Lexus UX review
Based on our early drive, the Lexus UX is shaping up to be a genuine alternative to the best compact SUVs you can buy. The styling is daring and different, the interior is finished to the usual Lexus high standards, and it’s packed with an impressive array of safety equipment.
There’s only one powertrain available in the UK, but the 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid system in the 250h delivers punchy acceleration while maximising fuel economy, and even the CVT transmission feels smooth and relatively alert. It’s not perfect; the infotainment system is too fiddly – there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – and the boot is too small. But if the UX stacks up after our first UK drive, this could be one of the most compelling and attractive cars in the segment.
7 Feb, 2019
One thing’s for certain: you’re not going to mistake the Lexus UX for any of its rivals. While the exterior design is filtered down from the larger Lexus SUVs, it’s refreshingly different in a segment filled with me-too designs.
The now unmistakable Lexus ‘spindle’ grille features a new mesh pattern not seen on the NX and RX models, while LED headlights are standard across the range. The wheel arch mouldings are designed for the rigours of the urban jungle, rather than strenuous off-road challenges, while the rear lights start at the top of the rear wing and span the rear of the vehicle.
The standard-fit 17-inch alloy wheels feature Gurney flaps along the spoke edges to reduce wind resistance and increase airflow, although non-aero 18-inch alloys are available as an option. Nine paint colours are offered in the UK, including a couple developed exclusively for this country: Terrane Khaki and Celestial Blue. It looks particularly striking in solid red or metallic blue, but we wonder how many buyers will take this bold approach.
An interior that’s rich in quality and highly individual gives the UX genuine standout qualities in an overcrowded segment. Lexus has worked hard to give the car the feel of its larger saloons and SUVs, adding little touches to give the UX showroom appeal.
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For example, the three-spoke steering wheel and analogue clock are lifted from the LS luxury saloon, while the engineers used brainwave analysis to produce the ‘perfect door-closing sound’. Lexus has even worked hard to reduce the noise and juddering of the electric windows.
This attention to detail, together with the use of quality materials and a unique approach to cabin design, means that the UX sets a high benchmark in the segment.
The seats are available in three finishes: fabric, leather, or a combination of the two. There are five colours to choose from on the standard UX, while the F Sport is available in black, red or white.
In a first for Lexus, the instrument panel can be finished in a trim inspired by the grain of Japanese ‘washi’ paper. According to Lexus, this creates a ‘calm and warm’ feeling.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The seven-inch infotainment perched atop the dashboard looks fantastic – even better if you’ve upgraded to the 10.25-inch version – but the touchpad control system leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s fiddly to use while stationary and even worse when driving, while the cursor on the screen appears to do its level best to ignore your inputs. You do get used it, but it’s not the most intuitive of systems.
Worse still, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, meaning mobile connectivty is a challenge at best. The Mark Levinson 13-speaker premium surround sound system is one of the best audio upgrades in the segment, however.
Compact SUVs aren’t renowned for their sharp handling and gutsy performance, but Lexus uses words such as ‘exciting’ and ‘attitude’ to position the UX in its segment. And, based on our initial drive, there are reasons to be optimistic if you’re after an SUV that’s enjoyable to drive.
The UX shares its platform with the Toyota C-HR, which means tight body control and a composed ride. When cornering, the UX applies a degree of brake control on the inside, which reduces understeer. While that sounds good on paper, it feels even better on the road.
The steering is well weighted and direct, too, thanks, in part, to the mounting of the steering rack directly to the subframe, without the need for rubber bushes. This reduces vibrations and flex, delivering a level of steering sharpness that is largely absent from this segment.
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We’d even go as far as to claim that the CVT automatic transmission – so often a party-pooper in an otherwise entertaining car – is a positive aspect of the UX. The changes are smooth and seamless, while the power delivery is more linear than in other transmissions of this type. It’s actually pleasant to use, which isn’t something we’d say about many CVTs.
There are paddles either side of the steering wheel, but these aren’t for manually changing gear. Instead, they’re for setting the rate of regenerative braking, which helps to charge the UX’s hybrid battery.
The majority of UX 250h models sold in the UK will be front-wheel drive, but an E-Four electric all-wheel drive variant is available. It uses a separate electric motor integrated into the rear differential to distribute power between the front and rear axles. There are many advantages here, including sharper cornering and improved grip on slippery surfaces, but in reality you’re unlikely to notice the difference in day-to-day driving. The added expense means we’d stick with the front-drive model.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is mated to two electric motors to deliver a total system output of 176bhp. It means that the UX can sprint to 62mph in just 8.5 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 110mph.
This is more than quick enough for a compact SUV, with the CVT transmission delivering smooth and relatively rapid acceleration when required. Equally impressive is the way the UX settles down to a refined and comfortable cruise when the performance isn’t wanted.
The UX hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP yet, but given that every Lexus of the past eight years has received a maximum five-star rating, we’d expect this latest model to follow suit. Further evidence is provided by the Toyota C-HR, which received the top overall rating in 2017, including an impressive set of sub-scores.
All models are equipped with eight airbags and the Lexus Safety System+, comprising autonomous emergency braking, dynamic cruise control, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, lane departure alert, steering assist and road sign assist.
