The Lexus UX hybrid is an appealing ‘gateway model’ to the brand that deserves to attract a new demographic. Here we test the base UX250h Luxury grade.
The Lexus UX (Urban + Crossover) gives the company a more palatable entry model than the dated CT hatch, and a competitor for the Volvo XC40 and Audi Q2 in one fell swoop.
In other words, this small hatch is what the Japanese luxury contender has needed for some time, given its desire to lure buyers away from European competitors at an earlier stage of life.
On the face of things it has what’s required: comfortable cabin, reasonable pricing, hybrid drivetrain, and contemporary design with huge hourglass grille, slick headlights, striking side sculpting, asymmetrical wheel arches and full-width tail-lights, plus the option of 13 paint colours.
There are three equipment grades on offer: Luxury, Sports Luxury, and F Sport. The Luxury grade tested here starts at $44,450 before on-road costs, with the petrol-electric hybrid engine fitted to our car an additional $3500.
This resultant $47,950 price tag is competitive with the Audi Q2 2.0 TFSI quattro ($49,400), BMW X2 sDrive18i ($46,900), Jaguar E-Pace P200 ($46,950), Mercedes-Benz GLA 180 ($44,700), Mini Countryman Cooper S ($48,900) and Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum ($44,990).
Copious standard equipment is always a Lexus attribute, and the UX is no exception. Standard fare includes an electric-adjusting steering column, good-quality faux leather seats with electric driver’s adjustment and heating for front occupants, proximity key, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, roof rails, auto-folding side mirrors and ‘acoustic’ windscreen glass.
Infotainment is viewed on a 10.3-inch landscape display screen with satellite navigation and SUNA live updates, and there’s an eight-speaker audio system, DAB+, voice control, four USB inputs, and a sexy-looking 7.0-inch TFT and instrument readout reminiscent of a combined analogue/digital watch. The longer you ogle it, the greater depths are revealed.
Finally, Lexus’s Safety Sense+ technology suite is fitted, including: autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, lane-keeping and lane-centring aids, traffic-sign recognition, auto high-beam, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse camera/sensors, plus eight occupant airbags.
Our test car had one option package, the $1550 Enhancement Pack 1, which adds an electric tailgate, Qi wireless phone charger, alloy scuff plates and rear privacy glass. For another $2500 you can add a moonroof. That’s it for extra fare on the Luxury grade.
Read our pricing and specifications story for a description of features available further up the range, which include a 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and head-up display.
The interior is by and large a lovely place to spend time. The fit and finish are beyond reproach, and a plethora of leather along the dash and doors, damped switchgear, thick-pile carpet, silent steering column adjustment and soft-closing storage areas create a pervasive feeling of quality.
Do we like the leather mixture comprising rich cream and brown? Not really, but you can get various trim combinations including black-on-black. And as per usual, the front seats are supremely soft and supportive. That’s Lexus 101.
There are some insights in the press kit that drew our gaze, given luxury brands are all about pomp. Lexus discussed how its acoustic engineers collaborated with neural scientists to arrive at the “ultimate car-door sound”. Indeed, the doors do thunk rather satisfactorily.
Lexus also claims its ‘Takumi’ craftspeople listen and adjust each UX door in a dedicated ‘quiet room’ facility before the car leaves the Kyushu plant in Japan, and that every UX tailgate and tailgate opening is measured at around 200 different reference points prior to assembly, “ensuring it will operate perfectly for many years to come”.
Other Easter eggs include wipers that automatically stop when a door opens to prevent people entering or exiting the car being splashed, and near-silent windows. Small touches are what makes a luxury brand a luxury brand, and this unashamedly Japanese approach is welcome.
We do draw grievance with the infotainment. Ironically enough, the UX’s user experience is badly affected by the company’s continued use of a trackpad-style controller for the screen’s cursor, which is fiddly to use compared to the market’s de rigueur rotary dial or simple touchscreen.
There are a plethora of extraneous sub-menus, and ordinary graphics. And the map designs are pre-aged. Surely a re-skin wouldn’t be that challenging… Finally, there’s neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if that’s your thing, though there is Lexus’s Enform suite of apps.
No small crossovers in this class are capacious, and the 4.5m-long UX isn’t an exception. The back seats (947mm headroom, 842mm legroom) do have room for two adults under 180cm, though, and rear vents and USB inputs. The slim side windows mean kids may battle to see out.
