Despite the fact that both Toyota and Lexus have been doing hybrid cars for decades now, believe it or not this Lexus UX 300e is the first pure battery-electric vehicle (EV) to go into production from either marque. The good news is, this is one of Lexus' finest products right now - a classy, composed crossover that won't cost the Earth to run. Literally.
In the metal
Visually speaking, the Lexus UX 300e appears to be almost no different from the Lexus UX 250h - which is excellent news, of course, because the Lexus UX is a fine-looking contrivance anyway. The minor alterations between the hybrid and electric models of this Japanese crossover are mainly badging-related, so in the case of the 300e then, the word 'Electric' sits on the lower portion of the rear doors, while on the boot it says '300e' instead of '250h'. So far, so sensible. But if you're a Lexus aficionado and, for some reason, an owner de-badges the EV version of the UX, then look at its 'fuel filler' cap - on the 250h, it's a round item but on the 300e, while it sits in the same place on the bodywork, it's a larger, square affair to house the electric charging port behind. Oh, and there's another on the other side. One is for AC charging, the other for DC rapid charging.
Inside, similar news to the outside: little changes from the 250h. Admittedly, one minor black mark is that the showy and appealing 'sliding-dial' instrument cluster that the UX shares with the mighty Lexus LC has been replaced with a fixed-dial display, which is at least complete with electric-specific functions and gauges (look carefully at what you think is a fuel-pump logo to the bottom right of the cluster, for instance, and you'll spot a little plug on the end of the cable instead of a petrol nozzle) to ensure it presents itself as reasonably sharp. There's also a different design of shift lever, again related to the one in the Lexus LC, albeit with a 'B' setting to boost the effect of regenerative braking on the move, and some bespoke switches for the electric running gear. In terms of practicality, like any model of UX the 300e is compact in the rear, though its boot capacity has been increased when compared to the 250h, as that's where the 12-volt battery usually resides. As ever, the cabin is beautifully built and appointed, so overall it's a big tick from us for the showroom appeal of a UX 300e.
Lexus has decided not to go needlessly chasing outright electric range figures, instead choosing to optimise the package as a whole. The company says that a bigger lithium-ion battery, which would have given the UX 300e a 400km-plus range, was entirely possible and within its technical powers, but it would have increased the cost and weight of the crossover, while also increasing the CO2 commitment of each unit across the entire life-cycle of the vehicle.
As it is, a UX 300e is between 160- and 185kg heavier than a UX 250h, thanks to its 54.3kWh battery pack. This provides a maximum cruising range of 315km, which is decent for an EV of this size and class, although if you fit 18-inch alloys instead of 17s then you lose 9km of outright range. Like any self-respecting modern EV, the battery cells are housed in the floor of the vehicle to keep the UX 300e's centre-of-gravity low, hopefully preserving the impressive driving characteristics of the hybrid model.
And it has worked well. Granted, it isn't quite as keen in the corners as the UX 250h, and the body control feels a touch looser and less constrained, but the pay-off for that is the instant hit of the 300Nm of torque from the 300e's 150kW electric motor, delivered through a smooth two-speed reduction gear transmission. In fact, so lively is the UX 300e that it will beat its own traction control and momentarily spin its front wheels in damp, greasy conditions if you bang the throttle pedal down to the floor at low speeds. That's a little bit unruly, sure, but also a sign of how enjoyable the UX 300e's muscular acceleration is.
This feels a very quick car, more even than the on-paper stats would suggest. It whirrs up the road with a rich but insistent wave of power, surprising many other cars and even its own driver with its turn of speed. Getting the balance of an EV's acceleration just right is an act not every manufacturer has executed that well; too much of a sensation of torque flooding in can make an EV feel like a gimmicky, one-trick pony that's all about the giggle-inducing speed at the sensation of refinement; go too far the other way, though, and an EV can feel uninspiring and reedy. Happily, Lexus has judged the UX 300e exactly right.
So, while its handling isn't quite the same as the UX 250h's, the 300e makes up for it in other ways and one of the most laudable benefits is the onboard comfort. The UX is a quiet, accomplished operator anyway but shorn of its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and CVT, the 300e is exemplary. Masses of sound-deadening around the cabin makes the EV UX a wonderful car to travel in, because it's never noisy - even at faster motorway speeds - and the quality of the ride is getting on for impeccable. As a cultured commuter car, it's hard to imagine how you could do a vehicle much better than the Lexus UX 300e.
Finally, battery management. Having done a mixed 100km test route, and not driving the UX 300e in a particularly, um, economical manner on said loop, it ended up with more than half of its battery charge intact at the end of the journey, showing a 154km-to-empty range and overall consumption of 17.9kWh/100km. So, we're inclined to believe that the Lexus will be capable of attaining the official range and battery usage levels in the real world, in the hands of careful drivers.
What you get for your money
With the Lexus UX 300e landing in dealerships in January 2021, we now know it will be sold in Ireland in one specification, called Luxury, and it will cost from €60,130. On the face of it, that's 50 per cent more expensive than the UX 250h, but the 300e's price will likely be reduced by €5,000 by the SEAI grant for plug-in cars. By way of mitigation for the high-looking list price, the UX 300e Luxury comes with a generous kit list that includes, but is not limited to, 18-inch alloy wheels, parking sensors front and rear, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus a wireless charging pad, a heated steering wheel, heated seats in all four outer positions of the cabin and also ventilation functionality for the front two chairs, full leather upholstery and dual-zone climate control. Per calendar month, Lexus Ireland has finance prices starting from €474, which is about €150 per month more expensive than the cheapest deal on a hybrid UX.
Lexus has stolen a march on its rivals, getting in before any of the Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge, Tesla Model Y or BMW iX3 arrive on the market; and the UX isn't really even a rival for the X3, as it's more of an X1 competitor. That said, while it has things all its own way in the compact premium EV crossover segment for now, Lexus has given its brand-spanking-new EV all the necessary tools to stand tall amongst any and all competition that's coming its way. The UX 300e is another fabulous new EV that'll make the transition from internal combustion power all the more painless for potential customers.