This is the Lexus UX, the most affordable and smallest model the Japanese carmaker has on sale today. The diametric opposite of the RX, that unfortunately isn't for sale here. Prices for the UX, a compact crossover, start from $161,800 (going up to $181,800 for the top-of-the-line hybrid variant) and if that isn’t reason enough get one of these things, perhaps the fact it packs in luxury far above its segment will swing things in its favour.
In the Luxury variant (a $10,000 upcharge on the car’s base price), ventilated seats come standard, as does a 10.3-inch infotainment screen, a mostly digital instrument cluster and soft, soft leather upholstery.
Fit and finish, as you might expect, is superb. There’s no compact car cost-cutting to be found here, and a far cry from the days of the dismal interiors found in the first-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class (the current, third-generation one is great, however).
Well, actually, there is a little cost-cutting at play here, though it’s pretty cunningly concealed. The dashboard upholstery isn’t leather, but a synthetic textile printed with a pattern that’s supposed to resemble traditional Japanese paper screen doors.
Forming an intricate web of glossy and matte bits, it’s as lovely to look at as it is to touch, and we found ourselves just running our fingers over it for the fun of it. It’s tactile ASMR, as it were.
On that note, not everyone will like the multitude of surfaces, contours and creases in its cabin, but then the same could be said about its exterior. The current Lexus styling idiom mostly consists of putting a line or crease on every conceivable surface, and if that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you, then you’d best look away now.
But we’re willing to bet that’s precisely the sort of people Lexus is trying to attract to the UX. Specifically, younger people — the sort who quite like slightly overblown styling, the sort who’d buy a car in "Blazing Carnelian Contrasting Layering”, "Terrane Khaki Mica Metallic” or "Celestial Blue Glass Flake" (what regular people would call terracotta, olive green and electric blue).
And we’re willing to bet they’d be the sort of people who would gladly sacrifice a bit of comfort for handling poise. While the carmaker still makes big, woolly saloons like the ES, the UX is so far removed from that, they might as well have come from different manufacturers.
Its steering is accurate and fairly quick for the most part, and it’ll prove more than decent enough if you want to drive it hard, but its achilles heel isn’t in its chassis, it’s in its drivetrain.
Again, Lexus has stuck with a CVT gearbox, and we’re left wondering why. Sure, Lexus says this one is different, with a fixed ratio first gear to aid directness. It works exactly as promised, with a peppy response off the line, but the rubber band effect endemic to all CVTs soon rears its ugly head.
In all fairness, most cues to the UX’s CVT nature is aural, with a groaning see-sawing of revs. Flooring the throttle results in relatively direct forward motion, as it should be, though the lack of shifts can feel a little disconcerting.
Again, the transmission in the UX isn’t bad, as far as CVTs go, but we can’t help but think how much better it would be if Lexus went for a standard automatic instead. Lexus says a CVT delivers better fuel economy, so there’s that we suppose.
Other niggles? Eh, we could talk about its tiny boot. At 320 litres, it’s small for its size class, and with a high load floor and steeply raked rear windscreen, you won’t be getting a lot of things in there. It’s skimpy, to be certain, but still usable, so unless you’re regularly carting really bulky items around, we don’t think it’s too much of a deal-breaker.
It goes without saying that this lack of boot space and its less-than-stellar drivetrain will be factors when the UX is compared against its segment rivals, of which there are plenty. The Audi Q2, BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLA and perhaps even the Volvo XC40.
But on balance, however, we think the UX still has an edge. It’s got the best equipment by far and the most pleasant cabin. And given its fuel-sipping nature (even more so in hybrid guise) and relatively attractive price tag, we think Lexus has a winner on its hands here.
ENGINE 1,986cc, 16-valves, inline-four
POWER 170hp at 6,600rpm
TORQUE 204Nm at 4,400rpm
0-100KM/HR 9.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 190km/hr
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable transmission
FUEL CONSUMPTION 5.8L/100km
VES BAND B (no rebate/surcharge)
PRICE from $161,800