Luxury carmaker Lexus fires a mighty salvo in the highly competitive compact crossover segment. First revealed globally last March at the Geneva International Motor Show, the Lexus UX is expected to take its place as the compelling new entry point to the brand’s portfolio.
In the UX, the company leverages its considerable experience in developing SUVs/crossovers, combining “bold design, ultra-efficient new powertrains, and innovative luxury features” for the contemporary “urban explorer.” The vehicle was developed from the design team’s guiding concept of the urban crossover.
Excellently straddling the line between sedan and SUV, the UX is a sleek and finely sculpted vehicle executing seemingly dichotomous qualities with aplomb. It’s both muscular and sleek, refined and robust, and earns the distinctive spindle grille of Lexus while establishing a new presence as a showcase of beautiful ideas at the Japan-based manufacturer.
The company chose to hold its first-ever drive event for the UX in captivating Stockholm. “The reason we selected Stockholm… is because the energy and creativity that this city has is world-class,” said Lexus Asia Pacific Vice President David Nordstrom, at the product presentation held at the Delight Studios in Nacka. “It’s often referred to as the world’s biggest small town. It’s a lot smaller in size when compared to other European cities like London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome. So it gives you a small-town feel with world-class amenities.”
The analogy with the UX is almost too obvious. Despite its size, the new crossover is undoubtedly a Lexus – a premium vehicle bestowed commensurate levels of luxuries, features, and technologies. As with the Swedish capital, the UX is diminutive yet pleasantly surprises.
The UX benefits from what Nordstrom described as a “journey of product and brand transformation” over the last few years. “You have seen our design language change to become bolder and more distinctive, and hopefully you have experienced a significant change in our driving dynamics that pairs our world-renowned comfort with Lexus’ unique sense of dynamic handling,” continued the executive. “The all-new UX showcases the Lexus design language and highlights our ability to craft luxury interiors. Although the UX will be a gateway vehicle for our lineup, it will soon become one of our core models.”
The UX design team was headed by the first female chief engineer in the Lexus organization. Chika Kako is also the company’s first female managing officer. “In developing this vehicle, I drew heavily from my prior experience in Europe,” she said in her presentation. “While on overseas assignment at our R and D division there, I got a fresh perspective of the varied philosophies behind luxury and wealth.” The intangibles of time, experience, and beauty appear significantly on the aspirational radar, and these are values UX strive to address. Kako and her design team wanted to evoke an “emotional connection with the driver” in this vehicle that is more than merely the sum of its highly detailed parts.
Lexus is has high expectations for the new vehicle—particularly in Asia. “We’re confident that the UX will provide a highly attractive alternative to existing products in the market,” declared Nordstrom. The UX is projected to comprise “23 percent of Lexus sales” in Asia Pacific. “Including the impact of the all-new ES, overall Lexus sales in Asia Pacific will increase 60 percent between 2018 and 2019… The UX is going to increase our opportunity to bring new customers to the Lexus brand.”
Inside, accoutrements defy “entry-level” label of the UX. Getting behind the wheel gives you an impression of a luxury sedan – albeit with a higher seating position. “Designers created a feeling of seamless continuity inside the UX. From the driver’s seat, the upper plane of the instrument panel appears to extend out beyond the windshield into the hood and fenders giving the driver an excellent field of vision and a clear sense of the vehicle’s dimensions and tire placement. When viewed from outside, the hood appears to connect directly to the instrument panel through the windshield, blurring the boundary between interior and exterior,” reported the company in a release.
The UX highlights a so-called “seat-in-control” concept where critical vehicle functions are collected in the driver’s side of the cabin, and the seatback shape allows the driver to operate them while maintaining a comfortable, natural posture. A three-spoke steering wheel and analog clock are exclusive touches previously seen in the Lexus LS flagship. The UX also receives the Lexus Climate Concierge which used to be confined to more premium models. This “automatically links heating and cooling airflow with the heated and ventilated seats to optimize interior temperature comfort.”
Expected to be launched in the Philippines within the year, final local specifications are still pending. But the test units made available in Stockholm boast two main power plants. Powering the UX 200 variant is a 2.0-liter, inline, four-cylinder engine delivering 168hp and 205Nm—mated to a new Direct Shift-Continuously Variable Transmission which “combines the smooth, fuel-efficient performance of a continuously variable transmission with a more direct driving feel.” The UX 250h, armed with a “new new-generation Lexus Hybrid Drive powertrain with 175 total system horsepower… the UX 250h is not only the fuel efficiency leader in the UX family, but also the performance leader. This hybrid provides exhilarating driving with high-speed responsiveness and a feeling of smooth, natural acceleration. The UX 250h is available with either front-wheel drive or E Four electric all-wheel drive.”
Driving the F-Sport-specification variant on a pre-programmed short loop here past suburban sections and pristine highways, the UX yielded healthy power on demand—with the Direct-Shift CVT providing motivation without the deadened feel common to some conventional CVT systems. Key controls are indeed within reach of the driver, and one will not be overwhelmed with an assortment of controls. Rather, the UX rewards enthusiasm and sense of discovery with intuitive controls—such as the new scroll wheels just at the tip of the central driver armrest.
As for its target demographic, Nordstrom revealed that Lexus envisions the UX as appealing to “loyal Lexus owner looking for a crossover alternative to their sedan,” those who want to “downsize their SUV, upgrade from mass-market brand, or (simply) change their luxury brand.” It’s also generally a younger set—an “even mix of male and female customers in their 30s, with an average household income of US$110,000.” These “urban explorers” are “styling, tech savvy, and seeking experiences (as) they make the most of their time and opportunities.”