Lexus UX (2019) Launch Review

Lexus UX 2019 1024 2d

Japanese premium brand Lexus has introduced its new UX compact crossover to South Africa! It may be the smallest crossover/SUV in Lexus’ stable, but the newcomer has a big personality and comes packed with loads of standard features. Gero Lilleike sampled the newcomer at its launch in Cape Town this week; herewith his feedback...

Lexus has been dabbling in the SUV game for some time now with the NX luxury family car, RX premium SUV and the LX 7-seater off-roader. However, with the introduction of the smaller UX compact crossover, Lexus is looking to attract younger, upwardly mobile millennials to the brand with bold styling and a plethora of features that this target market demands. It’s not easy business though, because the UX must meet the challenges of segment heavyweights such as the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and newer rivals like the Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC40.

The UX, an abbreviation for "Urban Crossover", is the first Lexus to be built on the new Global Architecture – Compact platform, which is the same one that underpins the Toyota Prius and C-HR. Combining characteristics of a hatchback and crossover, the UX aims to be a volume seller for Lexus on local soil and will serve as the entry point to the brand. It is, therefore, an important product introduction for Toyota's luxury arm.

Have it all and more...


The new Lexus UX is loaded with standard spec while also offering sharp, striking styling. 

Where the UX makes a compelling case for itself is with its high level of standard specification, even in its base form. Where most of its rivals are offered with an endless list of optional features, the UX is equipped with a staggering number of modern conveniences as standard.

Without boring you to death with a long list, some of the key features include LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, electric/heated seats, dual-zone climate control (auto aircon), a wireless smartphone charger, cruise control (adaptive cruise control on ES and F-Sport), a 7-inch infotainment system (10.25-inch in the F Sport) with integrated navigation and Bluetooth functionality, an 8-speaker sound system (13-speaker Mark Levinson in the UX F Sport), plus front and rear park distance control with a reverse-view camera, to name but a few. The list goes on and on; you get the point.

The UX also impresses in terms of its suite of safety features; it's equipped with no fewer than 8 airbags as standard, while the 250h ES and 200 F-Sport derivates are equipped with the Lexus Safety System, which includes features such as a pre-crash sensing module, blind-spot monitor, lane keep assist with lane departure alert and an LED Adaptive High Beam system.

Click here to view specification details for the new Lexus UX range!

What’s the interior like?


Interior build quality is good. This UX 200 F-Sport features the instrument cluster from the LFA and LC Coupe.

The robust interior build quality and fine leather work were particularly impressive and we found the electrically-adjustable seats supportive, but comfortable. The interior has upmarket appeal (in terms of look and feel) and the controls are ergonomically sound (well within the driver's reach).

The UX's 7-inch infotainment system (with integral navigation) is controlled using Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface. We fiddled with the touchpad and found it to be hypersensitive and somewhat distracting to use while driving. It can be frustrating to use at first, but with a fair dose of patience and a reasonable period of familiarisation, usability should improve. In our opinion, we don’t feel it’s the most intuitive system on the market, however.


The Remote Touch Interface takes some getting used to, as does the new radio controls built into the armrest.  

A nifty feature we spotted in the F-Sport derivative is the movable main gauge bezel as fitted to the LFA supercar and LC Coupe. By pressing a button on the steering wheel, the ring moves to the right, which then enlarges the multi-information display. Very fancy indeed!

The rear bench is reasonably comfortable but taller passengers might find legroom a little on the tight side. The load bay is not the most spacious (it offers 272 litres) either, but there is some additional storage space under the boot floor if you need to keep valuables hidden from prying eyes. Additional loading space, should you need it, can be accessed by folding the rear seatback flat   

What’s it like to drive?


The UX's ride quality is a highlight and this UX 250h ES displayed noteworthy manners on the road. 

There are 3 UX derivatives on offer, including 2 naturally-aspirated derivatives in the form of the entry-level UX 200 EX, the range-topping UX 200 F Sport and, lastly, the hybrid UX 250h ES. All derivatives employ a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Our drive started in the UX hybrid, which is powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine that works in conjunction with 2 electric motor-generators to produce total outputs of 135 kW and 180 Nm of torque. The UX's smooth ride quality impressed us from the outset... Lexus' compact crossover just glided along, ostensibly unphased by the generally uneven and pockmarked surface of the N2 highway. The ride is on the firm side of pliant, but sufficiently supple and the handling felt sure-footed and confident in the few corners that we encountered on our way towards Philadelphia on the West Coast.

Very few road and wind noises make their way into the cabin, which is a testament to the UX’s solid build quality, but also enhances the "luxurious driving experience" appreciably. The steering is appreciably responsive to inputs, but also communicative with a pleasantly direct and sporty feel.

Using the drive mode dial placed next to the instrument cluster, the driver can select between Eco, Normal and Sport modes (depending on their preference). We whipped the UX hybrid into Sport mode on an empty stretch of road and found it willing to surge forward with surprising intent, plus we're happy to report that the CVT was well behaved, without that excessive (let alone infuriating) drone that most gearless transmissions emit.

The UX hybrid’s performance was far from underwhelming. In fact, it was refreshing to discover how responsive and keen it was to push on. Lexus claims an average fuel consumption of 4.5 L/100 km, but we'll need to spend more time with it to see how it fares in typical cut-and-thrust city traffic.


The UX 200 F Sport has numerous F Sport-specific features to differentiate it from the rest of the UX range. 

We also had a quick drive in the sportier 200 F-Sport derivative, which employs a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine that produces 126 kW and 205 Nm of torque. This range topper is distinguished with sporty appointments such as F-Sport 18-inch alloy wheels, -scuff plates, -3-spoke steering wheel, -leather seats and a derivative-specific instrument cluster.  

The 200 F-Sport further features adaptive variable suspension (AVS), which enhances ride refinement by increasing damping force to minimise body roll (side-to-side yawing motion) in the corners (or when changing lanes) and reduces damping when driving in a straight line to maximise ride comfort. The AVS is activated in conjunction with Sport S+ mode, which is only offered in this derivative.

Like the 250h SE, the 200 F-Sport can hustle along at a fair pace, but the latter carries a slightly higher claimed fuel consumption figure of 6.1 L/100 km. The driver can also manipulate the CVT using the mounted steering wheel paddles to squeeze the most out of the engine’s performance characteristics when needed. Overall, we found the Lexus UX’s performance to be more than adequate for its intended target market.  

Summary

While our initial impressions of the UX are mostly positive, like any car, it’s not perfect. The shallow and somewhat diminutive load bay may be an issue for some family-car buyers and the infotainment system proved to be too finicky for our liking.   

Nonetheless, the UX appears to be a worthwhile option to consider if you are in the market for a stylish and alternative compact luxury crossover. The entry-level 200 EX, which is expected to be the top-selling derivative, is particularly enticing at R599 900 if you consider the sheer amount of standard kit on offer when compared with its less-generously-specified German competitors. The 250h ES and UX 200 F Sport are, of course, pricier and for many buyers, those derivatives may very well be a push too far at R699 000 and R726 200 respectively.

However, Lexus’ new 7-year/105 000 km warranty and maintenance plan are genuine deal sweeteners. While brand snobs are likely to stick to the run-of-the-mill German fare, those who venture into the Lexus stable will nevertheless have much to smile about from behind the wheel of the UX.

We will have the new Lexus UX on test soon, so look out for a thorough evaluation coming your way in the near future.      

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