LEXUS UX

LIT­TLE LUX­U­RIES FOR THE CROSS­OVER DRIVER

Torque (Singapore) - - FRONT PAGE -

IN many ways, the new Lexus UX is sim­i­lar to the dozen or so premium com­pact-crossovers avail­able to­day. At the same time, it is like no other.

The sin­gle strong­est trait which sets it apart from its peers is es­sen­tially the same trait which, nearly 30 years ago, set the Lexus LS apart from the es­tab­lished lux­ury sedans.

Namely, a high level of re­fine­ment, with the use of fine ma­te­ri­als, and an ob­sses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail. It is a qual­ity which Lexus has been able to repli­cate in prac­ti­cally all its cars.

But will it be enough this time? Af­ter all, there are odds stacked against the UX.

Firstly, it is based on the Toy­ota C-HR cross­over, mak­ing its ar­chi­tec­ture among the mi­nor­ity of front-wheel-drive vari­ants in the Lexus sta­ble. Se­condly, the car is a Johnny-come-lately, and has to be quite spe­cial if it is to be more than an also-ran.

It is a daunt­ing task, but one which Lexus can hardly avoid. The world has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the LS made its glo­ri­ous de­but in 1989. To­day, ev­ery premium brand has de­scended the prod­uct pyra­mid to reach out to more buy­ers. Rightly or wrongly, Lexus feels it has no choice but to fol­low. The Ja­panese mar­que is no stranger to this foray, though. It had done so be­fore, with the CT hy­brid hatch, but with lim­ited suc­cess. This time, rid­ing on the cross­over tsunami, it is try­ing again, with the UX, which is cre­ated by Chika Kako – the same chief en­gi­neer as the CT. Does the UX have what it takes to jos­tle with cars like the Mer­cedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and Jaguar E-Pace?

In a word, yes. The car looks, feels and drives noth­ing like its chas­sis donor. It has been re-en­gi­neered so ex­ten­sively that it bears no sim­i­lar­ity to the C-HR, save for its wheel­base. The body pan­els of the UX are smoothened down to the 0.01mm level – a new tol­er­ance level for metal stamp­ing. The shell is made stronger with more laser-weld­ing points. The tail­gate open­ing is re­in­forced with a ring struc­ture to im­prove over­all body rigid­ity and dy­namic per­for­mance. The flat un­der­body cover – a Lexus sig­na­ture – min­imises noise from tur­bu­lence. Even the wheel de­sign re­duces wind re­sis­tance while in­creas­ing air­flow to cool the disc brakes (the de­sign pulls air from the in­side of the wheel, while the air­flow on the outer side of the ve­hi­cle is reg­u­lated to fol­low the wheel sur­face).

De­sign-wise, the UX ex­udes a con­tem­po­rary styling, with an em­pha­sis on aero­dy­nam­ics, el­e­gance and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

Lexus’ prom­i­nent spin­dle grille takes pride of place up in front, flanked by two slim LED

head­lights. At the back, a spoiler sits atop a rak­ish rear wind­screen. And an ul­tra-thin LED strip runs across the tail­gate, join­ing the two tail-lamp clus­ters. The UX does not look quite as busy or edgy as the C-HR. Which means it does not have an im­me­di­ate wow fac­tor, but it also means it is likely to out­last its Toy­ota cousin in the test of time.

For all its at­ten­tion to de­tail, Lexus has left the cross­over’s tailpipe com­pletely un­con­cealed. An hon­est ap­proach per­haps, but a tad re­miss of a car set to com­pete in prob­a­bly the most com­pet­i­tive seg­ment in the mar­ket. Es­pe­cially for one bear­ing the Lexus name­plate.

In­side, the UX ex­udes an ex­tremely high qual­ity for prod­ucts in its seg­ment. You will find a high equip­ment level, an un­sur­passed level of fit and fin­ish, and some­how, more space for oc­cu­pants front and back than in the C-HR.

Notable fea­tures in­clude a dash-top lined with a tex­tured sur­face rem­i­nis­cent of Ja­panese washi pa­per. The air-con vents are con­trolled by a sin­gle knob for flow vol­ume and di­rec­tion. This knob is il­lu­mi­nated by LED, which is pow­ered wire­lessly by mag­netic res­o­nance. Very cool.

Tak­ing cen­tre stage is a large in­fo­tain­ment screen paired with a user-friendly touch­pad and hi-fi con­trols re­cessed in the front of its cen­tre arm­rest. This frees up the helm for a steer­ing wheel adapted from none other than the new LS flag­ship.

Be­hind the wheel, there is no mis­tak­ing the UX for any­thing else but a Lexus. This im­pres­sion is re­in­forced as soon as you are on the road, where any

THE LEXUS UX IS BASED ON THE TOY­OTA C-HR, BUT LOOKS, FEELS AND DRIVES NOTH­ING LIKE ITS CHAS­SIS DONOR.

sus­pi­cion you might have that this is noth­ing but a re­badged C-HR fades quickly away. Pow­ered by a new high­com­pres­sion 2-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine paired with ei­ther a CVT with a fixed first gear (UX200) or a hy­brid driv­e­train (UX250h), the car feels well at ease in any sit­u­a­tion.

