Test Drive: Lexus UX
A test drive in Lexus’ edgy and eye-catching new car model that blends compact luxury with fuel-saving smarts.
In 1993, a Toyota engineer who had spent most of his career working on NVH – “noise, vibration and harshness” issues for the uninitiated – was plucked from obscurity and handed the ambitious task of leading a team to develop the brand’s signature car for the 21th century.
That man was Takeshi Uchiyamada and the car, which Toyota decreed must deliver vastly improved fuel consumption and dramatically lower emissions, was known, rather grandly, as Project G21 for ‘Global 21th Century’.
The world soon came to know it simply as the Toyota Prius, and suddenly every Hollywood star who wanted to look environmentally caring was driving one – Jessica Alba, Emily Blunt, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Miley Cyrus, Tom Hanks and, of course, Leonardo Di Caprio, to name just a few – and leaving their Rolls-Royces tucked away in their mega-garages.
It was a hugely ambitious project that set out to create the world’s first mass-market hybrid car – meaning it used both batteries and a petrol engine – with the goal of doubling the fuel-economy figure of a Toyota Corolla.
After a herculean engineering effort, Toyota’s 21th century car debuted in 1997 at the UN’s climate change conference in Kyoto. It sparked a revolution in alternative propulsion that has since brought us all-electric cars like Teslas and the Nissan Leaf.
The family tree that has grown from that single original model is now as wide and strong as a Japanese redwood with Toyota rapidly expanding hybrid tech throughout its model range, including its luxury Lexus division.
While the original Prius targeted early adopters of all ages, the UX is specifically intended to attract a new breed of young buyers to the Lexus brand, a breed the marketers call ‘Creative Urban Explorers’.
Aside from its high-tech drivetrain and enviro-cred, the UX hinges its appeal on this demographic with a bold body-style that blends chunky 4×4-like wheel arches and a coupe-like roofline to deliver on its brief of being “a crossover that drives like a hatchback.”
The UX has a state-of-the-art 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder engine that punches out a respectable 126kW and 205Nm. The hybrid variants add to this two additional electric motor-generators that help boost combined power to 131kW while, remarkably, also reducing fuel consumption.
The UX features what’s known as a parallel hybrid system, meaning it can be powered directly by the petrol engine, or the electric motor, or by both together. To do this, one electric motor powers the wheels, while the other controls the continuously variable transmission, which is the nerve centre that dictates whether the car is running on petrol, battery power, or a blend of the two.
The battery and its related cooling system are stashed beneath the car’s compact rear seat, which has the added benefit of lowering the centre of gravity, so you can carve corners in your UX while also saving the planet.
The new-generation hybrid is fairly seamless and, unless you really pay attention, you won’t sense the various systems switching in and out.
There’s a slight increase in engine noise when the stop-start system engages the engine for acceleration away from the lights, as well as the accompanying petrol-electric kick in the pants when the throttle is nailed.
Interestingly, while it may not be the range-topper, the UX 250h is both the performance and fuel-efficiency leader of the lineup, with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint of 8.5secs and fuel economy of 4.5 litres/100km.
To put that into perspective, the regular petrol-only UX 200 sips fuel at 5.8L/100km and takes 9.2 seconds to reach 100km/h.
Admittedly, there’s a price to pay for that extra performance and efficiency, with the basic UX 250h 2WD costing $47,950, versus $44,450 for the non-hybrid UX200.
The UX 250h 2WD F Sport is a highly competent and well-rounded machine with great tech, excellent fuel efficiency and a list of standard features that would cost many thousands more if you bought them in a German car.
It’s a car that does everything well, looks great and treads lightly on what’s left of our Blue Planet at the same time.
And thus, it’s only a matter of time until it becomes the next celebrity favourite.
(Lead image: Lexus UX 250h 2WD F Sport / image: Lexus)
Published 12 March, 2019