So, you're shopping for a mainstream medium SUV in the $40K bracket. Choices are plentiful. There's the recently lobbed Hyundai Tucson range, Kia's formidable Sportage or its excellent Seltos, the ever-dependable Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, and so forth.
Alternatively, you can step into a small yet premium SUV like the 2021 Lexus UX200 Luxury for the same price.
It's an interesting situation. As mainstream brands are adding new technology and naturally charging it out, luxury brands have been focusing on lowering the cost of entry.
That's just one part, however. The rest is up to the consumer, who must see 'value' in a premium brand's most affordable product. If the nice stuff that comes with higher-end metal appeases more than rational elements like size, performance and tech – people will commit.
And the sales figures show that they do.
Last year, as the sub-$40K small-SUV segment shrunk, the post-$40K category grew by 12.7 per cent. So far in 2021, the same segment has gone from growing to booming, up a staggering 44 per cent year to date. Lexus is also enjoying the ride – up 31.7 per cent in the same time period.
So, what do you get in the realm of $40K shopping with Lexus? You get our test car – an entry-level 2021 Lexus UX200 Luxury.
Compared to the 2020 model, the new 2021 model is priced at $44,445 before on-road costs. That's $2055 cheaper than last year's version, and more affordable than it's ever been before.
|2021 Lexus UX200 Luxury|
|Engine||2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder|
|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||6.6L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (tested 2019)|
|Main competitors||BMW X1, Audi Q2, Volvo XC40|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||$46,195|
Lexus is not a charity, however, as it has removed equipment to bring down the sticker price. It's an example of a luxury brand lowering the cost of entry to tempt people in.
What's interesting is that what's been removed from the 2021 model can also be added back in at a cost of $1980. If you decide to, its cost becomes $46,425 before on-roads – $75 cheaper than before.
However, our car features no options, just some fancy Khaki Metal green paint at a cost of $1750 that you could go without. Adding the paintwork's fee sees the pricing rise to $46,195 before on-roads, and become a $50K drive-away proposition, thereabouts.
In terms of kerb appeal, it looks more than it's worth. Numerous sharp edges and creases add drama, as does a highly detailed front grille. At the back, a pair of tail-lights are linked by a single illuminated strip, which again looks high-end and expensive, even if a little cycloptic.
The only item alluding to its cheap, entry-level nature is a set of small-looking 17-inch wheels. Other than that, it'll get your nosey neighbour talking, and impress your friends – if that's worth anything to you.
Those small wheels do have a positive trade-off, however, which can be felt in terms of ride quality. The Lexus UX200 Luxury is beautifully smooth to drive, with a suppleness that's rarely found in European metal at this price.
Where the Lexus does fall is in terms of ability. Its soft suspension tune will see it roll about and act generally less sporty than others. Personally, I prefer a bias in favour of comfort and ride quality rather than outright ability. Why? Because it's a small SUV, so does sportiness really matter?
The engine continues to speak to its rather un-sporty nature. Powering the UX200 Luxury is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with 126kW/205Nm transferred via a CVT automatic transmission. It's tolerable for a small SUV's destined tasks, which are to buzz around town and possibly up the freeway during the school holidays.
With just a driver on board, you'll probably think I'm being harsh. However, with four on board and a bunch of luggage, its wee little engine does battle. You'll need to task the CVT transmission with a lot of the engine's potential to merge onto a freeway or power on from an 80km/h to 110km/h zone.
That's as bad as it gets, as when cruising the school run, the lack of performance becomes unnoticeable. It'll putt along well in 50km/h and 70km/h zones without feeling underpowered. In terms of fuel use, it returned a figure of 6.6L/100km, which is a tad over the official combined fuel claim of 5.8L/100km.
Everything else about the driving experience is well sorted. The weight of its steering is light, but not vague or confusing in any way. Lexus claims revisions to the rear boot area have made the 2021 UX200 quieter than last year's model, but the difference is hardly discernible.
I had no issue with visibility, as a large pair of side mirrors provide excellent aft vision. They now lack any indicator for blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, however, as these systems have been removed as part of the 2021 model's price decrease. Both are excellent features, and it's a shame they're no longer standard, even at the lower pricepoint.
Another annoyance is felt through the removal of rear parking sensors. Distances must now be judged solely by your eyes with the aid of the reversing camera.
One last, painful kicker comes after you exit the vehicle and realise that you must lock it with the key instead of touching the handle, à la premium metal in general. All of these flaws can't help but turn the big luxury event into more of a masquerade.
Inside, however, the show goes on. A faux-leather material clads its seats, which feels a cut above cloth trim. Both front pews are heated, too, which again boggles the mind after using a key to access them.
In front of the driver lies a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster that features groovy start-up graphics. It's easy to use and legible, which are the two most important factors affecting these systems.
The other screen is a 10.3-inch item belonging to the vehicle's infotainment system. It has all the usual forms of smartphone connectivity (Apple CarPlay plus Android Auto), but now lacks DAB+ radio.
The whole shebang is controlled by a touchpad in the centre console, which is flanked by shortcut keys and a couple of rotary dials. Some find the system confusing and hard to understand, but give it time. Once you upskill your dexterity with the controller, you'll find it easy to use.
It also features haptic feedback – vibrational acknowledgement as you make an input. It makes it less distracting than a touchscreen to command while driving.
Funnily, both a CD player and analogue clock juxtapose themselves against the fancy screens. It's likely one of the few remaining vehicles on the market to feature that combo.
Despite losing blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert for 2021, the bulk of active safety systems remain including: autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, advanced lane-keeping assist and traffic sign recognition.
More rudimentary factors include dedicated climate-control buttons (yay), a pair of cupholders, a deep armrest storage area with two USB ports (another yay, this time cabin tidiness) and somewhat useless door bins (nay).
In the second row, space will be fine for kids and young adults, and borderline for fully grown humans. At 183cm tall and sitting behind my own driving position, my knees were scrubbing up against the seat back, my feet left with adequate space, and my head lacking some lateral room to move.
Again, it's a small SUV, so be sure to wipe away those starry dealership eyes and jump in the back to see if you can live with the compromise. The fact there's no rear door storage alludes to how narrow the rear section of the cabin is.
A convertible-type child seat, fit for kids from birth until the age of four, fits nicely. It's only when mounted in a rearward-facing style that you begin to lose front passenger leg room, but it's not enough to be a deal-breaker.
Thankfully, a handful of more important features are included, which is a pair of air vents and a pair of USB ports too. The only form of storage are cupholders located in the centre fold-down armrest.
In the boot area, revisions for 2021 see the UX200's boot space increase from 327L out to 419L. It's a respectful figure now in line with the segment's expectations – but comes with a nasty catch. Lexus has achieved this by lowering the boot floor and sadly removing the spare wheel. Now you receive a repair kit with 17-inch wheels, (or run-flat tyres on cars equipped with 18-inch wheels). A sticky situation. Personally, I'd rather have a spare wheel.
It might be cheaper than ever before, but the 2021 Lexus UX200 Luxury now lacks important pieces of equipment. Keyless entry and DAB+ radio are nice-to-haves you can look past, but rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and a spare wheel are all vitals that ought to have stayed.
If you're chasing an entry Lexus UX200, be sure to add the 'Enhancement Pack 1' and receive a car that's almost lineball in spec to last year's car, just $75 less and without a spare wheel. That's the wise move.