You would think a 2-litre with­out forced in­duc­tion – and one with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion – would strain to keep up with Euro­pean traf­fic. But the UX is sur­pris­ingly breezy.

In fact, the UX200 drives like a light turbo ve­hi­cle mated to a dual-clutch gear­box, which is a very good thing. It is blessed with a throt­tle re­sponse which is in­stan­ta­neous and light­footed, smooth and re­lent­less ac­cel­er­a­tion from the word go, and an ad­mirably punchy mid-range. Lexus says this en­gine has a higher ther­mal ef­fi­ciency than usual.

Sim­i­larly, the UX250h is un­like any hy­brid car. In­stead of a fo­cus on econ­omy, the car pos­sesses a strong per­for­mance bias – it is ac­tu­ally quicker than the UX200.

Even in Eco mode, it is able to keep up with fast-flow­ing high­way traf­fic ef­fort­lessly. But sur­pris­ingly, the trans­mis­sion of the UX250h feels more like a CVT than its UX200 twin’s.

Its strong points in­clude a smooth stop-start sys­tem, brakes which feel nat­u­ral (with­out the stodgy feel of brake en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion), and not even a hint of the re­tarded throt­tle re­sponse most hy­brids are cursed with.

At the heart is a hy­brid unit which is more pow­er­ful and yet smaller and lighter than com­pa­ra­ble units in other Toy­ota hy­brids.

Both vari­ants ride far bet­ter than the C-HR, with a chas­sis which is very set­tled and buzz-free. Even on cob­bled streets, its sus­pen­sion copes

WITH A PRO­VI­SIONAL PRICE OF BE­TWEEN $170K AND $200K, THE UX IS EX­PECTED TO REACH A SWATHE OF BUY­ERS WHO COULD NOT (OR WOULD NOT) BUY A NEW LEXUS BE­FORE.

well with con­trolled re­bounds and keeps jud­ders to a bear­able level. In this re­spect, the car feels one size larger than it is.

More im­pres­sively, ride qual­ity in the sec­ond row is just as good as in the first – a rar­ity, re­ally.

It is, how­ever, not as spa­cious as its ri­vals, be­ing among the small­est among them. But com­pact­ness has its ad­van­tages. The UX chief en­gi­neer says the car is tuned for sporti­ness and drive­abil­ity. And it shows, mostly.

The UX will trace its course flaw­lessly round a tight bend, be­tray­ing just a hint of roll in the process. The car dis­plays a height­ened agility, qual­i­fy­ing it prob­a­bly as the best-han­dling cross­over from Lexus. In fact, it is more hatch­back than cross­over in this re­spect.

Its steer­ing is ad­e­quately weighted, sharp and quick, but un­for­tu­nately, still comes across as a wee bit de­tached.

Still, its front-drive chas­sis has the nim­ble­ness, fi­nesse and for­ti­tude you would not find in any one car, but a med­ley of the best ex­am­ples you can think of.

Yet, for all its dy­namic abil­i­ties, the UX is not a car which leaves you beam­ing af­ter a drive. There is noth­ing quan­ti­ta­tively want­ing, but qual­i­ta­tively, you might say the car is not as en­gag­ing as a com­peti­tor from BMW or Audi.

Then again, many cars in this seg­ment are not ex­actly sen­sa­tional to drive, even if they are com­pe­tent in the ride and han­dling depart­ment.

The Lexus, how­ever, just about pips them all in the area of re­fine­ment, with a level of noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness which matches cars at least one size big­ger. Its in­te­rior is also the most lux­u­ri­ous of the lot, in terms of fur­nish­ing and fin­ish­ing.

When it ar­rives in Sin­ga­pore in Jan­uary 2019, it will be the most highly equipped car in its cat­e­gory, too – es­pe­cially in the area of ac­tive safety.

Fea­tures in­clude adap­tive cruise con­trol, plus-size head-up dis­play, pre-col­li­sion sys­tem with pedes­trian and cy­clist de­tec­tion, lane-keep­ing sys­tem, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, and au­to­matic and adap­tive high-beam.

As with other Lexus mod­els, the UX has an F Sport per­for­mance ver­sion, which boasts an adap­tive sus­pen­sion sys­tem, among other things. This sus­pen­sion sys­tem min­imises body roll, and im­proves ride com­fort. Lexus says it will vary damp­ing through 650 lev­els, mak­ing changes hun­dreds of times per sec­ond ac­cord­ing to cues from the steer­ing, yaw rate and lin­ear G-force sen­sors. But even with­out the F Sport spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the UX is well within its means to raise the bar in its seg­ment – just as the LS did three decades ago.

With a pro­vi­sional price of be­tween $170,000 and $200,000 in Sin­ga­pore, the UX is also ex­pected to reach a swathe of buy­ers who could not (or would not) buy a new Lexus be­fore.

NO­VEM­BER 2018

UX250h is a per­for­mance­bi­ased petrol-elec­tric hy­brid which is quicker than the UX200.

NO­VEM­BER 2018 LEXUS UX250 2.0 (A)

NO­VEM­BER 2018

UX ex­te­rior is el­e­gant, aero­dy­namic and ac­ces­si­ble, but its ex­haust tailpipe is unattrac­tive.

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