It’s an impressive package, with the UX offering a semi-autonomous mode in stop-go traffic at speeds of up to 18mph. You can also set the cruise control to obey the speed limits posted on road signs.
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Reliability isn’t likely to be an issue, with Lexus finishing top of our 2018 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey with a score of 95.12 per cent – nearly 4 per cent ahead of Jaguar in second place.
The dealers are good, too, with Lexus topping the list of 24 manufacturers, scoring 90.23 per cent. In fact, Lexus didn’t finish lower than fourth in any of the individual categories – a remarkable achievement.
The Lexus UX is covered by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is the same as you’ll find on rivals from Volkswagen and Audi. However, it lags behind the three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty offered by Mercedes and BMW.
This is surprising, given that Lexus sister brand Toyota offers a five-year/100,000-mile warranty. On the plus side, the hybrid components and hybrid battery are covered by a five-year/60,000-mile warranty. It’s also possible to cover the UX for up to 10 years or 140,000 miles, but Lexus has yet to confirm the pricing. As an example, a two-year extended warranty on the NX costs £800.
Fixed-price servicing is available for all Lexus models, and although pricing and service intervals haven’t been confirmed, we’d expect the UX to require a major service ever 20,000 miles and an intermediate service every 10,000 miles.
The Lexus UX doesn’t present an entirely convincing case as a serious family car. There’s an overriding sense that the car was designed with front seat passengers in mind – it feels more like a raised hatchback than a high-riding SUV. This will appeal to some, while others might prefer something with a little more versatility.
At 4,495mm in length, 1,840mm wide (without mirrors), and up to 1,540mm tall, the UX is slightly longer and taller than the BMW X2, and a touch narrower. It’s also longer than the Volvo XC40 (4,425mm).
But, crucially, the XC40 is also wider (1,910mm) and taller (1,658mm), which creates a larger cabin and a bigger boot. You tend to sit down in the UX, rather than climb up as you do in other SUVs.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Having said all of the above, the amount of space isn’t too bad, especially given the styling. The driver and front seat passenger get the best deal, with ample headroom and a pleasant feeling of being cocooned behind the wraparound dashboard.
In the back, headroom and legroom would be best described as adequate, with the low-set seats managing to offset the effects of the sloping roofline. Passengers might want to avoid the middle seat, mind, as it sits higher than the outer rear seats and space for feet and knees is compromised by the centre console.
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It just never feels as spacious and airy as a more conventionally-styled SUV, with the narrow rear windows servicing to create a claustrophobic feel.
Lexus hasn’t confirmed the official figures for the UX’s luggage capacity, and this, if you’ll excuse the pun, speaks volumes, because the boot looks alarmingly small. We wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it’s a little smaller than the 375-litre boot in the Ford Focus.
The rear bench splits 60:40 to provide additional luggage space if you aren’t ferrying rear passengers, but the steeply raked rear window will limit the carrying potential of the UX. Even the coupe-styled BMW X2 is more practical, offering 470 litres of boot capacity.
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The Lexus UX has a braked and unbraked towing capacity of 750kg, which is only slightly more than a Ford Fiesta and less than some versions of the Vauxhall Corsa. Fine for transporting garden rubbish to the tip, but this isn’t an SUV for towing a caravan or boat.
The UX 250h is based on the platform shared by the Toyota Prius and C-HR but uses a more powerful 2.0-litre engine mated to a pair of electric motors. It’s what Lexus calls a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, which means you never need to connect the UX to a charging point.
The flip-side is that you shouldn’t expect the same high levels of fuel-efficiency, while the realistic all-electric range is limited to just a couple of miles. The official fuel economy figures haven’t been confirmed, but Lexus is targeting between 65.7mpg and 68.9mpg for the two-wheel drive version and 58.9mpg and 62.8mpg for the four-wheel drive variant.
Our experience of similarly-powered Toyota and Lexus models – along with our drive in an early pre-production UX – would suggest that anything north of 50mpg is possible. You can even crawl through town consuming no petrol by using ‘EV Mode’.
Early reports suggest the UX will emit between 96g/km and 114g/km CO2, depending on the variant, meaning it will cost £115 to £155 to tax in the first year and the standard £130 a year from year two.
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All models are on the pricey side, but be careful when adding optional extras to the range-topping UX Takumi, as the £39,000 list price is perilously close to the £310-a-year VED tax surcharge on cars costing over £40,000.
Lexus hasn’t confirmed the insurance groups for the UX yet, but it’s likely to cost more to insure than the cheaper but mechanically similar Toyota C-HR (groups 14-16). However, the ageing Lexus CT premium hatchback was surprisingly cheap to insure, slotting into groups 17-21.
The fact that the UX is packed with active and passive safety features, along with a more mature audience profile, should ensure that it costs less to insure than rivals from BMW and Audi.
It’s too early to predict how quickly the Lexus UX will depreciate, but the combination of SUV practicality, impressive fuel economy and a reputation for reliability means that it’s likely to hold its value well. Perhaps not as well as the BMW X1/X2, Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, but better than some of the compact SUVs from the volume manufacturers.