A new baby Lexus UX250H F-Sport retailing for R910 000 is the premium alternative crossover to cars like the Volvo XC40, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3. The F-Sport is the top of the line derivative offering most of what the said competition does, packaged in that unique-to-Lexus way. As a design statement, the Lexus UX has a lot going for it. There are lines everywhere, each turning upward to give the sense of more space and design character.
Chief engineer on the UX project, Chika Kako, wanted “not to conform to the established crossover look but to break with convention and create something distinctive and dynamic.” The Lexus UX certainly epitomises her sentiment as far as breaking the mould goes. The UX features strong design cues that fit comfortably into the Lexus family yet also distinguish the UX from the other vehicles within the Lexus range. As far as ‘dynamism’ goes, we’ll get to that a little later.
The Lexus UX is sold in South Africa with one powertrain, the hybrid pairing of a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol motor and an electric motor. These drive the front wheels through a CVT transmission. If you’re wondering about whether the F-Sport has a few dynamic tricks to show, the answer is no. The drivetrain and performance are identical to that of the other derivatives – the F-Sport is simply a grade package that ups the ante on a few comfort, safety and tech features.
The impressionable nature of the UX carries through into the cabin with a premium feel from the ergonomics, Lexus design architecture and soft-feel leather. The TFT display is active with moving dials a la Lexus LFA and the uncluttered dash is clean and well executed.
Time with the car starts to show little holes in the UX’s seemingly equable impression. Yes, you guessed it - we’ve been unhappy about this one for a while now. Despite the 12.3-inch infotainment screen with all manner of tech and phone mirroring functionality, it’s the control system that remains a bother. The 2022 Lexus UX maintains the frustratingly fidgety touch pad controller. The good news is that the updated, 2023 Lexus UX will have a totally new operating concept. It’s taken a while hasn’t it?
That aside, the Lexus UX 250H does feel premium enough to warrant that price point. It only begs a few questions when you consider the competition that this small crossover is up against. For a start, it is compromised in terms of rear legroom and boot space. The rear window glass is comparatively small and this makes the already small rear feel even more cramped. Boot space of 320-litres with the rear seats folded up is okay but not class-leading at all. This is mainly compromised by the hybrid drivetrain. Thankfully 60:40 split rear seats can help extend space to some 1,200-litres.
From behind the wheel, the Lexus UX 250H makes a strong first impression. Power delivery is almost instantaneous and the compact dimensions coupled with the power make for an engaging run-about. Steering feel and cornering ability is solid for a front-wheel drive vehicle of this nature. With its hybrid drivetrain, the economy is suitably impressive too, though it does take some finessing of your driving style to get a good efficiency with the car. My best effort in an urban setting was 6.5l/100km and on a slightly longer route, we managed a commendable 5.5l/100km. On the highest grade F-Sport model, Lexus has thrown all the driver assistance and safety features in, including lane assist and adaptive cruise control. It’s all simple to operate from the leather steering wheel but it is expected at this level.
As a crossover however, the ground clearance won’t win any awards and you need to remember that whilst the UX feels very car-like to drive, you also may need to consider the front clearance when negotiating obstacles, speed humps, curbs and the like. It’s not a supercar but I did find it lower than my expectation made me anticipate. At 152mm compared to the Volvo’s 183mm, it’s something to note.
On the slightly odd side, is the addition of something called Active Sound Control. Essentially, Lexus thought it was a good idea to mask the drone of a CVT, by programming in some fake sports car sound through the speaker system. Floor the throttle and you’ll hear a fast-shifting sports car over the drone of the hybrid powertrain. At first, it sounds quite exciting – but not for long. The sound programming isn’t entirely accurate in relation to where your right foot is so the whole experience just doesn’t work, not to mention that you can still hear the CVT droning on. You’ll want to switch it off at some point and thankfully, at the push of a button, you can.
In a space of where competitors are strong, the Lexus UX 250H isn’t perfect. Its brand equity versus the competition will also hurt its chances.
Where it wins is in the area of ownership with a 7-year/105 000km Maintenance Plan and Warranty and a well looked after dealership network. It's also highly equipped at the price point so you're not adding large amounts of features to the base price. The competitor spotlight shows up these: Audi Q2 and Q3; Volvo XC40 and the Jaguar E-Pace, each with their own equity. There are more of course and the segment continues to rake in more players.
The Lexus UX250H F-Sport has its foibles and flaws. On the flip side, it has a unique personality and design and that counts for a lot. You can’t fault it for a lack of character and I’d present it as the quirky but solid alternative to German or Scandinavian options. You’d be hard pressed not to factor that into your buying decision.
It's no class leader though and will win buyers on its brand and ownership experience over purely product merit.