Company Car Today

The big test

The most comprehensive
new product test in fleet

Toyota’s premium brand Lexus has moved into the baby crossover sector with a new model slotting in below its two more established SUV offerings.

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Gallery Image 1

On the road

On the road

Lexus is a brand still pushing to increase traction in the UK marketplace, with Toyota’s premium arm having been in the UK since 1990 and now offering a range of nine different vehicles comprising saloons, hatchbacks, SUVs and coupes.

All feature the hybrid powertrain systems that Toyota and Lexus have become renowned for, and that’s the key point for the newest member of the clan, the UX.

TEST NOTES

1. Lexus's cabin quality really sets the UX apart as a high-quality proposition

2. Once it's been pointed out, it's impossible to un-see the fact that the front and rear door handles don't line up.  It's a styling point that could irritate people who like things to be orderly.

3. It's a frustrating bit of nanny-state-ness that you can't set the sat-nav on the move, even as a passenger, especially as the voice-control system isn't up with the best. 

The UX is a small crossover – the major growth area of the car market – and gets below 100g/km for CO2 emissions thanks to the combination of 176hp 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor capable of powering the car in isolation for short periods on light throttle. In Lexus-speak, it’s a “self-charging” hybrid, meaning that it doesn’t need to be plugged in, but instead charges using energy recouped under deceleration or by the engine topping up the battery.

It’s at its most effective in low-speed urban scenarios because the system requires a light touch; any significant prod of the throttle will instantly cause the engine to start up to help out.

Previous generations of Toyota’s hybrid powertrain have been criticised for the amount of engine noise they offer while generating forward motion, and the new system is a big improvement rather than a complete cure.

Response is now much better from the 184hp system, and although the engine is still far from quiet when asked to work, it emits less of a droning noise than previous incarnations. But what it does emit is significantly less CO2 than its conventional internal-combustion-engine rivals. It’s a funny sector, because the front-drive UX doesn’t line up with all rivals in a logical fashion: the Audi Q3 and Jaguar E-Pace have comparable power outputs but only with four-wheel drive, which increases their emissions figures, while Mercedes seems to have dropped the diesel models from its GLA crossover range. However, the BMW X2 – the sportier-styled sibling to the X1 – is a much more direct rival.

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Gallery Image 13

There is also a four-wheel-drive UX, which adds another £1250 to the price on most models, as well as adding 6g/km to take it up to 103g/km, although the majority of buyers are expected to go for the more efficient front-drive model.

Lexus offers the car in three trims levels, the base UX, mid-level F-Sport and top Takumi of our test car, although the pictures feature the F-Sport model. There are significant price walks of £4000 and £5200 respectively between the trims, but as could be expected, the equipment levels take equally significant steps up. While all cars get adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high-beam assist, LED headlamps, dual-zone climate control, rear camera and sat-nav, the F-Sport adds alloys up an inch to 18-inch, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, heated front seats and a variety of F-Sport-specific styling additions including sports seats. The top-spec Takumi gets head-up display, wireless phone charger, Mark Levinson premium audio system, powered front seats and larger 10.25-inch screen.

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Gallery Image 6The UX looks smart from the front and back, but the side view is more controversial, with the cheap-looking plastic wheelarch cladding that is rounded to one side and squared to the other looking both confused and like it has partly been stolen from a Jeep. There’s also a metal crease line that doesn’t quite meet the crease in the front wheel’s plastic cladding, although it gets close enough to look like it should, and the front and rear door handles don’t line up which, once spotted, can prove an irritation every time you look at the side of the car. However, the alloy wheels on the two higher trim levels are both pretty designs.

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Context

Context

The new Lexus UX completes the Japanese premium brand’s moves down the SUV and crossover segments that started in the late 1990s with the RX large SUV. That car is now about to receive a mid-life revision to its fourth generation and also has the RX L seven-seat alternative.

In 2015, Lexus added the NX mid-sized SUV (pictured, right), which immediately became the brand’s best-selling vehicle in Europe.

Next up is the new UX, which stands for Urban Explorer. This is available with a cheaper petrol powertrain in other markets, although there are no plans to add that to the petrol-hybrid model on sale in the UK.

The company says the UX will act as a conquest vehicle, with many customers being new to the premium brand sector, as well as new to Lexus, and it’s a crucial part of the firm’s ambitions to hit an annual 100,000 sales in Europe by the end of next year. According to Lexus, key target groups are customers with young families, as well as downsizing households where children have left home and couples whose travel mixes business and leisure. Consumer moves in to SUVs at the expense of saloons and hatchbacks are deemed key to hopes for success.

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - In context - Lexus NX

What they said

What They Said

“The UX is a brand new model that has taken us into a fiercely competitive segment where customer demands for quality, efficiency, practicality and costs all have to be balanced."

“It’s a great car to drive, thanks to the quality of the Lexus Global Architecture platform, and its efficient and reliable self-charging hybrid electric powertrain delivers a best-in-class BIK rating. Fleet managers and company car drivers can enjoy big savings compared to all the UX’s rivals, plus the best customer service in the business from our Lexus Centre network.”

Stuart Ferma, General Manager Fleet Operations, Lexus GB

Stuart Ferma, General Manager Fleet Operations, Lexus GB

Comparatively speaking

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Comparatively Speaking Chart

Need to know

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Need to Know Chart

Like/dislike

Three things we like...

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Three things we like - 1 - Dashboard is impressively high-quality in material and feel
1

Dashboard is impressively high-quality in material and feel

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Three things we like - 2 - The hybrid powertrain is a big step forward from earlier technology
2

The hybrid powertrain is a big step forward from earlier technology

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - Three things we like - 3 - There are neat under-floor stowage spots in the boot
3
There are neat under-floor stowage spots in the boot

...And one we don't

The Big Test - Lexus UX - 2019 - And one thing we don't - Touchpad that controls the infotainment set-up is too awkward for use on the move
X

Touchpad that controls the infotainment set-up is too awkward for use on the move

Verdict

Verdict

Drive  7/10

There’s still more noise than forward motion, although the drivetrain is better than before, and the UX handles tidily enough.

Efficiency  10/10

The hybrid powertrain’s big benefit is a huge emissions advantage, although the gap closes on fuel economy versus diesels, so journey patterns are key to benefit.

Practicality  6/10

The presence of hybrid batteries massively hampers the boot space, while rear passenger space is adequate at best.

Equipment  8/10

Kit levels are good across the range and key options are wrapped up into packages.

Looks  7/10

There’s good and bad to the styling. Front and rear views are smart, but the side is a little odd with various lines that don’t meet up and the part-round, part-square plastic wheelarches.

Comfort and refinement 6/10

The hybrid powertrain is much improved over previous efforts, but still offers plenty of noise under acceleration. It runs nicely on electric-only in short bursts.

 

Cabin  6/10

Generally very high quality and plush, it’s an impressive cabin. 

Infotainment  5/10

The lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto becomes minor once you try and engage with the touchpad. It just doesn’t work in a car. And the voice activation is below par.

Whole life costs  10/10

Lexus is peerless for whole-life costs thanks to the hybrid powertrain’s advantages and decent residual values.

CCT opinion  7/10

Hits and misses, but the UX makes a lot of sense for company car users.

VERDICT 78%

The UX stacks up brilliantly for business drivers, but has practicality issues and some styling and especially usability nuances that would improve the car if ironed out.

Gallery