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Lexus UX review: "On a mission to conquer"

The compact crossover is designed to win sales from rival brands and help turn the classical image of its maker on its head.

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The UX bears the angular design language that made its bigger brothers, the NX and RX, such visual treats, but wrought on a smaller scale. Inside the cabin, a new 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, 10.3-inch infotainment up the tech ante.

BT_20180921_LEXUS21HTXG_3568424.jpg
The UX bears the angular design language that made its bigger brothers, the NX and RX, such visual treats, but wrought on a smaller scale. Inside the cabin, a new 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, 10.3-inch infotainment up the tech ante.

Stockholm, Sweden

WHAT makes a Lexus a Lexus? In many ways that's embodied by its best-selling model, the ES: it has to be a very refined sedan, great for chauffeur duty, and have plenty of room for the family when dad does the driving himself.

The UX, a compact crossover, looks like none of those things, but it actually puts many classical, enjoyable Lexus traits into something new, with a smaller price tag, and therefore much wider potential audience.

But Lexus has broader aims for the UX that involve attracting new blood to the brand. Other than bolstering sales, the UX is designed to help turn the classical image of a Lexus on its head.

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Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are wildly fashionable right now, and as a more compact, accessibly-priced model the UX can be reasonably expected to sell well. There is extremely tough competition though, with at least six other small, luxury SUVs already on the market, chief among them being the Audi Q2, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Even here, the UX shows a different side of Lexus, one with a more bullish, directly-competitive spirit, in contrast to previous models that have often been marketed as a breed apart from the luxury German offerings.

When asked the question, Chika Kako, the chief engineer for the UX, gave a refreshingly direct reply: "We benchmarked the UX against segment competitors, including the first-generation BMW X1."

It's a wise move, as the indirect approach might work with half-a-million dollar luxury limousines, but small, luxury SUVs occupy a much more intensely competitive market where prices start around the S$150,000 mark (inclusive of Certificate Of Entitlement).

Because crossovers are bought chiefly for their looks, the design team at Lexus seems to have sharpened its protractors further.

It bears the angular design language that made its bigger brothers, the NX and RX, such visual treats, but wrought on a smaller scale. Those looking for even more eye-catching cachet will enjoy the full-width taillights with their prominent, L-shaped projections that also help aerodynamics.

Those expecting a typical Lexus-grade interior won't be disappointed, as the UX's cockpit has an inviting, wrap-around feeling that puts you at the centre of the proceedings. A new 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, 10.3-inch infotainment up the tech ante.

It's not just a visual experience but a tactile one too, with dual-tone leather upholstery, and Japanese fabric inspired trim panels, great haptics that never feel built to a budget, showing that Lexus knows how to build a cabin on a higher level than the competition's, even on a smaller scale.

The negative is a dearth of boot space - just 270 litres, around the same as you'll find in a small city car - though some under-boot stowage areas make up for it. So even though you can fit four regular-sized adults in comfort, don't expect to bring all of their luggage along too, if it's a multi-day trip.

A 2.0-litre non-turbocharged engine and continuously-variable transmission (CVT) are classic Lexus/Toyota traits, but the UX again breaks tradition while preserving its Lexus roots.

The engine is a new development, with Lexus claiming it is one of the most efficient in the world, but it doesn't lack for power too, with its 171 horsepower on tap. Singapore will receive both this model (the UX 200) and the 178hp UX 250h hybrid, which uses a more efficient version of the same engine.

The CVT has its own tricks too, with elements of a conventional automatic (Lexus calls this Direct Shift CVT) so it avoids the slushy-feeling nature of such transmissions.

Driving through central Stockholm, the UX proves itself a consummate city slicker with the unmistakable smoothness of a Lexus powertrain, and no sudden turbo kick means it's easier to drive in a smoother, less stressful manner.

The handling strikes a fine balance between keenness and predictability; there's a sense of the typical Lexus reserve with less inertia larger models might have. There's more road noise than those cars would have, though the UX makes up for it with superb, comfortable ride quality, something that's a real rarity among small SUVs.

It's obvious the UX has enough substance to stand tall in what is the most competitive car segment right now. Lexus has promised "very competitive" pricing for the car at its expected Singapore Motorshow debut in January 2019. If that happens, more people than ever could find out what makes a Lexus a Lexus.


LEXUS UX 200

Engine 1,987cc, inline 4
Power 171hp at 6600rpm
Torque 205Nm at 4800rpm
Gearbox Direct shift CVT
0-100km/h 9.2 seconds
Top Speed 190km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.7 L/100km (estimate)
Agent Borneo Motors
Price TBC
Available January 2019