When the Lexus UX first silently parked itself on my driveway, I found myself thinking of the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
That might seem a strange comparison. One’s a compact SUV inspired by traditional Japanese concepts with names like engawa and takumi, while the other is a six-metre long chrome-encrusted aircraft carrier from the height of American decadence.
Strangely, there is a reason for this. And it’s the tail-lights.
Protruding from the bodywork and crowned by upward-sprouting fins, they looked for all the world like evolutionary vestiges of those on the Cadillac.
The difference, though, is that they’re not just stylistic talking points. Lexus say they have a job to do, offering a stabilising aerodynamic effect in crosswinds and reducing turbulence.
Given the way they illuminate across the tailgate to create a striking signature at night, I’d say they also help draw the eye to a car that, like the Caddy, has a lot going on from any angle.
That’s what customers want, Lexus reasons, having targeted a group of buyers the company calls ‘urban explorers’ (hence UX) that want something a little different.
While the exterior design threatens to leave you with a paper-cut if you stray too close, much of the interior is pleasingly angled towards the driver.
At first glance it does seem a little over-buttoned – there are 19 on the steering wheel alone – while some of the switchgear feels somewhat over-designed: the drive mode twist control has a matching partner on the other side of the instrument binnacle, and although knurled to suggest it turns, it doesn’t. Pressing it disables the traction control.
Still, the advantage of good old buttons is that it saves you from having to use the touchpad, a device that requires far too much hand/eye co-ordination to be usable on the move, and an infotainment system best described as labyrinthine. Inputting post codes is especially laborious.
The rest of the interior is thankfully more human-centric. The driving position is surprisingly low-slung for a compact SUV, perhaps more akin to a sporty hatchback than a crossover, and that makes it easy to thread the UX through narrow city streets.
Space in the back is decent enough – a little tight on foot- and leg-room, perhaps – while the boot is surprisingly shallow, offering just 320 litres to the tonneau cover, or 283 if you opt for the E-Four all-wheel-drive set-up.
Although engineered as front-wheel-drive, the optional E-Four system adds a 5.3kW, 55Nm electric motor to the rear axle that can assist in slippery conditions and provide additional torque to reduce understeer during cornering.
That’s in addition to the 80kW, 202Nm electric motor mated to the 2.0-litre 150hp petrol engine up front, which together deliver a total of 181hp to the front wheels through a CVT gearbox.
Normally those three letters fill me with dread, but in the UX Lexus appears to have achieved the impossible. Not only does the UX accelerate from a standstill smoothly and quietly, but on the motorway it’s capable of picking up speed for an overtake at a pace other CVT-equipped cars can only dream of.
As a hybrid, the UX favours the electric motor to pull away in silence, with transitions between electric and petrol power being almost completely imperceptible, the only give-away being a small green EV light on the dash. Even when determined use of the accelerator calls for everything the engine room can muster, the noises that accompany it are impressively muted.
That makes this the perfect powertrain for an urban Lexus – smooth, quiet, and refined, yet capable of surprisingly effortless acceleration at short notice.
Braking can feel a little inconsistent at times as the system juggles regenerative, engine and mechanical braking efforts, while edging forward at blind junctions or manoeuvring in confined spaces can be a little tricky.
On some surfaces, road noise seems to take over the ambiance of the cabin, although to some extent that’s perhaps an inevitable consequence of having so tirelessly removed engine noise from the mix.
This quiet and calm demeanour does seem to come naturally to the UX. Whilst it’s happy to be hustled through corners at pace, and encouragingly agile as it does so, the relatively lifeless steering politely suggests that the Lexus would perhaps prefer to take its time.
Do that, and the rewards are there. Not the least of which was our 55mpg average recorded over a week’s testing, although that dropped to 48mpg on a longer journey where the hybrid system had limited opportunities to contribute.
Prices for the Lexus UX start at £29,905 with three trim levels – UX, F Sport and Takumi – plus a mixture of Premium, Premium Plus, Safety, Tech Packs.
In a market saturated with identikit SUVs, the Lexus UX stands out with its own highly individual take. And not just because of those rocket-ship tail-lights.
- Love the ‘unibrow’ tail-lights
- Low-slung seating position
- Some interior plastics, such as on the doors, let the side down; Overly busy switchgear
- Touchpad requires too much hand/eye co-ordination; Post code entry particularly painful; No CarPlay option
- Hybrid system long since perfected
- Picks up speed quickly for motorway overtakes – almost unique among CVTs
- Slightly inconsistent non-linear braking at times
- Road noise on some surfaces
- Competent and agile handling to a point, but hardly athletic
- 55mpg around town, 48mpg on a run
|Entry-level Price||£29,905||Price as tested||£33,505|
|Engine||1987cc 4-cyl petrol hybrid||Transmission||E-CVT|
|Power||181hp (150hp + 107hp)||Torque||190Nm + 202Nm|
|0-62||8.5 secs||Top speed||110 mph|
|Economy||49.5-53.2 mpg (WLTP)||CO2||97 g/km|
|Dimensions||4495 x 1840 x 1540 (LxWxH)||Kerb Weight||1540-1620 kg|