Driven: Lexus UX is not cheap, but it's oh so stylish
With SUVs all the rage across the world, the new UX or ‘Urban X-over’ is what the carmaker is hoping will be the target market’s first luxury vehicle (and indeed the beginning of a loyal following).
When it comes to the target market, the questions asked aren’t always the same as the older generation; does it look cool? Will I look cool driving it? Will the person I’m trying to impress think it’s cool? Well, rest assured youngsters, the answer to all of the above is a definite affirmative.
Lexus says it’s aimed at the modern urban explorer and having spent a day behind the wheel on mostly suburban roads and highways in and around Cape Town it pretty much sums up what the UX is about.
Built on the new Global Architecture Compact (GAC) platform it provides a light but rigid structure with a low centre of gravity.
There are three model options to chose from. The UX 200 with a newly designed 2.0 litre four cylinder engine coupled with a new directshift continuously variable transmission, the UX 250h with the 2.0 litre engine with the fourth generation hybrid drive system, and the range-topping F Sport in 200 guise.
Lexus have always built super reliable, top-end luxury vehicles, but some might say rather bland looking.
Not so with the UX though; it’s funky, edgy, a little hip and comfortable too. The front is dominated by the spindle grille with a block shape mesh pattern that change in shape as it extends to the edges and looks different from every angle. It’s attention to detail like that, that has always been part of the Lexus lexicon and the UX is no different.
In fact, the whole of the front is as eye-catching as you’ll ever see on the road today, which struck me while driving and looking up in the rear view mirror seeing a colleague coming up behind me with the daytime running lights set above the headlights.
While it takes a bit of getting used to, the tail light clusters that form a single LED strip tapering towards the centre show that the designers have again paid attention to detail. Often one wonders what went through the designers minds when they put together an attractive front end and then suddenly remembered the car needs a back to round it off and you’re left with something that looks a little like an afterthought.
Inside, the complete package reflects Lexus’ attention to detail with leather trim, soft touch surfaces designed to resemble the handmade Japanese paper called Washi, and stitching patterns in the optional leather seat upholstery drawn from the sashiko quilting technique used in martial arts uniforms.
The seats are super comfortable with a six way manual adjustment in the UX 200 EX and eight way power adjustable in the F Sport and Hybrid.
The dual zone climate control uses the seat heating and ventilation system to boost the effort of the aircon when maximum heating or cooling is needed. The cooling system was much appreciated while driving the clogged Cape Town roads in the heat, made worse by robots being out because of Eskom’s predilection to destroy our economy.
Ergonomically, everything is easy to get at and once you’ve had the car for a couple of weeks, finding buttons and switches will easily be done without taking your eyes off the road - including using the touchpad under a palm rest with four short cut buttons.
As you would expect, all displays are digital with the exception of an analogue clock. The latest (and easy to understand) Lexus multimedia and navigation technology adds to the premium feel of the car with a 17.7cm touchscreen, and a 26cm screen if you go for the F Sport with nav.
Our first drive was with the hybrid, which once you’ve become accustomed to the fact that it’s completely silent on start up, pull away and in traffic was easy to drive, with driving dynamics and suspension set-up out of the top drawer.
Its engine puts out 107kW and 180Nm of torque and is allied to two motor-generators, one a little higher geared than the other on its own axis to make everything lighter and more compact. Together you get 130kW and 250Nm that drives the directshift continuously variable transmission, which with an innovative mechanical first gear negates that horrid slow CVT pull off.
Next up was the F Sport, fitted with stiffer suspension, anti-roll bars, and 18-inch alloy rims (the rest get 17s). The difference was noticeable but not at all uncomfortable, although there was some slight tyre squeal when I gave it a bit of stick around a sharp off-ramp. Being in the ‘sport’ package gave us a bit of freedom to use the right foot, but under hard acceleration the engine seemed to be taking a bit of strain.
On smooth tar and at the speed limit however all seemed normal again. The UX doesn’t come in cheap; the EX coming in at R599 000, the Hybrid 250h SE at R699 000 and the F Sport putting you back R726 200.
The entire range is covered by a seven-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan, though.