Stockholm, Sweden – Arriving in a city where every second person looks as if they have just stepped off of the catwalk from Fashion Week can really take its toll on one’s self esteem. As you look down at your own outfit – the fraying Mr Price top from two seasons ago and the jeans that have faded beyond the trendy point, you can’t help but feel like you’re being left behind. Lexus would have had a similar feeling comparing its wardrobe with other current compact SUV offerings. Sure, it has the NX, but it needed something a little edgier, a little fresher and little “littler”. Enter the Lexus UX!
A plucky new contender or Lexus design language taken a step too far?
The feelings of inadequacy I felt in Stockholm are a far cry from how the stylish-looking new Lexus UX must feel. Indeed, confident in all its pronounced, angular glory it is both still instantly recognisable as a Lexus and yet refreshingly compact and plucky. I am still undecided as to whether I love how the UX looks or whether Lexus may have taken its current design language just a little too far. Either way, it’s certainly distinctive.
Hop inside and it’s as stylish as the locals walking past me on the Stockholm streets. The Japanese craftsmanship is just superb and the materials used up front are something to behold. Especially if you opt for one of the two-tone colour trims on offer. It’s a pity that the same level of sophistication and quality available up front doesn’t quite translate to the tight rear where the presence of hard plastics let the package down somewhat. Where the luggage area is relatively shallow, it at least offers a decent amount of depth. Although, some will find the boot to be a little too compact, especially if you are family or more than two people.
Striking two-tone interior trim meets superb Japanese craftsmanship
I was able to drive both the UX 200 and the UX 250h both of which make use of a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, the hybrid model supplemented by two electric motors. While the bulk of South African sales are likely to be the UX 200, I preferred the 250h, if only from a fuel efficiency point of view. While the 2.0-litre petrol engine is perfectly suited to city driving, on the open road it can sound rather strained. This engine would have welcomed a turbo.
I’ll be interested to discover whether the UX’s impressive quality displayed on the beautifully smooth Swedish roads can be duplicated in South African conditions. As it stands, and based on the brand’s other offerings, Lexus is likely to make sure of this. The steering is light at first but can be suitably firmed via a switchable Sport mode. A further custom mode is designed to allow owners to configure the various dynamic parameters.
A mention has to be made of Chika Kako if only because she is a formidable woman, but also because she is the chief engineer for the UX as well as the Executive Director for Lexus International. She says this car was engineered to build an emotional connection with it. Well, time will tell I guess.
It is going to be interesting to see how the new Lexus UX fares against stiff competitors like the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Certainly, local pricing will be crucial. If you consider that the Toyota CH-R has a nicer, more modern engine, a similarly impressive ride and is that much cheaper, the UX might well find competition from within its own stable.
Lexus UX faces stiff competitors in the Audi Q2, BMW X1 & Mercedes-Benz GLA
That said, there’s also something to be said for the brand cache attached to the Lexus badge and UX represents a solid new offering in the compact SUV segment. Personally, I hope customers will see that something different is sometimes a really good thing.