lexus
lexus

Lexus UX: Familiar territory

Riley Riley

svg%3E

What is it?

It’s been a couple of years since we last drove the Lexus UX, a compact SUV in name that sits not much higher than the hatch it replaces.

It all looks and feels very familiar which suggests not much has changed in that time, but let’s find out.

Hang on, that’s right – there’s now a fully-electric version (but it’s not the one we’re driving here).

Launched here in 2019, the front of the SUV is dominated by what Lexus calls its prominent ‘spindle’ grille.

At the rear the tail lights are joined like Soobies of old, with a strip of 120 LEDs across the back and there’s the obligatory grey plastic cladding to define its off-road status.

It would look a hell of a lot classier if it was painted.

svg%3E

What’s it cost?

Prices start from $44,445 for the UX 200, with a 2.0-litre, non-hybrid, two-wheel drive Luxury grade.

The hybrid two-wheel drive starts from $52,025, all-wheel drive hybrid from $63,600 and fully-electric model from $74,000, with a variety of enhancement packs available.

The small difference in price between some grades is a curious thing, particularly the gap between F-Sport and Sport Luxury grades — at only $500.

Standard equipment includes faux leather, two-zone climate, power adjustable steering column, leather accented steering wheel and shift lever, heated front seats with 10-way driver and 8-way passenger power adjustment.

There’s also 17-inch alloys, smart start, LED head and tail lights, all-speed active cruise control, automatic high beam, road sign assist, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, auto lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors.

The list continues with 7.0-inch driver information display, tyre pressure monitoring, a rear spoiler and an alarm system.

Sports Luxury adds larger 18.0-inch alloys, leather accented upholstery, ventilation for front seats, tri-beam LED headlights, power tailgate, adaptive high beam and wireless phone charging.

Infotainment consists of a 10.3-inch infotainment screen, eight-speaker audio system, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, AM, FM, DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the Lexus App Suite (as well as retaining a CD player).

The standard eight-speaker system features bamboo charcoal speaker diaphragms that reduce mass and deliver natural-sounding voices and improved mid-range sound.

There is also a centre-dash tweeter, 16cm subwoofer mounted in the luggage area and a powerful amplifier.

Sports Luxury gets the you beaut Mark Levinson premium surround system, with a  13-speaker array, low-distortion 668 watt Class D 8-channel amplifier, Quantum Logic Surround Sound and ClariFi 2.0 technology – to deliver an immersive concert-like sound experience.

There’s one 12 volt power outlet and dual rear-seat USB Type-C ports to recharge smartphones or tablets.

Lexus Safety Sense + is standard, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, all-speed active cruise control, lane trace assist, traffic sign recognition, auto high beam, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

Additional safety features include eight airbags, reversing camera, parking sensors, tyre inflation warning, vehicle speed-limit warning and an anti-theft system.

Sports Luxury adds cornering lights, adaptive high beam and panoramic view monitor.

svg%3E

What’s it go like?

UX was upgraded at the end of 2020, with cuts to prices and a boost for equipment.

It offers smoother gear shifts and acceleration that is more responsive.

It also comes with a quieter cabin, more luggage space and upgraded rear USB ports, while school-zone speed-sign detection has been added.

At a minimum 1635kg, we weren’t expecting big things from the performance department, but the hybrid is surprisingly fun to drive.

It’s powered by a mild hybrid setup skewed more towards performance rather than economy, combining a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor with a combined output of 131kW.

The CVT style transmission offers six steps or gears and, even in top gear, has plenty of poke – but in this model you don’t get gear change paddles.

Top speed of the UX is 177km/h and it does the dash from 0-100km/h in a reasonably quick 8.7 seconds.

The electric motor is used to boost performance which is surprisingly good.

In the all-wheel drive, the E-Four electric all-wheel drive system provides electric drive to the rear axle, automatically providing extra grip in slippery conditions.

It also compensates for oversteer or understeer when pushing the car hard.

The system uses a separate, dedicated 5.3kW electric motor-generator integrated into the rear differential.

Power distribution between the front and rear axles is automatically optimised by the vehicle stability system when accelerating, cornering, or driving on slippery surfaces.

Maximum speed at which the car can operate in pure electric mode has been increased to 115 km/h, but you’ll probably only reach this speed on a downhill run.

Drive modes include Normal, Eco, and Sport.

Normal mode provides an optimal balance between driving performance and fuel efficiency.

Eco mode maximises fuel savings across all driving conditions by smoothing the throttle response and by moderating air-conditioning operation.

Sport Mode delivers quicker throttle response and increased power steering feel.

The cabin offers comfy seats and a dash with a large infotainment screen, analogue clock, and configurable instruments that change colour.

Note however that it is not a touchscreen and is controlled from a finger-operated touchpad located between the seats.

It works okay when you’re parked and sitting still, but is next to useless once the car is underway.

Little knobs, like stubby handlebars protrude from the top of the dash, providing  access to different drive modes and the ability to turn off traction control – the latter not advised.

On the road UX is quiet inside, at least on smooth bitumen. 

The problem is, the smaller a car, the harder it becomes to hide from road noise.

It’s reasonably smooth and can be pushed hard without biting back.

Switching to manual mode and changing gears using the shift lever, produces the most satisfying results.

Shuffling between 3rd, 4th and 5th gears keeps the engine in the power zone where you want it.

Handling is neutral, thanks to a low centre of gravity, with progressive breakaway, controlled with some steering input, but some tyre squeal is evident during tight cornering.

The brakes are aggressive, at just about any speed.

Rear seat passengers get air vents, but the back is tight and lacks legroom, and the boot is small and shallow.

Rated at 4.7L/100km, the 43-litre tank takes standard 91 unleaded.

We clocked up 330km at at a rate of 6.0L/100km.

svg%3E

What we like?

  • Responsive throttle
  • Actually fun to drive
  • Excellent fuel consumption

svg%3E

What we don’t like?

  • Cramped
  • Too expensive
  • Squared mudguards
  • Touch pad control
  • No head-up display
  • Limited rear legroom
  • No gear change paddles
  • Door bins too thin
  • Tyre repair kit

svg%3E

The bottom line?

UX ticks all the right boxes, but it’s a big ask for a smallish car.

Since introduction the company has cut prices in a bid to ignite sales, but a quick look at the figures shows they are down 36 per cent year to date, with 370 sold this year compared to 580 for the same period in 2021.

That’s not sustainable.

svg%3E

CHECKOUT: Lexus ES300h Hybrid: Back seat a treat

CHECKOUT: Lexus batteries up with RZ 450e

Lexus UX250h AWD Sports Luxury, priced from $61,000
  • Looks - 6/10
    6/10
  • Performance - 7/10
    7/10
  • Safety - 8/10
    8/10
  • Thirst - 8/10
    8/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
    7/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
    7/10
  • Tech - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10
Overall
7.3/10
7.3/10