Car reviews - Lexus - UX - 200 Sports Luxury
Plush interior, smooth powertrain at around town speeds, clever automatic transmission, eye-catching exterior styling
Room for improvement
Atmo 2.0-litre engine runs out of huff in higher revs, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, limited rear seat room
Lexus makes its play at the hot small-SUV segment with luxurious and likable UX
25 Jan 2019
By TUNG NGUYEN
LEXUS Australia’s sales have steadily been growing since the luxury brand’s local introduction, but as of yet, it has not managed to crack a year-end figure over 10,000 units.
This year however, that’s all expected to change as the all-new UX small SUV is introduced and expected to add about 2500 incremental sales to Lexus’ bottom line.
Entering the booming luxury small-SUV segment that is currently dominated by the likes of the long-established Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1 and Audi Q3, the Lexus UX is facing an uphill battle for market share.
However, with sharp pricing, the only hybrid powertrain in the segment and stunning looks, the Japanese premium brand is hoping to make substantial inroads in market penetration, but is the UX actually worth your hard-earned cash?
Kicking off at $44,450 plus on-road costs in base UX200 front-drive Luxury form, the range-opening Lexus small SUV offers a compelling price point compared with its rivals.
Standing out from the crowd though, the UX wears an athletic and modern sheet metal with unique squared-off wheelarch cladding and sharp lines throughout – we dig it!
Equipment levels are also suitable high, even in entry-level form, with the inclusion of 17-inch wheels, heated front seats and keyless entry and start, as well as LED headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights.
Of course, the higher-end Sports Luxury and F Sport grades add kit such as a sports bodykit, ventilated seats, a surround-view monitor and an uprated sound system, but safety features including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, autonomous emergency braking and a reversing camera is fortunately democratised across the line-up.
The highlight though, is undoubtedly the plush and well-appointed interior, centred around the massive 10.3-inch infotainment system with all the fruit including satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio.
However, a notable missing feature is smartphone connection via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While not a deal-breaker for us, given we can actually remember a time before the invention of a smartphone, it may deter some of the youthful buyers Lexus is targeting.
Lexus’ haptic feedback touchpad is also fitted to the UX as a means to navigate the infotainment system’s easy to understand and intuitive menu, but like in the brand’s other models, the controls are often too sensitive for precise control, especially for drivers on the move.
What does go some way to alleviating the input frustrations though, are new buttons situated just fore of the central armrest, which give drivers controls for volume, media input and tuning options.
Making room for the new controller, the drive-mode selector moves to the left of the instrumentation cowl – similar to the flagship LC sportscar and LS limousine – giving the central stack an overall cleaner layout.
The seats feel plush and well-supported, and we especially appreciated the cooled seats fitted to our UX200 Sports Luxury test car during Melbourne’s sunny summer.
Measuring 4495mm long, 1840mm wide, 1520mm high and with a 2640mm wheelbase, the UX is closer to a small hatchback in dimensions than a fully-fledged SUV and nowhere is this more apparent than in the second row.
With a wheelbase shorter than a Mazda3 and Ford Focus hatchback, the UX’s rear seats feel cramped and confined, at least for our 185cm frame.
Small children and household pets will have ample space back there, but the lack of headroom and legroom will limit use to anyone else.
Built on its parent company’s Toyota New Global Architecture, we expected the UX to offer the sharp and nimble driving experience of its C-HR cousin, but Lexus has tuned its own small SUV to be much more comfortable and compliant over bumps.
The in-cabin pleasantness is aided by an acoustically insulated windscreen and front windows, while steering is light and comfortable.
The front-drive UX doesn’t exactly put the ‘sports’ in ‘sports utility vehicle’, but, then again, it’s not trying to be the last word in razor-sharp dynamics.
This is exemplified by the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre powertrain and continuously-variable automatic transmission.
With 126kW of power on take at 6600rpm and 205Nm of torque available from 4800rpm, it would seem the UX2000 would like to be revved, but we found this not to be the case.
Push the mill up past 3500rpm and course engine noise intrudes the cabin, while the elastic nature of the CVT feels unnatural and stretchy.
Keep things tame and the right foot reigned in, though, and this is where the UX really shines. At slow speeds around town and accelerating away from stop/starts, the drivetrain delivers smooth shifts and comfortable, if just adequate, off-the-line performance.
As an urban runabout and not a drag-strip conqueror, the UX’s nature fits its purpose perfectly.
Our brief taster with the UX was only in front-drive UX200 Sports Luxury form, so we’re keen to see how much the hybrid powertrain and all-wheel driveline change our opinion.
The test car we had access to was also fitted with a $3500 Enhancement pack that bundles a colour head-up display, moonroof and smart key card, as well as a $1500 premium paint option – none of which we feel are essential.
As it stands, the UX is a polished and competent premium crossover with a strong emphasis on style and comfort rather than pace and dynamics, which, by our measure, is no bad thing.
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Model release date: 1 November 2018
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