Lexus's new UX has arrived
Price range: $59,900 (UX 200) to $75,900 (UX 250h Limited AWD).
Powertrains: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 126kW/205Nm (5.8l/100km) or petrol-electric hybrid with 135kW (4.5-4.7l/100km), continuously variable transmission, FWD or AWD.
Body style: Five-door SUV.
On sale: Now.
Luxury brands are nowhere these days without SUVs. And in 2019, they're nowhere without a compact-SUV to tempt fashion-conscious urban buyers, who don't seem to mind paying big-car prices for small product as long as it has the right crossover look and feel.
Lexus sales are over 70 per cent SUV in New Zealand, but to date it hasn't had a baby model. That's now changed in a big way with seven different variants of its all-new hatch-cum-SUV, the UX.
Make me an instant expert: what do I need to know?
Lexus talks about UX being based on a new global "GA-C" platform, but that's just the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) by another name.
Specification levels are Lexus-familiar: there's a standard model, F Sport and Limited - the top one of the trio restricted to the 250h hybrid. All models are front-drive, save the option of "E-Four" AWD on that 250h Limited ($3000 extra).
So yes, there's a fair bit of Corolla under there, including the UX 200's petrol engine and CVT. Nothing that you can see or touch of course, and in fact UX is also a little larger than the Corolla: same wheelbase, but 125mm longer and 105mm taller.
The UX could easily be a replacement for the Lexus CT200h hatchback - but it's not. The CT will continue for another couple of years, below the UX at $51,690.
It's a big step up from CT to the entry UX at $59,990, but that price is line-ball with the car's European rivals and the Lexus is arguably the best-equipped car in the segment.
The entry 200 and 250h have 18-inch wheels, three drive modes, keyless entry/start, 10.3-inch display with sat-nav (still no Apple/Android phone projection though), heated front seats with 10-way adjustment for the driver (eight for the passenger), dual-zone climate air conditioning and automatic wipers.
Lexus Safety System+ is also standard across the range, with all-speed adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous braking. The system also includes daytime cyclist detection and night-time pedestrian recognition.
The F Sport adds a customisable drive mode, adaptive suspension, special wheels and trim, front-seat ventilation, leather-accented interior, shift paddles, head-up display and full LED lights with self-levelling.
The Limited is more luxury-focused, with "paper textured" instrument panel finish, 13-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound and sunroof.
Where did you drive it?
Lexus NZ did launch the UX at a dedicated media event. But instead of hosting a drive on that particular day, it gave us long-lead access to 200 and 250h models in the weeks beforehand.
As far as first impressions go, it was a chance to experience the UX on familiar roads with a lot more freedom than we'd usually have on a pre-set drive route restricted to one day.
What's the pick of the range?
The standard petrol powertrain is impressive for the same reason it works so well in the Corolla: it has plenty of power and the CVT has a "geared" start function that avoids the flaring you often get with this transmission technology.
Lexus still can't manage to make a hybrid with a plug (proper EVs are still several years away), but regardless - a petrol-and-electricity mix is what this luxury brand is all about, so we reckon that's the way to go.
Five of the seven versions available are hybrid and Lexus reckons the 250h will account for 65 per cent of overall sales.
The hybrid powertrain uses the same all-new 2.0-litre petrol engine as the conventional UX, which means it's unique to this model for now. The Corolla and CT200h use an older 1.8-litre powerplant for thier hybrid systems.
The UX 250h is also craftily refined in that it's so quiet at urban speeds on a light throttle, it genuinely feels like a pure-electric car: smooth and strangely silent. It can run on battery at very low speed of course, but unless you're watching that "EV" light on the instrument panel it's often hard to pick when the petrol engine has fired up.
AWD sounds appealing but we didn't get to drive that one - and besides, it's only available in the top-line Limited for $76k.
The rigid platform provides good handling capabilities, but we're still not sure you need the sporty custom drive-mode and adaptive chassis stuff in a car like this, so we'd pass on the F Sport and stick with the $62,900 entry-level 250h, which still looks suitably dramatic and benefits from the same quality that you get with the much more expensive models.
Why would I buy it?
The UX has striking styling in any specification, a genuinely good chassis and beautiful touchy feely interior.
It's full of safety specification and the hybrid technology remains a unique selling proposition in this segment.
Plus that light bar at the back looks really cool.