It's only natural then that as more Australian buyers gravitate towards SUVs, Lexus should offer a small, city-sized hybrid SUV as a range-opener to the Japanese luxury brand. Having now been established in the line-up for a few years, Lexus has added a number of minor changes to the UX range this year.
The 2021 Lexus UX250h Luxury 2WD you see before you is powered by a 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol four-cylinder engine, assisted by an electric motor, and offering a total of 131kW and 188Nm – sent to the front wheels through a CVT automatic.
Pricing for the UX250h Luxury starts at $52,075 before on-road costs, and while this particular vehicle didn't have any additional options, the UX250h includes the Enhancement Pack 2 equipment upgrade of the UX200 as standard (more details further on).
The Lexus UX range starts from $44,445 plus on-road costs for the non-hybrid variant, with the model topping out at $64,100 plus on-road costs for the all-wheel-drive hybrid UX250h F Sport variant.
Unlike plug-in hybrids, this UX250h gets its electrical energy from both the petrol engine as well as recuperating it from regenerative braking, and storing that energy in a 216-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack to redeploy under acceleration.
|2021 Lexus UX250h Luxury 2WD|
|Engine||2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||131kW, 188Nm (combined)|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||4.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||5.1L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2019)|
|Main competitors||Volvo XC40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q2|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||From $52,075|
Sliding into the driver's seat and hitting the starter button, you'll be met with... Silence. Move the shifter into drive, and you can pull out of your driveway and be halfway down the street before the petrol engine bursts into life. A feature I appreciated one early morning, as I left my partner to catch up on sleep following her late shift.
Lexus claims a combined average of 4.5 litres of fuel used for every 100km travelled, but I recorded around 5.1L/100km with mainly suburban and highway driving. Still good.
On the road, the car rides and handles quite well, and is complemented by great steering weight, but it can show its mass on bigger bumps as the suspension tries to keep all of its 1625kg in check.
But despite the extra weight that comes with a hybrid battery pack, an electric motor, and luxury features and trims, the UX250 is relatively brisk. And surprisingly responsive, using a combination of both the petrol and electric motors to deliver you to the speed limit.
While the CVT gearbox probably makes sense from an engineering perspective, ask a bit more from the throttle and you'll be met with a constant and monotonous rev from the petrol engine until you abate. It does feel as if the engine is straining a little as the car is slung down the road, encouraging the driver to lift off the accelerator and just go with the (traffic) flow.
Which brings me to possibly my biggest gripe with the car: the sound deadening. For what is a $52,075 vehicle (plus on-road costs), it wasn't a particularly quiet cabin environment at higher speeds, with both the engine noise and tyre noise detracting from the experience somewhat. This despite Lexus claiming to have improved sound deadening in the updated model.
Having said that, the Lexus did provide a relatively relaxed driving experience generally, and most owners using the car at lower speeds in the city and suburbia won't notice or care about the noise.
All UX models get a leather-accented steering wheel and shifter, heated power front seats, keyless entry with push-button start/stop, auto-dimming mirror, and a 10.3-inch infotainment screen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all running through an eight-speaker audio system with subwoofer.
The interior design felt a little on the postmodern side, and as if it were better suited to smaller-framed humans, particularly with the steering wheel that sat too low for my liking. But it was a nice place to spend time, even if I was worried about marking the soft white leather seats.
On the safety front, the Lexus Safety System+ comes as standard, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, active radar cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keep assist, road sign recognition, auto high beams, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, and eight airbags.
Being the first hybrid variant in the range, it gets all the goodies from the Enhancement Pack 1 and 2 (which you need to add to bring a UX200 up to similar spec) which adds in DAB+ digital radio, blind-spot monitor, parking support brake, rear cross-traffic alert, wireless smartphone charging, and a power tailgate.
On the outside, the standard 17-inch alloys are upped to 18 inches, cornering LED fog lamps join LED headlights, and the car gains headlight washers, roof rails, privacy tint, and alloy scuff plates.
It's a sharp exterior design, too, without being overly in-your-face about it. The lighting looks particularly striking at night.
But while the UX is a small SUV, the boot space of 368L felt especially restrictive – and with around 40 per cent of the capacity of a Volkswagen Tiguan, I suspect this will force young families to look elsewhere. Though with the rear seats folded, I was able to fit a cardboard box containing a bicycle… Just.
Then I hit the power tailgate button, started the car, and rolled out of the carpark in electric silence, as my phone charged itself and the seat heaters kicked in.
And that's kind of what this car is about: a small premium SUV with a ton of features crammed into it. It has the convenience of five seats without taking up a large footprint on the road.
The 2021 Lexus UX250h Luxury is a premium, tech-laden city SUV with nice on-road attributes, and best suited to those living in (or close to) the city who want a premium vehicle with low fuel consumption, but don't really need a ton of space in their car.