The back seats fold down to accommodate longer items, while with them in use the storage space is 324L (only 3L less than the petrol models), smaller than a VW Golf’s or Hyundai i30’s boots, but larger than a Toyota Corolla’s or new Mazda 3’s. The cargo floor is quite shallow, with a temporary space-saver spare wheel below. There are bag hooks, a cargo net, and a 12V socket.
Under the skin is a version of the Toyota Group’s TNGA modular construction architecture, in this transverse application called GA C. It shares much with the Toyota Corolla, Prius and C-HR – no bad thing considering the strides Lexus’s parent has made in its ride and handling game lately.
There’s MacPherson strut front and trailing wishbone independent rear suspension, passive dampers, plus brake torque vectoring. Lexus also claims the UX’s 594mm centre of gravity is lowest in class, giving you a vaguely sporty driving position in place of a conventional SUV-like ride height. The 160mm ground clearance ain’t fooling anyone, anyway…
“I wanted to positively overturn the image of a crossover with a high body that requires careful manoeuvring, and offer a car with nimble performance and excellent manoeuvrability that makes it as easy to drive as a sedan," the chief engineer Chika Kako claims. We might point out that the days of lumbering crossovers are well behind us…
The motor-driven power steering changes resistance level depending on which of the three driving modes you’re in – Eco, Normal or Sport – changed by the stalk atop the instrument binnacle. This system also tweaks throttle and transmission responses.
The UX250h has a tare mass of 1600kg, which is 90kg more than the petrol-only offering.
Overall, the UX proved to be both quiet and composed in daily driving, ironing out potholes and other sharp inputs like cobbles pretty well, aided by the 215/60-profile Bridgestone tyres with decent sidewalls. The steering is more direct than we usually associate with Lexus SUVs, and the body control against cornering forces was excellent. Better than the wooly, fidgety Lexus NX…
The lane assist and tracing control is quite good, nudging you back between road lines and centring the car in the middle of the lane. The radar-guided cruise control has three distance settings and likewise worked well.
The only dynamic gripe really is the overzealous stability control that kicks in regularly, and without subtlety. And at no point was I being a typical motoring journalist and driving the car’s proverbial wheels off. Like the Toyota C-HR, we were impressed overall.
There are two engine options, as flagged earlier, led by the Toyota Corolla’s 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol with 126kW/205Nm and a CVT with mechanical lock-up first gear, and a combined cycle fuel-use figure of just 5.8L/100km. That’s an impressive claim.
But the hybrid gives the UX a bit of a point of difference, and a suitable flagship that makes much more sense for urban buyers than a diesel. The system pairs an economy-focused 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 107kW/188Nm, and coaxial motors with 80kW/202Nm, a nickel-metal hydride battery (cheaper than a Li-ion) and an E-CVT with manual/sports modes.
Peak power is 131kW, the 0–100km/h sprint time 0.7 seconds faster than the petrol (8.5sec versus 9.2sec to 100km/h), and combined-cycle fuel economy is claimed to be 4.5L/100km. Our urban-focused route with some highway time yielded 4.9L/100km, which is very acceptable. It’s therefore about 25 per cent more frugal than the petrol and emits 29g/km less CO2.
Toyota/Lexus have worked hard to make the new hybrid system more engaging, with less transmission drone, fewer driveline vibrations and punchier rolling response thanks to decent mid-range torque output. It’s no performance car, but smooth and comfortable.
The ‘EV’ mode lets you cruise silently around car parks and the like, but cuts out above 40km/h and reverts to paired hybrid drive. You can follow what the system is doing on the infotainment screen, watching the regenerative brakes and the engine sending charge to the batteries, and the system directing it back out to the wheels.
There’s no reason really not to buy the hybrid now, though we’d be happier if the extra outlay over the petrol were limited to about $2000. It’s worth negotiating.
Higher-spec hybrid grades can be had with an electric all-wheel-drive (AWD) system using a separate 5.3kWh motor generator in the rear differential for $4500 more, but the Luxury grade is front-wheel drive only. This makes the entry AWD model, called UX250h AWD Sports Luxury, cost $61,000!
From an ownership perspective, you get Lexus’s four-year warranty and highly regarded customer program. At service time your dealer will give you a loan car or pick up and return your vehicle to home or work (within limits). It’s worth noting that it’s usually up there in various customer surveys looking at the service industry, and hangs its hat on customer care.
All up, there’s a lot to like about the Lexus UX, and it’s probably at its best in sub-$50K Luxury guise with the hybrid engine. Smooth, quiet, comfortable and even a bit cool – and based on brand reputation, certainly quite painless to own – it deserves to broaden the company’s fan base.