Down­sized, but still with a lot to offer

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ We trav­elled to Stock­holm, Swe­den to sam­ple Lexus’s small­est SUV yet, the UX, writes Ler­ato Matebese

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

There has been a wave of new SUVs sweep­ing through the mar­ket in re­cent times and any would-be man­u­fac­turer worth their salt is try­ing to plug any gap­ing holes in its cur­rent range of­fer­ing.

Pre­mium car mak­ers are no ex­cep­tion to this rule, what with Audi, BMW, Jaguar, MercedesBenz and Volvo also hav­ing their own ad­vo­cates in the form of the Q2, X2, E-Pace, GLA and XC40, re­spec­tively vy­ing to tug at the heart­strings of po­ten­tial buy­ers.

The lat­est en­trant into this com­pact/mid­size SUV seg­ment is the Lexus UX, which Mo­tor News sam­pled at its global launch in Stock­holm, Swe­den last week. Built on the com­pany’s GA-C global ar­chi­tec­ture plat­form, which also un­der­pins the Toy­ota CH-R and Prius mod­els, the UX suffix stands for Ur­ban and X-over (cross­over), ac­cord­ing to Chika Kako, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Lexus In­ter­na­tional and UX chief engineer. “We de­signed the UX to ap­peal to young buy­ers who seek not only what is new and ex­cit­ing, but what is rel­e­vant to their life­styles,” says Kako.

Size-wise, the model is no larger than its CH-R sib­ling and has Lexus’s fa­mil­iar spin­dle grille and head­lights with the sig­na­ture L-shaped LED day­time run­ning lights. There is some plas­tic cladding on the wheel arches to add a flavour of off-road at­ti­tude, while the rear has a rel­a­tively clean de­sign with the L-themed light bar run­ning the width of the ve­hi­cle.

There are 17-inch al­loy wheels on the Lux­ury spec­i­fi­ca­tion ve­hi­cles, while the F-Sport adds a more ag­gres­sive grille to its 18-inch al­loy wheels and all mod­els come with run flat tyres. Over­all, the ve­hi­cle strikes a classy pose that should ap­peal to the young and up­wardly mo­bile buy­ers seek­ing a pre­mium SUV with­out the frills and tow­er­ing size of its larger sib­ling. Over­all di­men­sions of the UX mea­sure 4,495mm long, 1,520mm high and 1,840mm wide, along with a 2,640mm wheel­base.

The cabin fea­tures a fairly clean and un­clut­tered de­sign with rel­a­tively plusher ma­te­ri­als than you would find in the CH-R. There’s also a neat 10.2-inch float­ing in­fo­tain­ment screen with nav­i­ga­tion, and an­gled to­wards the driver for bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity, but sadly Lexus still in­sists on the hap­tic con­trol pad to make in­puts, which takes some getting used to and is chal­leng­ing to use while on the move.

How­ever, the rest of the cabin is ac­tu­ally quite a pleas­ant place to be with rel­a­tively good head and legroom up front, while the rear proved slightly tight for adults and lanky in­di­vid­u­als. Boot space is at a pre­mium and is ex­ac­er­bated by a shal­low boot floor which means stack­ing of lug­gage is rather out of the ques­tion as this will mean the lug­gage cover ob­structs the view through the rear screen.

Ahead of the driver is a dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter sim­i­lar to that of the LFA su­per­car, which later fil­tered into the IS and RC 350 mod­els, and gives the cabin a modern, chic de­sign theme.

Mo­ti­va­tion for the UX comes in the form of a new en­gine fam­ily — the 2.0l, nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine with di­rect in­jec­tion is good for 126kW and 205Nm.

It pow­ers the en­try-level UX200 vari­ant, while the UX250h (hy­brid) uses the same mo­tor, which is fur­ther aug­mented by an elec­tric mo­tor to bring the total sys­tem out­put to 131kW and both mod­els come paired as stan­dard with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion.

While I re­main averse to this sort of trans­mis­sion, our low speeds around sur­bur­bia and the rel­a­tively open-road stints in-be­tween meant that the in­her­ent dreaded drone of this gear­box un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion was mainly kept at bay. Ride qual­ity was par­tic­u­larly good, even in the firmer sprung F-Sport mod­els that also offer a slightly stiffer rear strut than their Lux­ury coun­ter­parts. For diesel fans, sadly there are no plans of such with Lexus’s main eco drive be­ing hy­brid, thanks to high de­mand of such tech­nol­ogy both in China and the US, the com­pany’s big­gest mar­kets.

Hav­ing driven both mod­els, I reckon the UX200 will suf­fice and you can use the ex­tra cash to spec­ify the F-Sport pack­age and the thump­ing 13-speaker Mark Levin­son sound sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to Lexus SA, the UX range will ar­rive in SA in the first quar­ter of 2019 when pric­ing will be an­nounced, and I feel that the model’s suc­cess will hinge heav­ily on how it is priced and whether those nor­mallyaspi­rated en­gines will be able cut the mus­tard among their tur­bocharged ri­vals.

Above: That spin­dle grille is now a sig­na­ture Lexus de­sign trait. Left: The rear con­tin­ues that L-fi­nesse styling theme. Far left: Cabin ap­point­ments are both modern and classy.

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