Lexus is hoping to make a splash in the premium compact SUV arena by offering its new UX crossover solely with a hybrid powertrain, something that its rivals lack. Is this enough to attract buyers or will the UX's success be limited by the lack of choice?
In the metal
The Lexus UX isn't all that smaller than its NX sibling, but it is lower. The design is more jacked-up hatchback than upright SUV, but it is undeniably edgy and bold, and the baby Lexus certainly looks interesting and more of an extrovert than many of its rivals. There's plenty going on, especially up front with that huge grille. It's made up of individual block-like elements that change shape as they move away from the central Lexus badge. This looks different depending on where you're looking at it from.
Continuing around the car, the sides feature sharp creases and the rear end has lights that protrude from the body, which aids the aerodynamics as well as looking good. The outer lamps are connected by a continuous line of light made up of 120 LEDs that stretch across the rear hatch.
F Sport models are differentiated from the rest of the range with an exclusive mesh grille design, larger fog light bezels, a different rear bumper design with chrome highlights and a unique 18-inch alloy wheel design.
The stylish design continues inside the cabin, which feels very well made with some lovely materials, especially the new trim finish inspired by Japanese paper. The different surface levels, materials and shapes give the cabin a unique and interesting look and feel.
F Sport versions get an eight-inch touchscreen that is relatively easy to use, but what isn't so impressive, especially when driving, is the touchpad controller. Thankfully though, there are plenty of well-placed buttons so that you don't have to use the touchpad.
The seats are comfortable and visibility is good, but there is limited rear legroom. Taller adults might find it a squash back there, especially if the front seat occupants are also tall. However, this is a general complaint about many small SUVs.
The UX is the first Lexus to be built on the company's new 'GA-C' global architecture platform, delivering the lowest centre of gravity in its class according to Lexus and, crucially for an urban vehicle, a tight turning radius. Considering the UX isn't all that tall, the driving position feels higher than expected. Whilst it's still not a high up as that in many other small SUVs, there is still more of a commanding view than in a hatchback.
Out on the road, the UX exhibits decent manners. Keep the car out of 'Sport' mode and the ride is controlled if a tad on the firm side. The F Sport models get a sportier chassis setup that can be further augmented with Lexus' adaptive variable suspension. The steering has a nice weight to it and the car is easy to manoeuvre with little in the way of body lean when cornering.
In start-stop traffic the hybrid system prioritises the use of the battery and electric motor making for a smooth and quiet driving experience. When the engine does kick in, it does so in an almost seamless manner. As with other Lexus hybrids, there is an EV mode button, but this has a limited range and is overridden when the speed approaches 50km/h - or when any force is applied to the throttle.
Speaking of speed, putting the foot down can cause a bit of a racket with that E-CVT gearbox. Acceleration is noisy and the nature of the CVT means that it works best when driven more smoothly - attempting a quick overtake tends to result in a steep climbing of engine revs that are not matched by pace. Unfortunately, if you don't like automatic gearboxes - or CVTs in particular - you don't have another option, as it is the only transmission offered in Ireland in the UX. However, once cruising along, the UX is rather smooth and comfortable.
What you get for your money
As mentioned, the Irish market is getting just one model, the front-wheel-drive UX 250h hybrid with E-CVT. It will be available in S Design, Executive and F Sport guises, but specifications have not been finalised. S Design models should start around the €39,000 mark, but again, nothing has been confirmed, as the car isn't due to go on sale here until March 2019.
With its bold styling and hybrid powertrain, the Lexus UX stands out in this popular crossover segment. However, the E-CVT gearbox doesn't do it many favours. Like its rivals, rear passenger room isn't great, but the cabin feels solid and the design is rather lovely, especially in Executive trim and with the larger touchscreen. With its on-trend looks and green credentials, the UX should tick many boxes for a lot of buyers.