LEXUS’S COCK­TAIL PARTY TRICK

Com­ing UX small SUV turns up in neat ca­sual, with a seg­ment-first hy­brid AT A GLANCE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - JOHN CAREY

Lexus’s new small SUV is late to the party but it will at least bring some­thing new to show off. Sched­uled to ar­rive in Novem­ber, the UX — for Ur­ban eX­plorer — will be first in the boom­ing cat­e­gory with the op­tion of hy­brid power. Petrol-elec­tric propul­sion is trade­mark tech at Lexus, the lux­ury brand launched by hy­brid pi­o­neer Toy­ota in 1989.

The top-of-the-range UX 250h in­tro­duces an en­tirely new hy­brid set-up, built around Toy­ota’s equally new 2.0-litre four-cylin­der.

The same ba­sic en­gine also pow­ers the least costly vari­ant, the front-drive UX 200. Lexus Aus­tralia is yet to fi­nalise prices but this one is tipped to be about $45,000.

The small SUV seg­ment is go­ing great guns in Aus­tralia. Sales are up more 25 per cent this year, more than dou­ble the growth rate for SUVs over­all. The trend is just as strong for premium brands as main­stream mak­ers.

What makes this Lexus re­ally spe­cial isn’t its hy­brid tech­nol­ogy. The UX is the work of a team led by Chika Kako — the first woman to reach chief engi­neer rank at Toy­ota and Lexus.

The 51-year-old from Nagoya earned a de­gree in chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing be­fore be­ing hired by Toy­ota and be­com­ing an in­te­rior spe­cial­ist. The cabin, de­signed and en­gi­neered by Kako’s crew, is one of the UX’s strengths.

The driver-fo­cused in­te­rior of the five-seater is at­trac­tive and oozes qual­ity. One of the fitout op­tions in­cludes a dash-top pad made to mimic the tex­ture of Ja­panese ar­ti­san-made washi pa­per. Those who don’t like it can choose the usual leather look in­stead.

Even though it makes a great first im­pres­sion, the in­te­rior of the UX isn’t No.1 for user-friendly func­tion­al­ity. The touch­pad be­tween the front seats, used to scroll and tap through menus dis­played on the hi-res cen­tre screen, isn’t as pre­cise a poin­ter as the dial de­vices favoured by its Ger­man com­peti­tors. And the ad­ja­cent au­dio con­trol pod, a UX in­no­va­tion, isn’t a great suc­cess ei­ther. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, rearseat roomi­ness isn’t out­stand­ing and the cargo com­part­ment is rather small.

The ex­te­rior of the UX, with its dis­tinc­tive full-width LED tail-light strip, isn’t as hard to like as the com­pany’s other SUVs.

In pro­file it is some­what sim­i­lar to the Mercedes-Benz GLA, best-seller in the class, while the shape of the con­trast­ing whee­larch mould­ings may re­mind some of the Hyundai Kona. Still, the UX is a neat and tidy de­sign by Lexus stan­dards.

The per­for­mance de­liv­ered by nor­mal and hy­brid drive is fine. In the UX 200, the 126kW en­gine is teamed with an auto that com­bines toothed gear wheels with a pul­ley-and-belt con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion.

Ini­tial ac­cel­er­a­tion uses only the fixed-ra­tio gear, for a more re­spon­sive launch feel, then switches to the CVT mech­a­nism. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is brisk enough, though tingly en­gine vi­bra­tions blight the UX 200 if the go-pedal is floored when the lights turn green.

The 131kW hy­brid drive of the UX 250h is more serene and faster. It’s also cer­tain to be more ef­fi­cient, although Lexus is yet to cer­tify the ve­hi­cles’ fuel con­sump­tion.

The maker will im­port front and all-wheel drive ver­sions of the hy­brid, the lat­ter dubbed

LEXUS UX 200

PRICE $45,000 (est)

WAR­RANTY

4 years/100,000km; no capped ser­vic­ing.

SAFETY Not yet rated

EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 126kW/205Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION Fixed 1st gear plus CVT; FWD

THIRST N/A

WEIGHT 1510kg

0-100KM/H 9.2 secs E-Four and equipped with an ex­tra elec­tric mo­tor to drive the rear wheels. Though small, the mo­tor re­duces the vol­ume of the small-ish cargo com­part­ment above it by 30L.

The E-Four set-up boosts trac­tion but ac­cord­ing to Lexus the lighter front-drive UX 250h is a frac­tion quicker from rest to 100km/h. Both de­liver turbo diesel-like ac­cel­er­a­tion once they’re rolling, but with more calm and quiet.

Road noise lev­els are higher than they should be in both the 200 and 250h, at least on the 18-inch tyres worn by the UXs sam­pled in Stock­holm last month. The ba­sic 200 will roll on 17-inch wheels, while the 250h and F-Sport will run on 18-inch­ers.

As with the Toy­ota C-HR, the UX is built on the com­pact ver­sion of the Ja­panese gi­ant’s new and much im­proved small-car ar­chi­tec­ture.

It has a lower cen­tre of grav­ity than ri­vals, Lexus claims, and a well-sorted in­de­pen­dent mul­ti­link rear sus­pen­sion for tidy han­dling and rea­son­able ride com­fort, just like the C-HR.

Its elec­triic-as­sist steer­ing is direct and pre­cise but the UX is not the kind of ve­hi­cle to de­liver or­gas­mic lev­els of driv­ing plea­sure.

Small premium SUV shop­pers are more likely to be turned on in­stead by the UX’s lav­ish stan­dard equip­ment list, ob­vi­ous qual­ity and the solid rep­u­ta­tion of the brand that builds it.

PRES­TIGE

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.