9 May 2019

Lexus UX 2019 Car Review

It’s now a given that to do well a brand needs at least one SUV — preferably a swag of them —and not necessarily in a format which could genuinely get far from a formed road.


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Lexus UX 2019
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Lexus UX 2019
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Lexus UX 2019
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Lexus UX 2019
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Lexus UX 2019
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Lexus UX 2019

Hence the proliferation of ‘crossovers’, and nominally SUV formats driven by just the front wheels.

It’s even more important for Lexus, which says 70 per cent of its NZ sales are of SUVs. Thus this UX, developed under the brand’s first female chief engineer and first revealed at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show.

It arrived in New Zealand in February this year, not quite as the entry-level to the brand, as the CT slots a whisker under its entry price, but close to it.

The aim appears to be to attract new people to Lexus – those seeking a practical compact with a luxury edge, sharp looks and the extra cabin space advantages of an SUV – plus, of course, the options of hybrid and AWD.

First impressions were good. We first sampled the entry-level 2.0 in bright Caliente red, which would have photographed well had it stopped raining for long enough. At first sight this is simply a very sharp-looking hatch, a whisker longer than a Corolla. But it’s also a whisker taller, and the black wheel arch frames are the giveaway that this is meant to come across as an SUV.

Like all UX models it has triple drive modes (there are Eco and Sport options as well as standard), a wide array of safety tech including road sign assist and a heads-up display, plus all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, push button start, satnav, a seven-inch multi information display, front seat heaters, dual-zone air and rain-sensing wipers to name just a few.

We liked the track pad control of the electronic menus, especially once we’d adjusted its speed and sensitivity to suit, and though it might seem a small thing, we especially liked that the centre console lid opens toward the driver – or toward the passenger, depending on which side’s catch is released. Nice.

As for the powertrain, that’s pretty much lifted from the latest Corolla, with enough power to please most likely buyers, and a CVT which feels as if it has gears when you set off, to avoid a traditional CVT’s somewhat labored ramp-up delivery.

Obviously if you might want to tow much more than a trailer of garden clippings you won’t buy a UX, and certainly not the hybrid variant. But the UX isn’t really pitched at someone with a quarter acre of clipped shrubs – it’s an urban, fashion-conscious car for someone prepared to pay for the right image and feel.

There’s certainly image in spades, especially from the front and in profile, it’s a sharp looker, even at night when the full-width light bar makes it instantly recognisable.

The hybrids – there are five versions in this seven-model line-up – are expected to take up 65 per cent of UX sales, so we also sampled the 250h AWD Limited – all-wheel-drive dropping fuel efficiency by 0.2l/100km over the front-drive equivalent, and the Limited bringing with it such niceties as the option of perforated ochre leather, which did bring a ‘cut above’ feel. It helped that there’s a sound system upgrade to a 13-speaker Mark Levinson set-up too, plus a sunroof, and ‘Japanese paper textured’ finish for the instrument panel.

The basic petrol engine is the same as the entry car’s, so this is a new pairing – Corolla and Lexus CT hybrids are still on 1.8s.

Toyota and Lexus have quite a bit of experience with hybrids now, and so if you drive this one smoothly – no heavy-footed pedal action, anticipating ahead and modulating the throttle rather than using the sort of stop-go method so hated by nausea-prone kids, you’ll find it’ll run on electricity only for much of the time. And when it does switch over, it does so smoothly enough that you may not notice, without checking the ‘EV’ on the dash or the fuel consumption graph.

That petrol engine got along very nicely too – smooth and refined and well capable of the driving it’s most likely to do. Handling was reasonable and ride comfy, but hooligans may be less impressed as the sharp looks are a touch misleading – this was a capable, easy to live with drive, but not a razor-sharp performer. It’s far from sluggish, and we rarely felt the need to select ‘Sport’, but it’s clearly not designed for wannabe racers, or those who prefer comfort compromises to get that sporting focus.

The hybrid, not surprisingly, did feel the most vigorous of the two, especially at round-town speeds or pulling out of slower corners. That’s where you benefit most from the extra low-rev shove of an electric motor, while of course round-town progress comes with the advantage of lower fuel use as the petrol engine cuts out often, as it also did in undulating and hilly weekend Waitakeres traffic – our tester returned a very unscientific 6.4l/100km.

The UX is not perfect. We would have liked a roomier boot. Being Kiwis, we would have liked to be able to tow a little more – one might not use it, but it’s nice to know the ability is there. And of course the UX isn’t exactly cheap, as befits this car’s luxury feel, the brand target, and the post-sale support which comes with owning a Lexus.

At a glance

Models

Lexus UX200 FWD Petrol / Lexus UX 250h AWD Ltd

Engine

1987cc in-line four-cylinder petrol / 1987cc in-line four petrol hybrid

Price

$59,990 / $75,900

ANCAP safety rating

Not yet tested

Power and Torque

126kW at 5500rpm, 205Nm at 4800rpm / 135kW total system output

Transmission

Direct Shift CVT / Electronic CVT

Fuel economy

5.8l/100km / 4.7l/100km

Towing capacity

750kg / Hybrid not rated to tow

2WD/4WD/AWD

2WD (front) / AWD

Seating capacity

5 / 5

Luggage capacity/payload

220 litres all seats in use, plus 51 litres under floor / 220 litres all seats in use, plus 14 litres under floor

Safety systems

  • Auto Emergency Braking
  • Lane Trace Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Vehicle Sway Warning
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors
  • Auto High Beam
  • Road Sign Assist
  • Blind Spot Monitor
  • Active Cornering Assist
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