Wednesday 23 October 2019

How I was lost and found with this UX urban crossover from Lexus

A hybrid with punch and excellent handling but control keypad still an issue

Craftsmanship: the new Lexus UX urban crossover
Craftsmanship: the new Lexus UX urban crossover
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Driving around the historic, narrow streets of Wexford town in the depths of night may not seem like an ideal testing ground for a car. But for this week's review vehicle it most certainly was. Don't ask me what I was doing there but I have always had an affiliation for the place, given I spent five years in boarding school there.

I'd driven down from Dublin and it had grown late and I sort of got lost. As anyone who has driven with me will testify, I have a remarkable penchant for taking the wrong turn and the road less travelled.

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What started as a quick run through old territory became a lengthy street-light tour of what is a lovely town and surrounds.

My automotive companion was the new Lexus UX which, utterly appropriately, is a small urban crossover. I've driven it a lot at home and abroad but never where parked cars and really tight streets made a virtue of its compact nature and direct steering.

I'd tipped around Dublin a fair bit earlier in the week and took a notion one evening, as I do sometimes, to give it a run down the coast.

The more I drove the more I seemed to enjoy the car; how well it was set up. But, as we all know, good surfaces can seriously mislead. The true mettle of a car is how it behaves away from the smooth tarmac. I regularly take to the hills, or more often to the midland bogs, where uneven routes abound and one gets a true sense of a car's ability.

I didn't take to the bogs with the UX but I did to the Wicklow Hills and then to the narrow, sometimes bumpy streets of Wexford.

Not that any car is solely reliant on its suspension dynamics for criticism or praise but Lexus claims to have invested a lot of time and engineering in making this as good as there is on that front. It is not something with which we immediately associate the marque (top-end proficiency has been its byword) but the times and the cars are changing fast.

It's a chunky looking, particularly pleasant piece of craftsmanship inside and out. I do think the cabin is the best in its class with decent materials and fitments all the way down and around.

That is saying a fair bit considering the rivals include the Volvo XC40, BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and Jaguar E-PACE but I have no problem putting it ahead. The UX is not the most dramatically styled urban crossover but the front 'sold' it to me.

I have complaints, of course, and at this stage two of them have become boringly repetitive (sorry) because they crop up with most new Lexus models.

I've fostered a deep alienation of the feckiest control pad for a while now. It requires the digital dexterity of a left-handed card sharp to negotiate. Plea to Lexus: please do something about it before it clouds any more of your lovely new models.

The other whinge is the binnacle atop the display which gives you driving-mode choice. I've seen so much of its obtrusive outline at this stage I've grown used to, and tolerate, it.

There was also an issue with poor boot space in the UX. It has been improved but it's still not that great.

On the plus side Wexford's side streets highlighted an excellence in handling and ride that I felt showed this Lexus can compete with the best now. I enjoyed my nocturnal, if accidentally prolonged, revisit a lot.

The open road back taught me more about the hybrid system with its 2-litre petrol engine, battery bank and electric motor. I didn't remember it being quite so lively in mid-range speed; nor how quickly it could take off. That is an impressive side of the UX. It just goes to show how hybrids are not all about fuel efficiency; you can feed in plenty of performance too.

And I didn't notice any whine from the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). It's no longer an issue; it never was with most buyers, apparently, but it was with me.

There was a bit of tyre/road rumble over the rougher road patches but would I have noticed them if I had a noisier powertrain, such as a diesel? No.

Rear-seat space wasn't bad either. I tried it out and had reasonable room. It's nothing to write home about but was easily accessed.

There's no messing with 4WD either; it comes as a 2WD hybrid, simple and sensible.

Unlike myself I don't think you'd go too far astray with the UX. It's a worthy contender for your shortlist.

Facts & Figures

Lexus UX hybrid crossover

2-litre petrol hybrid system, 184hp; from 94g/km, €180 tax. Price from €40,200. Luxury spec tested: €44,950. Standard are: Adaptive Cruise Control, 2-zone climate control, 17ins alloys, 7ins media display, Lexus Safety System+, Lane Trace Assist, rear camera, parking sensors. Luxury adds: smooth leather, heated front seats, sat nav, 18ins alloys, front fogs.

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