A high-quality compact SUV is a must-have in the stables of premium car brands these days: for many years, Lexus went without a truly small SUV, allowing the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and BMW X1 to keep the segment positively Teutonic. That all changed in 2019 with the unveiling of the sharply-styled, properly compact Lexus UX crossover. Built on the excellent Lexus-Toyota TNGA platform but making use of the typically superb interior materials this Japanese luxury brand are known for, the UX was a recipe for success.
Like Audi’s Q2 and Q3, which are effectively fettled Volkswagen Golfs, the Lexus UX builds on the solid foundations of cars from a mainstream brand: in this case, the Toyota C-HR – one of our favourite small SUVs – and the new Corolla hatch, which is nothing like your grandma’s Corolla. The Lexus piles in about 100kg worth of additional equipment and sound deadening, while sporting a bespoke interior and pretty unmissable exterior design. Under the skin, though, this is a sporty number, emerging with the Corolla’s high-revving two-litre petrol engine and the same gubbins that make the C-HR properly agile.
That said, Lexus refrain from marketing the UX as athletic. Instead, the brand pushes an air of quality around the UX, working from the tastefully appointed interior out to the decidedly Japanese exterior aesthetic. The shape won’t please all eyes, but our $45,050 ($51,626 driveaway) UX 200 Luxury, finished in Graphite Grey paint, highlighted the sharp lines nicely while playing down some of the angles that we’ve found awkward in the past. The full-width LED light signature on the tail looks awesome at night, too, while our test car sported a set of upsized 18-inch wheels borrowed from the posh Sports Luxury variant.
Inside, the UX impresses, particularly if you opt for a splash of colour for the upholstery. Our car was fitted with cream leather, providing a perfect contrast to offset the grey duco. This is instantly a pleasant place to sit: you feel safe, cocooned by the high transmission tunnel and dashboard. The UX’s front seats are heated, electrically adjustable and comfortable in a soft, gentleman’s club sort of way. A pair of offset cupholders and door bins allow easy coffee and bottle storage. The dual-access central bin opens with lightness and precision that needs to be felt to be appreciated.
Lexus pioneered the digital driver display in its LFA supercar, and this feature has filtered through the range, with the UX packing a seven-inch driver’s screen. There’s also a crisp 10.3-inch multimedia screen nestled into the dashboard, though this is not a touchscreen. The central display is controlled by a trackpad and a mixture of shortcut buttons. The system takes more time to get used to than the Audi Q3’s touchscreen or the BMW X1’s rotary dial, but by the time I was handing the keys back to Lexus, this had grown more natural. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with integrated navigation, Bluetooth and digital radio, are included.
While the rear quarters of the UX aren’t exceedingly generous, the light-coloured leather makes it feel more spacious than perhaps it is, while materials remain pleasantly soft. At six-foot-two, I still had enough headroom to recommend ticking the box for the optional sunroof. As for boot space, Lexus claims 321 litres for the Luxury grade, with the boot accommodating a spare wheel. Our tester’s runflat 18-inch wheel package saw the spare deleted and more space liberated, bringing cargo room to 371 litres.
We think that experiencing upscale interior also sits at the heart of the UX driving experience: everything revolves around the comfort factor here. Motivating the UX 200 is a naturally aspirated two-litre four-cylinder producing 126kW/205Nm: adequate numbers, further enhanced by the tractability of the engine and a well-calibrated CVT transmission. While the UX offers drive mode adjustment up on the dashboard, testing suggested everything was best left in normal: Eco was horribly doughy and Sport too revvy and noisy. Driven normally, the petrol UX returned 6.4L/100km; I found myself relaxing while driving this SUV. Any rush to get places was quelled, and I was happy to flow with traffic.
Excellent NVH suppression drives home the relaxed demeanour further, though the occasions where that CVT revs the atmo four-cylinder out you do hear it. The whole relaxed attitude would be enhanced further by opting for the $48,550 ($55,301 driveaway) UX 250h petrol-electric hybrid. Later still, a full-electric UX 300e model is expected to come to Australia. City speeds demonstrate the well-judged suspension tuning, and the UX remains composed over sharp edges and bigger compressions alike with no detectable movement of trim pieces even on the craggiest sections of tarmac.
Where the UX 200 does feel outclassed is where you would expect. Point the nose towards a technical ribbon of black-top and it doesn’t give you the fizz that sportier compact SUVs might. Compared to a C-HR, that extra 100kg of weight dulls turn-in response and the UX feels reluctant to dance around. But that’s okay, because Lexus makes no claim of sporting prowess. Moreover, the UX will happily sit back and relax into a well-paced rhythm on country roads – the chassis is inherently balanced and capable, it’s just Lexus doesn’t feel the need to shout about it with stiff suspension and rorty exhausts.
Active safety tech is all present in the UX 200, even in our base Luxury variant. That means lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise with stop and go, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, rearview camera and AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection are standard fitment. Up the range, the mid-range Sports Luxury sees the addition of a 360 view camera and auto high beams, but the base car has all the necessities.
Something Lexus and Toyota have proven time and time again is reliability. The UX 200 is unlikely to be any different. A two-litre four-cylinder engine with prevalent spare parts, a four-year warranty and newly-introduced capped-price servicing ($495 every 15,000km or 12-months) make the luxury of Lexus a much easier monetary pill to swallow than more expensive European machinery. Opt for the hybrid and running costs drop again with fuel savings proven in our RAV4 long term. In future, though, we’d like to see Lexus match Mercedes-Benz Australia’s move to a five year new car warranty.
Lexus has carved the UX 200 a niche in the compact luxury SUV market. By exuding such a pleasant and relaxed demeanour that feels more grown-up than rivals, the UX offers a calm, frugal option with a remarkably unique design. A smartly appointed interior, supple suspension tune and solid level of technology combine to create a particularly serene driving experience. Lexus knows they won’t sell a UX to someone looking for a big hot hatch – that’s not what it’s about. There’s also no need to opt for the higher F-Sport with its adaptive dampers, or the equally-cushy Sports Luxury. Still, the hybrid should be considered as the additional electric motor further amplifies the positive characteristics of the UX.
Key specs (as tested)
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