Sunday Times

PRIC­ING WILL BE CRU­CIAL FOR RE­FINED BABY LEXUS

The lit­tlest Lexus crossover blends edgy styling with well-re­solved dy­nam­ics. By

- Bren­win Naidu

Most con­sumers are lust­ing af­ter com­pact crossovers and sport-util­ity ve­hi­cles as their next pur­chase. And car mak­ers are pan­der­ing to this heady de­mand with a flood of ap­pro­pri­ate wares. The tem­plates can be had in sizes across the board — from cutesy com­pact of­fer­ings to large and in-charge lum­ber­ing be­he­moths.

At the smaller end of the pre­mium niche, buy­ers can pick from prod­ucts such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Volvo

XC40 and Jaguar E-Pace. In­finiti launched the QX30 in 2015 and that model was des­tined to ar­rive here, be­fore the sit­u­a­tion turned awry for the brand lo­cally.

But Japan will be rep­re­sented in this arena when the Lexus UX lands in SA early next year. We had a brief en­counter with the model at its global launch in Stock­holm, Swe­den, a fort­night ago.

Its po­si­tion as the lit­tlest of the lit­ter will see the UX ap­peal to cus­tomers who might never have con­sid­ered — or been able to af­ford — a Lexus be­fore. In­deed, pric­ing will be cru­cial. The UX shares a foun­da­tion with the Toy­ota CHR, which in range-top­ping spec­i­fi­ca­tion costs R422,100. The next step on the rung of the Lexus range lad­der is the NX, kick­ing off at R606,000. So, it would not be re­miss to have ex­pec­ta­tions of it cost­ing in the re­gion of R500,000.

As with all prod­ucts in the Lexus sta­ble (dated CT200h aside per­haps); the UX is a strik­ing thing. It boasts an ag­gres­sive an­gu­lar­ity. There are sharp pleats in its physique and a rather dis­grun­tled-look­ing face, which should as­sert it­self suf­fi­ciently in the rear-view mir­rors of driv­ers in the con­crete jun­gle.

That char­ac­ter­is­tic spin­dle grille seems to grow more ex­ag­ger­ated in the midriff sec­tion each time Lexus tacks it onto a new model. Puts one in mind of an hour­glass — or an El­iz­a­bethan-era corset. An­other stand­out fea­ture can be found at the rear, with il­lu­mi­na­tion span­ning the en­tire width of the tail­gate.

On the in­side, the UX trans­lates the edgi­ness of its outer shell du­ti­fully. Pan­els and sur­faces are in­tri­cately sculpted, a case of form meet­ing func­tion meet­ing art. Yes, all this po­etry is jux­ta­posed with the odd bit lifted from the Toy­ota parts bin. But you can for­give them, since few motoring con­glom­er­ates in 2018 are ex­empt from such shar­ing across brands.

GLOBAL AR­CHI­TEC­TURE

As men­tioned, the UX em­ploys the same un­der­pin­nings as the Toy­ota CHR — the com­pany calls this its Global Ar­chi­tec­ture — Com­pact (GA-C) plat­form. The sim­i­lar­ity in tex­ture should not be thought of as a crit­i­cism, since the hum­bler cousin has been praised for its road man­ners and re­fine­ment. As ex­pected, how­ever, Lexus has in­vested ad­di­tional en­gi­neer­ing in most ar­eas to give it a greater air of plush­ness.

The UX showed com­po­sure through the nar­row, coun­try­side roads of our jaunt, pro­gress­ing in the re­laxed fash­ion we as­so­ciate with the brand. All well and good, though a wider spread of pow­er­train op­tions would be wel­comed. The UX is served with a nor­mally as­pi­rated, 2.0-litre four­cylin­der. No tur­bocharg­ing of any sort, even though there are op­tions avail­able in the group — like the 1.2litre unit from the C-HR, or the boosted 2.0-litre from the IS200t sedan.

But this is a new mill and the car maker is proud, claim­ing that its out­puts are on par with com­peti­tors’ en­gines that em­ploy forced in­duc­tion. The fig­ures are 126kW and 205Nm in the UX200, and the UX200h hy­brid ver­sion sup­ple­ments that with an elec­tric mo­tor.

Both are mated to a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT); al­beit with a me­chan­i­cal gearset for take-off. This aims to de­liver a smoother pull­away.

In a seg­ment with a plethora of op­tions, the pri­mary ap­peal of the UX will be its daz­zling aes­thet­ics and char­ac­ter­ful per­sona that cre­ates. This, sup­ple­mented by the long-stand­ing Lexus virtues of qual­ity and re­fine­ment, po­si­tions the model for suc­cess. LS

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