News Article

Sunday Drive: Lexus UX 200

Many modern cars can look unresolved and overly fussy in photos, only to appear much more coherent in the metal.

Price: $59,900.
Powertrains and performance: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, 126kW/205Nm, continuously variable transmission, FWD, combined economy 5.8 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4495mm long, 1520mm high, 2640mm wheelbase, luggage capacity litres, 17-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Plush interior, smooth powertrain around town, eye-catching exterior styling.
We don't like: Weird infotainment setup, limited rear seat room, teensy boot.

Many modern cars can look unresolved and overly fussy in photos, only to appear much more coherent in the metal.

That's the Lexus UX. The teensy toff Toyota is downright extrovert, but plays its extravagance with neatly synched style, and just as well... every centimetre is 'crafted'. Highlights? Those protruding tail lights aid the aerodynamics yet surely that's happenstance to looking incredible. And that grille: Individual block-like elements that change shape as they move away from the central Lexus badge. Utterly artful.

Exquisite origami continues within - the trim finish is inspired by Japanese paper and the different surface levels, materials and shapes lend an interesting and inviting look and feel. A shame it continues with a touchpad controller that, as in all Lexus cars, delivers nothing but frustration (fortunately, it has buttons to enable alternate base functionality). But, overall, it's a remarkable expression of forward thinking.

Why try so hard? Because the small sports utility category is packed with strong designs. And perhaps also because of its background. You'll never guess – and the brand certainly won't go out of its way to remind – that the UX and the latest Corolla are, in so many ways, sister ships.

Nothing that you can see or touch of course, and in fact UX is also a little larger. Same wheelbase, but longer and taller. Nonetheless, while the flagship Limited has a hybrid drivetrain not seen in mainstream Toyota-dom, the entry UX 200 tested runs Corolla's engine and CVT.

And, though this is the first Lexus built on the company's new 'GA-C' global architecture, that's actually the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) by another name. Which is a good thing, in case you're wondering.

Anyway, even when associations are positive, they're obviously tricky to leverage when the cheapest UX is $21k dearer than the most expensive Corolla hatch and the priciest is a LOT more.

Which raises another question: what is the UX - a sports utility or an elevated hatch? Being considered the first helps the brand story, as these achieve 70 per cent of Lexus volume. But four-wheel-drive and some degree of off-seal ability are badge-earning factors that don't lend easily. Just one UX (the hybrid Limited) sends drive to more than the front wheels and it's not a mud-plugger. So, really, it's a jacked-up hatchback with an SUV-ish styling and driving position – a crossover.

More than this, a city-centric crossover. That's not to say the UX won't stand open road outings. In the 100kmh zone performance is decent, it has the lowest centre of gravity in its class according to Lexus and the ride is controlled if a tad on the firm side.

But with UX standing for 'urban explorer', you know where this brand prefers you take adventures. A compact dimensioned, edgy wee jigger not only looks good in town but also works well there. Factors such as decent visibility and a tight turning radius are instantly beneficial.

The 2.0-litre petrol powertrain is also impressive, but the transmission is intrusive, though. The "geared" start function (also seen on a certain Toyota) avoids the flaring you often get with this transmission at start-off, yet nonetheless putting the foot down results in a steep climbing of engine revs not matched by pace. So, though a better kind of CVT, it's no different than any other in that its best when driven more smoothly.

Being dimensionally-friendly for town cuts both ways. Small also means tightly-confined; there's no Tardis magic. It's such a snug wee bauble two adults in the front, two in the rear only works when those in the first row make significant accommodations to release leg space behind. To be fair, this is a general complaint about many small SUVs, but it does mean the UX struggles to convince as a family car: by setting the rear seats low, the designers have managed to create reasonable headroom back there, but the driver and front seat passenger get the best deal. The boot's alarmingly small when the 60:40 split rear bench is up and provisions little additional useful space when folded.

At least you're swathed in luxury and have lots of kit, although that Enform multimedia setup is not so hot; the update to Apple/Android phone projection cannot come soon enough, as the in-house phone and sat nav operability is annoyingly awkward, a voice control deaf to 'New Zild uccents' not helping much.

Lexus Safety System Plus is also standard with usual functionalities abetted by ability to detect cyclists in daytime and pedestrians even at night.

All that's great if you like Lexus. And it's good if you like Toyota, too, because the parent has a close match at a much better price. No, not the Corolla, but another pea on this platform. Though not as upmarket, the C-HR looks just as funky and does exactly the same thing for a whole lot less.