New Lexus UX 2018 review

We drive an early version of the premium Lexus UX hybrid compact crossover

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

While the new Lexus UX 250h is perhaps not as conventionally ‘SUV’ as a BMW X1 or Audi Q3, there’s plenty to like about it. If you want a subtle dose of crossover-inspired style in a desirable, decent-to-drive and cheap-to-run package, this could be the car for you. Beware, however, because rivals are more practical and are likely to prove less expensive to buy. Our final verdict will hinge heavily on final prices and specs, which are due next month.

Hybrid pioneer Lexus has been building electrified powertrains for decades. It was also one of the first makers to offer a luxury SUV, when it launched the original RX back in 1998.

Now, just three years after unveiling its second soft-roader, the NX, a third SUV is on the way. As the crossover’s popularity shows no signs of slowing, Lexus has brought the compact UX to market; the Mercedes GLA-inspired small model will be introduced next month, priced from around £30,000.

Best hybrid cars on sale 2018

On the outside, the UX has a whiff of first-generation BMW X1 about it. Lower but longer than most of its main rivals, it cuts a profile more akin to the current crop of coupé-SUVs. That reduced roofline is reflected inside, where the low driving position gives the UX a sportier feel from behind the wheel.

Based on an adaptation of Toyota’s TNGA platform (called GA-C in the UX’s case), the baby Lexus SUV is remarkably good to drive. Grip is good and body control composed, while the steering is direct and well weighted, too.

That sharp steering is the result of a new set-up that has let the engineers mount the steering rack directly to the sub-frame. It reduces vibrations and flex, and translates to a surprisingly entertaining driving experience.

Using Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) from the firm’s flagship LC coupé ensures it rides nicely, too. Around town it’s well cushioned, and little seems to catch the UX out at speed. We’ve yet to try a car on passive dampers, however, which may result in a rougher ride.

The single powertrain choice, in true Lexus fashion, is a ‘self-charging’ hybrid. Using a new 2.0-litre petrol engine linked to two powerful electric motors, it’s capable of 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds. Refinement is impressive, although some of Sweden’s harsher surfaces did generate a considerable amount of road noise.

The sole gearbox option is much smoother than previous Lexus CVTs, yet it still offers little fun or feedback. The F Sport’s steering wheel paddles control the car’s regenerative braking rather than mimicking the step ratios of a conventional auto.

Of course, that hybrid set-up offers encouraging real-world running costs. Our UX was returning more than 50mpg, but Lexus claims 65mpg is achievable, and our experiences in similarly-powered Toyota models would suggest those numbers are feasible. Low CO2 emissions will make it an appealing company car, ensuring the UX sits several Benefit-in-Kind tax bands lower than the equivalent BMW or Audi.

The Lexus sets a high benchmark for interior design. Although our pre-production test car demonstrated the odd rattle, the wide touchscreen looks great. The piano-style climate control buttons are easy to operate, but it’s a shame Lexus persists with the fiddly console-mounted touchpad; it’s awkward to use. And with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you’re forced to make do with the clunky infotainment package.

Space in the back is fine, if a little claustrophobic in dark-trimmed F Sport cars. Headroom is surprisingly generous given the sloping roofline, and kneeroom is adequate. But the boot is alarmingly small. There are no official figures, yet it’s safe to say even BMW’s coupé-styled X2 will trump the UX’s carrying capacity.

Prices and full specifications will be announced when the model goes on sale in October, but internal speculation at Lexus suggests entry-level cars will kick off at a whisker under £30,000.

A flagship F Sport like the version we tested should top out at around £35k, with E-Four all-wheel-drive variants of the Japanese crossover commanding an additional premium.

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