First Drive: Lexus UX

If you’re looking for a reasonably compact premium SUV but want to avoid diesel and go for a hybrid option instead, then you’re out of luck. Or at least you were, until the Lexus UX arrived in UK showrooms earlier this year. Take that, Audi, BMW and Volvo.

In Lexus-speak, it’s a ‘self-charging hybrid’ which means you don’t need to plug it in. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is aided by an electric motor and a small battery pack. The battery is charged using energy recovered under braking, or when rolling down a hill, or sometimes using power from the engine. It sounds complicated, but the basic system has been proven over 20-odd years now.

Environmentalists will tell you it’s not as clean as using a pure electric car but, despite the small battery, the UX will trundle along with the engine turned off for around 50% of each journey. Certainly, my own experience suggests that’s probably not far from reality.

Combining power from both the engine and the electric motor produces 181hp, allowing the UX to get from standstill to 62mph as quickly as 8.5 seconds, with all the power going through the front wheels. My particular test car takes an extra 0.2 seconds as there’s an extra electric motor under the boot floor. This turns it into a four-wheel-drive machine, but don’t expect to tackle anything beyond a gravel track or damp field. It’s a £1,250 upgrade which is good value, but unnecessary.

It’s all wrapped under a typically Lexus body, which means it’s divisive. To some – including me – it looks fantastic, but to others, it’s way over the top. Eye of the beholder, and all that. You certainly won’t mistake the UX for anything else, with its countless angles, razor-sharp creases and distinctive shaping.

That continues inside, where there’s a dashboard that’s a combination of the Starship Enterprise and a Dixons store in the 1980s. Rows of buttons dominate the centre stack, while the instrument binnacle is a mix of traditional and digital. Rotary knobs sit on the sides of the cowling to select drive modes, while a 10.3-inch screen sits on top of it all displaying the navigation, audio or other information. Like the exterior, it’s a love or hate thing.

The Lexus UX features a distinctive interior.

One thing everyone will agree on is that the infotainment system is truly awful, with incomprehensible menu systems controlled by an unfathomable touchpad down by the gear lever. The navigation works well, assuming you can figure out how to set it but, to rub salt in the wounds, there’s no smartphone mirroring so you can’t use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

While you might get past that, the UX falls down in one other area. As a family car, it’s seriously flawed thanks to an embarrassingly small boot. A storage capacity of 283 litres under the parcel shelf is less than you’ll find in a Ford Fiesta. Stick to two-wheel drive and an extra 37 litres is released thanks to the loss of the rear electric motor, but that’s in a compartment under the floor.

Get past that and the UX is a fine car. It drives nicely, with direct steering and well-controlled body roll. You can try to spice things up slightly by switching the car to Sport mode, but it only seems to make the steering heavier. There is adaptive suspension available on some models, which might benefit from a switch to Sport, but the standard car rides very well so it’s unlikely to make much difference. Better to keep the drive system in Normal mode and relax in the whisper-quiet environment.

You’ll also find it’s a cheap car to run. Official economy figures promise 46.3mpg, and that’s roughly the same as we saw on the test route. Drive gently and you’ll undoubtedly be able to do even better. Car tax is steep on this Takumi spec model thanks to the price tag that edges over £40,000, but the Premium model saves close to £8,000 and offers almost as much luxury along with a lower tax bill. Company car drivers can save as much as £5,000 over similar premium rivals thanks to a BIK rate of 21% – that’s the joy of a hybrid versus a big diesel engine.

The UX won’t be a huge hit, as Lexus is still something of a niche player, but its first compact SUV is, in almost every way, deserving of being so. It’s distinctive, frugal, good to drive and cheap to run. Families with a buggy to carry around need not apply, but for anyone else wanting a hatchback that rides a bit higher and feels special, the Lexus UX could be spot on.

Model Tested: Lexus UX Takumi E-Four
Price: £40,355
Range: £29,905 – £40,355
Top speed: 110 mph
0-62 mph: 8.7 seconds
Power: 184 PS (181 bhp)
Torque: N/A
Monthly PCP*: £551
Official economy: 46.3 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 103 g/km
Car Tax: £455
Insurance group: 26E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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