The updated 2021 Lexus UX200 has arrived, and for the smallest car in the Lexus showroom, it takes on some big competition.
As Lexus's answer to the high-tech Europeans of the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40, the brand's first entry into the small-SUV market has been well received, with the UX crossover range accounting for one-in-four sales for the brand since arriving in Australia in 2018.
As part of a running update across the UX range, the 2021 Lexus UX200 Sports Luxury has received upgraded safety tech, insulation tweaks for a quieter cabin and increased boot capacity.
Offered in a choice of three models, the Luxury, Sports Luxury and F Sport, the mid-spec UX200 Sports Luxury carries quite a price jump over the entry-level model (from $44,445). The UX we have on test includes the Enhancement Pack and asks for $58,750 before on-road costs.
|2021 Lexus UX200 Sports Luxury|
|Power and torque||126kW at 6600rpm, 205Nm at 4800rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.4L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Main competitors||Volvo XC40, BMW X1|
|Price as tested||$58,750|
So, what does a plus-$50K Lexus offer to outshine its European opposition? Outside, the Sports Luxury gains 18-inch wheels over 17s, bi-LED headlamps, exterior mirrors with memory and a powered tailgate.
The front end benefits from an adaptive high-beam system, with 22 LEDs that detect lights from other cars at night and adjust your car's high beams to shine in the unlit areas only. That's to avoid blinding other drivers, and without the need to switch them off and on yourself. Inside, the mid-spec model adds heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with a 20cm subwoofer.
Sports Luxury buyers get the Panoramic View Monitor that uses four video cameras to give you a 360-degree bird’s-eye view around the lower part of the car. It's a handy tool for checking how close you are to kerbs and avoiding wheel scrapes.
Looking at the UX, you can see where Lexus has aimed for a sophisticated style, with an obvious youthful vibe, through its sharp lines and dramatic edges. Plus, the distinctive front spindle grille from its flagship LS500 speaks directly to an old-millennial soul.
While thick wheel arches might not be for everyone, Lexus – and its parent company Toyota – has undoubtedly found an on-road presence that you will stop to admire.
If you're concerned about parking a small SUV in the city, let’s add some perspective. The UX is shorter than Toyota’s top-selling RAV4 and the Toyota Corolla hatch, measuring 4.49m bumper to bumper compared to the RAV4 at 4.6m.
There’s no doubt the premium touches are plentiful throughout the cabin and fitting for a Lexus. The multi-layered dash and curved metallic door handles level up the luxe feel, and the stitched front seats are plush and comfy.
Greeting you is the 7.0-inch LCD instrument display and 10.3-inch infotainment screen, now with Apple CarPlay plus Android Auto connectivity – orientated towards the driver – and bringing the UX into line with technology expectations of buyers in this segment.
Then we come to the centre console, the home of the touchpad-controlled infotainment system. Like pineapple on pizza, touchpads divide opinion on whether they belong in our cars.
Reviewers of the previous-model UX200 Luxury found the trackpad useful after some familiarisation time and felt comfortable to use it safely while driving. In the 2021 update, I found it fiddly even after persistent use – as it easily skips over functions, lags, and generally lacks usability whether stationary or driving.
Interior space is where size matters in this segment. An instant observation stepping into the UX cabin is it feels on the smaller side when compared to others. You could mistake it for the inside of a hatchback rather than a small SUV.
The second row is where the size issue is most obvious, with a leg room shortfall of 7.6cm compared to the Volvo XC40 and the Audi Q3. Passengers older than young children will most likely find knee room limited, and fitting three adults in the rear seats would be an uncomfortable challenge.
My seven-year-old was quick to point out the lack of rear door compartments, with the centre armrest the only option for a cupholder and storage limited to one pocket behind the passenger seat.
There are rear vents, and the latest round of model updates has seen USB-C ports replace the existing USB-A outlets. There are two ISOFIX child restraint mounting points and three top-tether points, so you can fit a non-ISOFIX child seat in the middle position if required.
The cargo area continues the woes of the second row. Being narrow, you might wonder how you will fit things in – a typical pram would easily swallow up what the UX is offering – although some hidden underfloor storage can help with smaller items.
The back seats have a 60/40 split to help make way for longer items, and there are fold-out bag hooks, a 12-volt socket, and kick-sensor opening when carrying the electronic key.
According to the brochure, a lower floor height has increased cargo space by 90L to 424L in the Sports Luxury model (versus 460L for the Volvo XC40).
The UX’s driving position is similar to a hatchback rather than an SUV, which buyers comparing it to an Audi Q3 will notice, but front visibility is good thanks to the relatively large window area.
Seat and exterior mirror memory are offered in the UX mid-range variant, with the extra Enhancement Pack ($3500) adding a moonroof and head-up display.
It is powered by a 126kW/205Nm, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and CVT transmission found in the Toyota Corolla, albeit with a bit more power (up 1kW and 5Nm).
Its low centre of gravity makes driving around town a fun experience – made quieter by the new model update adding thicker insulation to reduce noise entering the cabin. However, some drivers might find themselves craving Sport mode on a permanent basis to overcome slightly sluggish acceleration in Normal.
Lexus claims fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100km, but real-world testing achieved 7.4L/100km.
The Lexus Safety System+ comes as standard on all UX models, including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-tracing assist plus blind-spot monitoring. The 2021 model now has an expanded traffic sign detection system, which is capable of reading 40km/h school zone signs.
I found all the safety systems to work as intended while driving. The only issue I encountered was the warning system sometimes gets confused whether you are entering or exiting a school zone.
The Lexus UX also achieved a five-star safety rating from the Australian vehicle crash authority, ANCAP, having been tested in 2019. In addition, the brand’s four-year warranty is a year longer than the prestige norm – a tick in the box for Lexus over Audi's or BMW's three-year offering there.
Whether the 2021 Lexus UX200 is your next car will likely hinge on your family's plans and if you need to carry rear passengers regularly.
As for Lexus buyers spending the extra on the mid-spec Luxury Sport, the additional features over the well-equipped base model are likely to satisfy.
Although there are cars offering more performance and roomier practicality in the segment, for buyers wanting to experience Lexus in a youthful and sporty format, the UX is worth a closer look.