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Road tests

New Lexus LBX 2024 review: a small SUV with premium appeal

The small Lexus LBX SUV breaks new ground for the luxury car maker

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

There really is nothing quite like the Lexus LBX currently on sale. It's as small as a Toyota Yaris Cross, yet offers the kind of premium appeal that is synonymous with larger Lexus models. However, while it feels well appointed from behind the wheel and is reasonably comfortable to drive, there are compromises to be made elsewhere. Rear passenger space is almost as cramped as it is in a Yaris Cross, while the LBX's list prices place it on a par with electric SUVs that offer lower running costs, or larger petrol models that match it for quality, but deliver greater practicality.

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After many years of producing a safe line-up of luxury SUVs and saloons, Lexus is going all-out to diversify its range. The LC grand touring coupe started the expansion, while the LM people carrier offers something unique in the large luxury car sector. At the smaller end of the market, Lexus is also downsizing with the LBX premium small SUV.

LBX stands for Lexus Breakthrough Crossover, and this is only the second car from the company to feature a three-letter name (the first being the LFA supercar). It's the Breakthrough part that's important, because the LBX is the smallest car that Lexus has ever built, but it comes with the premium quality and technology that has made the company's larger cars popular.

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Prices range from £30,000 to £40,600, which puts the LBX in the ballpark of small electric SUVs such as the Jeep Avenger and Volvo EX30. But while Lexus is dipping its toe into the EV market with the larger RZ, the LBX is a petrol-electric hybrid. It uses the same running gear as the Toyota Yaris and Yaris Cross, so there's a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric motor and battery, with the system tuned to make 134bhp here, a 5bhp increase over the most powerful version of the Yaris. As with the Yaris Cross, the LBX is available with front or four-wheel drive, the latter being a rarity in the small SUV class.

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The Yaris connection will give you an idea of how small the LBX is. At 4,190mm it's 10mm longer than a Yaris Cross, but a width of 1,825mm is a handy 60mm broader than Toyota's smallest SUV, and the LBX has a wheelbase that's 20mm longer, too. That means there's a bit more space in the cabin, but it's still on the snug side.

Up front there's plenty of room, and the LBX feels just as plush as the company's bigger models thanks to generous use of premium materials. The light-coloured synthetic leather of our car felt upmarket (black trim is available at no extra cost), but the man-made trim for the steering wheel was less impressive. While it had the look of leather, there was a slightly oily feel to its texture. There's centre console storage, but it's narrow, while the door bins are on the small side, too.

Where the LBX struggles the most is for rear passenger space. Much like the previously mentioned Avenger and EX30, the back seats are only really good for short trips, with the middle seat being no more than a token addition. Boot space isn't dreadful, but a capacity of 402 litres isn't much bigger than a conventional hatchback, while the seats-down capacity doesn't break the 1,000-litre mark, at 994 litres. There is a false floor with extra storage beneath, though, while a powered tailgate is also fitted to Premium Plus models and above.

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All versions of the LBX come with a 9.8-inch touchscreen that features navigation, voice control and a four-year subscription to connected services. Over-the-air updates are also offered, while wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow you to use your own apps instead. Premium Plus models and above also come with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and head-up display, although the touch-sensitive steering wheel controls used to operate the latter are a little tricky to use. Sometimes the functions unintentionally appear in the head-up display if you skim the controls with your hands, but then you need to use an affirmative double press for them to work.

One useful feature of the central screen is the ability to quickly access often-used functions. The LBX memorises which ones are accessed most frequently, and a press of an on-screen button accesses them. This is particularly handy to deactivate the car's road-sign recognition software - this beeps every time a road sign is detected and also alerts you when you've momentarily crept over the last detected speed limit, even by 1mph.

Other standard kit on Premium Plus trim includes LED lights all round, auto main beam, five USB sockets, two-zone climate control with Lexus's Nanoe-X air quality filter, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, illuminated door handles and ambient cabin lighting. 

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Also fitted are the E-Latch doors first fitted to the NX. These need a squeeze of the exterior handle to open in a single motion, which soon becomes second nature. Opening them from the inside requires a certain knack, where you push the door and thumb the release at the same time to open it. Higher-spec cars also include Safe Exit sensors that prevent doors from opening if approaching traffic is detected.

On the road, the LBX is comfortable. While it could be easy to dismiss it as a Yaris Cross in fancy clothes, Lexus has put serious effort into delivering a more refined driving experience for the LBX. The hybrid system is far quieter here than it is in the Yaris or Yaris Cross, with enough sound deadening on board to make the three-cylinder petrol engine almost undetectable when it does fire up. There's just a distant thrum when accelerating, while no obvious engine noise is present at a cruise.

The suspension has been given an overhaul, too, and the LBX offers a comfortable ride for such a small car that's a marked improvement over the Yaris Cross. The dampers soak up bumps well, and only the biggest thumps are felt in the cabin. It's much like Lexus's larger SUVs in this regard. The LBX isn't the most involving car to drive, but the steering is direct, and while body roll is noticeable, the car doesn't feel wallowy in the bends.

While the LBX feels pretty accomplished as a small premium SUV, its price is going to be a sticking point for some buyers. If you're an existing Lexus customer looking to downsize, then the cost won't be too much of an issue, but look beyond the realms of Lexus, and the LBX is at a price point that matches cars such as the Audi Q3 and new MINI Countryman. The latter is a car that's only MINI in name these days, which means you get a car with a premium feel like the Lexus, but with a lot more space inside.

Model:Lexus LBX Premium Plus
Price:£34,495
Powertrain:1.5-litre 3cyl hybrid
Power/torque:134bhp/185Nm
Transmission:e-CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:9.2 seconds
Top speed:106mph
Economy/CO2:61.4mpg/103g/km
L/W/H:4,190/1,825/1,560mm
On sale:Now
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Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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