Another week, another new SUV.
Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus has finally joined the booming baby SUV class with a completely new model called the UX.
Better late than never, the 2019 Lexus UX comes well equipped - even from the base model.
The three-model range starts from $44,450 plus on-road costs - which equates to about $50,000 in the traffic - and stretches beyond $60,000 but under the Luxury Car Tax threshold.
The cheapest ticket buys you the non-hybrid 2.0-litre front-drive petrol engine matched to a CVT auto in this UX200 Luxury grade tested here.
The next models up are labelled Sports Luxury and F-Sport. All three model tiers are available with petrol or hybrid power, however Lexus says petrol variants across the UX range will likely account for three out of four sales.
Standard fare includes a full suite of safety tech including radar cruise control, city and highway speed autonomous emergency braking, front and rear sensors, cross-traffic alert with visual and audible warnings, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assistance, auto-dipping high beam, and blind-spot warning.
Should the worst happen you’re protected by eight airbags; passengers in the rear outboard seats get the same extra airbag protection for their torso as those in the front - in addition to head-protecting curtain airbags.
In front of the driver is a high-resolution digital instrument panel; in the middle of the dash is a tablet-style 10.3-inch infotainment display with built-in satellite navigation, traffic alerts, AM, FM and digital radio above a slot for a CD player.
There are two USB charging ports in the front of the cabin and a pair for back seat passengers, below the rear air vents.
Unlike most other automotive brands - mainstream or luxury - the infotainment display is not a touchscreen and still lacks Apple CarPlay.
If you do buy a UX, before you leave the showroom be sure to get the dealer to program your favourite radio stations and switch off some of the navigation alerts. The infotainment system's mouse-pad style controller is frustratingly fiddly to use, even when parked.
On the move it can be borderline dangerous to operate, the irony being that you’re trying to mute the intrusive and loud safety warnings while not paying proper attention to the road. A simple mute button would be welcome. Unlike other cars, the volume dial doesn’t quieten the automated messages as they’re being spoken.
Both front seats have heating and electric adjustment but the leather-look trim is, in fact, synthetic. A sensor key with push-button start is also part of the package.
The only options on our silver test car were the powered tailgate, wireless phone charger (as with other systems, it doesn’t work well if you have a thick, protective case), rear privacy glass, cornering lights and headlight washers, a $1550 pack. Metallic paint adds $1500 even though sparkly paint on a similarly-sized Corolla hatch costs $450. Hmm.
Although it doesn’t replace the Lexus CT hatch, the UX could eventually spell the end for Lexus’s conventional hatchback because buyers are favouring the style of SUVs. And, supposedly, their practicality.
However, the UX has a smaller boot than the Lexus CT and the Toyota C-HR - but a bigger boot than the latest Corolla. That’s feint praise, however. The Toyota 86 sports car has a bigger boot than the latest Corolla hatch.
The UX also shares the new Corolla hatchback’s tight-ish back seat space.
While it looks like a recreational vehicle the Lexus UX has the same engine and drivetrain as the new Toyota Corolla, but with a bit more grunt (126kW/205Nm versus 125kW/200Nm if you’re curious).
Helpfully, and unlike the Toyota C-HR which insists on premium petrol, the Lexus UX can run on regular unleaded.
The window sticker claims an average consumption of 5.8L/100km. We saw a still respectable (although not outstanding) 8L/100km after 400km of testing in city and highway conditions.
The Lexus website says the UX has “exhilarating performance”, although I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. It’s not meant to be a sports car and, around town, it has enough oomph to keep with the traffic.
Our testing showed it does 0 to 100km/h a fraction under 10 seconds, a touch slower than the new Toyota Corolla hatch and a touch quicker than the Toyota C-HR.
Lexus claims it can do the 0-100km/h dash in 9.2 seconds; using our satellite-based timing equipment the best we saw was 9.6 seconds. Contrary to perception, the hybrid is claimed to be a touch quicker. We’ll put it against the clock when we test it against the Lexus claim in a separate test.
The continuously variable automatic transmission is the same as the one in the new Corolla, which has a fixed first gear before switching seamlessly to CVT mode. It gives the automatic a more natural acceleration feeling rather than the slipping feeling of a CVT.
The biggest surprise is that the base model feels nicer to drive than the dearer models with low profile tyres.
Riding on 17-inch wheels with high profile tyres, it soaks up bumps and thumps well, steers sharply and is relatively quiet unless you floor the throttle. The engine can become a bit raucous if you drive it like a motoring journalist. Driven normally, it’s fine.
The reason the boot is so small is because there is a space saver spare tyre under the relatively high cargo floor. Dearer models get a slightly bigger boot but less comfortable run-flat tyres.
Likes? I love the design - inside and out - and it has a full suite of safety tech as standard. The optional cornering lights work extremely well at night. And it’s easy and relaxing to drive.
Dislikes? The cabin controller mouse pad is frustrating to use and borderline dangerous. The high beams, oddly, aren’t as good as other Lexus models. And the engine could do with a little more top-end refinement.
The four-year warranty is better than the three-year coverage offered by Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Land Rover. But the same technology with a Toyota badge now gets five-year coverage.
Although we are yet to test the Lexus UX range back-to-back, the base model is a compelling proposition. It's definitely worth a test drive if you’re after a luxury urban SUV. Otherwise, save thousands and buy the top-whack Toyota C-HR.