine||1,987cc, inline 4|
|Power||171hp at 6600rpm|
|Torque||205Nm at 4800rpm|
|Gearbox||Direct shift CVT|
|Fuel Efficiency||5.7 L/100km (estimate)|
|VES Band / CO2||TBC / 134g/km (est.)|