Stockholm, Sweden. Lexus isn’t about to let BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have all the urban luxury SUV fun. Even if these three brands outrageously dominate the segment, the fortress is not impregnable. Lexus intends to prove it when it brings the new 2019 Lexus UX to the market in the first quarter of 2019.
Step by step, Lexus is reaffirming its status as a manufacturer capable of offering an alternative to German brands. To do this, the Japanese firm now monitors more rigorously the weight of its models and, fortunately, no longer draws as openly from the competition when it comes time to design them.
The atypical Lexus grill gives the 2019 UX a personality of its own, but the Japanese brand also invites you to take a look at how meticulously it designed other visual details. Like how the headlights favor a better aerodynamic drag coefficient (Cx).
These styling details naturally aim to make the UX stand out in its segment, but also to distract from the more common origins of this Lexus. Indeed, and despite a new code name (GA-C), the architecture of the UX owes a lot to the Toyota C-HR.
The designers of this urban luxury utility recognize this fact, but are quick to add that the UX platform is subject to several optimizations (rigidity and suspension calibration for starters) that justify a different name.
The plebeian origins of the UX will perhaps raise the indignation of some who will not fail to recall the “nobility” and the commonality of the competing architectures. So what? The Japanese brand remains true to its beliefs not to use its customers as test subjects by offering a product that is probably a little cautious in terms of avant-gardism, but whose durability and reliability have been proven.
Compared to the competition, the 2019 Lexus UX features rather conventional powertrains. One traditional gas-powered engine (UX200) that sits next to a hybrid version (UX250).
Let’s cut to the chase. The 2019 Lexus UX200 is of no interest since it only drives the front wheels with the help of a puny 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine delivering 169 horsepower. It’s only there to attract the consumer to the showrooms with a low and attractive starting price – although we don’t yet know the exact price of the new UX.
Restrictive All-Wheel Drive System
The hybrid version – UX250h – is a lot more interesting, although it is hardly more powerful 175 horsepower.
First, because it is, for now, the only hybrid option – albeit non-rechargeable – offered in its segment. Then, because it entrusts to one of the two electric motors the task of driving exclusively the front wheels which turns the UX250h into an all-wheel drive utility vehicle like buyers want it to be.
That said, this four-wheel drive system has some limitations compared to some of its competitors. Indeed, due to the modest power of the electric motor that drives the rear wheels, the UX250h becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle as soon as the speed reaches 73 km/h. For urban and peri-urban use, this should suffice, but in the face of competition, this limitation could be interpreted as a disadvantage.
And this is not the only element on which the UX250h draws criticism. Despite its low appetite for hydrocarbons, the 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine lacks character and zest against rivals who all adopt much punchier turbocharged mechanics.
In addition, and despite the fact that its first gear uses a traditional mechanical ratio (pinion and gear), the continuously variable box adds nothing to the rather placid on-road demeanor of this Lexus.
Faced with such modest performances, how can one appreciate the “optimization” of this chassis? The 2019 Lexus UX has a short turning radius and decent handling, but nothing more. The suspension dampens holes and bumps properly, but alas, it was learned during this press briefing in Europe that its adaptive dampers would not be available on the Canadian market.
We should recognize the UX250h’s relative discretion when the gasoline engine is not outrageously solicited, its elegant although somewhat unoriginal interior, its comfortable front seats, and relatively spacious cabin.
The controls are well arranged, but the touchpad designed to facilitate navigation in the menus and sub-menus of the infotainment system is still hard to get used to. Then there’s the restricted volume of the trunk with the abnormally high threshold and the low notch of the tailgate that restrict the 2019 UX’s versatility.
From this first Lexus incursion into this segment, we draw a rather mixed picture. We can appreciate certain aspects of the 2019 Lexus UX including the general attention to detail (although a vulgar metal rod raises the hood), but faced with an established competition, Lexus visibly lacked audacity.