If electric cars are the future and combustion engines are the past, it’s safe to say the ‘here and now’ technology is hybridisation. Efficiency benefits courtesy of a combined electric/combustion drivetrain, but without the heavy dose of range anxiety. Until the government get their act together and establish a suitable charging network, hybrid vehicles represent a very accessible and usable way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Lexus have just launched their latest iteration, the UX 250h; a compact SUV with a 2.0 litre petrol engine paired with electric motors. The question is, should you buy one?
UX Big Hits
For those that don’t know, Lexus are ultimately part of the Toyota group, operating as their luxury vehicle arm.
This brings with it a number of big pluses, the most obvious being that they have an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience they can tap into – Toyota are the world’s largest automotive manufacturer after all.
This is all especially relevant to the hybridised Lexus UX, as Toyota manufacture the fantastically successful and now well-established Toyota Prius Hybrid. For years, this has been the benchmark of mainstream hybrid vehicles – we can only hope this shines through with the UX.
The drivetrain in the UX comprises of a 2.0L petrol engine, which drives through the front wheels, with electrical motors running in parallel for efficiency benefits. Combined power output sits at 181bhp, which is fed through a CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission. Essentially this means the UX doesn’t have pre-defined gears (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc), but instead constantly changes the ratio between the engines input and the wheels speed. The net result is that when you accelerate, the engines speed remains constant. Why is this a benefit you ask? Well, the engineers are then able to tailor the gearbox to hold the engine at its most efficient speed, then hold it there. Efficiency therefore, should be a key talking point for the UX.
Before we dive too deeply into the drivetrain though, lets discuss the most obvious attributes of the UX – it’s visuals. Finished in graphite black metallic paint, the UX on test certainly made an impression, with the front grill carrying signature, angular Lexus styling. The rear of the car continues this strong, angular design language, with the tail lights stretching across the full vehicle width and featuring ‘eyelashes’ at their outer edges. The styling certainly isn’t subtle and may not be to everyone’s tastes, but the quality of the paintwork, panels and alignment was all exemplary.
The inside of the car is similarly well put together. Fit, finish and general feel of all the interior surfaces was spot on – no flimsy plastics here. The optional premier plus pack ensures our review unit carried many features beyond a base UX, including privacy glass, a powered tailgate, heated seats, heated steering wheel and extended leather to name a few. Coming in at a cool £4,200, it doesn’t come cheap, so it’s good to see it is at least an extensive offering.
The red leather seats fitted to this UX are absolutely superb. The leather is nice to the touch, looks sleek and the seats themselves are supremely comfortable. Support is offered in all the right places, whilst added depth on the bolsters ensure you’re held in snug for the bends – these seats would feel right at home in most modern sports cars. The heating function offers 3 levels as well as an auto mode – with heat supplied readily and to a decent temperature. Another tick for the UX.
Other neat interior features include the analogue clock – seemingly a little antiquated in 2019, but a novel addition which sits very nicely amongst the various screens and switches on the dash. Another feature I’d not experienced before, was the central cubby hole, which also serves as an armrest to both the driver and passenger. Traditionally, these hinge from the rear, but Lexus have summoned some Japanese ingenuity and created a special hinge which allows it to hinge from both side. That’s right, the driver the and passenger both have their own latch-button, which alternates the hinging side, allowing for unimpeded access. Neat.
Then we get to a couple of bad bits. Firstly, boot size; It’s really quite small – offering just 320litres of storage. This sits it right at the bottom end of the pile for vehicles at this size and would leave me feeling a little anxious for family weekends away.
The Infotainment System Why Is It So Complicated
The infotainment system is a major concern though, with others warning me prior to the Lexus’ delivery of its complexity – a challenge I duly expected to demolish. How wrong was I?! It is the same in the LC500 too.
I consider myself pretty techy – I’ve done my fair share of IT journalism in the past, yet I too was left dumbfounded by the complex Lexus system. Whilst many competitors use touch screens, the Lexus system uses a laptop-style touch pad located adjacent to the gearstick.
This allows movement of the infotainments cursor, with feedback fed back both visually and via haptics in the touchpad. In principal this sounds ok – it works in laptops after all, but the implementation feels so clunky and the software is poorly laid out. Simple features took a long while to discover in the software, and even after a week of use I found myself tearing my hair out at times. It’s also worth noting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fail to make an appearance here.
Whilst the infotainment may come across a little complex, the drivetrain on the other hand is ever so simple… to the drivers eye anyway. Pop the gear selector into drive or reverse and away you go – the handbrake automatically releases and the electronics work wonders to keep everything buttery smooth. The reality is that, under the skin, the drivetrain on this Lexus is far from simple. This is hard to perceive from the drivers seat, at first anyway, but once you start motoring there’s a key audible difference. You see, because the engine is held at a steady speed by the CVT gearbox, the engine note is incredibly monotone. This can not only be a bit grating, but also makes it hard to tell how quickly you’re going without checking the speedo. You see, in most cars you quickly get a feel for the relationship between gear/engine speed/road speed, but in this it is simply impossible. 4,000 rpm could literally be at 10mph or 100mph, which takes a little getting used to.
Beyond the audible differences, the drivetrain works incredibly well. In terms of pedal use and driving style, it requires minimal adjustment and the car constantly and seamlessly swaps between petrol and electric driving modes to optimise efficiency. The end result is really quite startling, especially considering the vehicles size; 46-48mpg was returned during testing. From a non-turbo petrol SUV, that’s quite frankly ridiculous and beyond what I expected or thought possible. Kudos to Lexus – it may not be the most engaging drivetrain, but the efficiency it offers is hard to argue with.
On The Road
With clever drivetrain, it’s fair to expect plenty of technical wizardry aiding you on your travels. Lane assist, dynamic cruise control, road sign assist and collision systems all come as standard. As a base offering, this is strong, especially as the dynamic cruise control works so exceptionally well. It’s incredibly good at monitoring the gap to cars ahead and adjusts your speed with such subtlety I rarely felt it effects.
The lane assist isn’t such a big hit and felt a little too intrusive whilst travelling on the motorway – I found it best to leave this off. Fortunately I didn’t have any need for the collision assist, but the road sign assist worked well and was fantastic for monitoring speed limit zones.
The UX rides very well, with general road comfort good and enough firmness and feedback in the suspension to make bends feel engaging. How much of this is down to the F-Sport level upgrades to this UX is hard to say, but it surpassed expectations in this regard. Vibration and road noise is handled well too, whilst wind noise is minimal, even when traveling at speed.
Steering feel is a little muted, but for a compact SUV its roughly what you’d expect. The headlights and steering controls are all intuitive and even after spending 300 miles in the UX, I failed to find any annoyances or areas of discomfort. To drive then, it’s certainly no sports car, but for efficiency, smoothness and comfort it scores very highly.
Efficiency? Tick. Comfort? Tick. Build quality? Tick. Storage space? Questionable. Infotainment? Must try harder. In a very broad manner, that’s perhaps the best way to summarise the UX. It’s a commendable package, with a few key weaknesses which unfortunately hold it back from being a stand-out performer.
It really is worth emphasising the efficiency the drivetrain brings though – for those looking for a daily commuter, this could easily save a small fortune over competitor, non-hybrid vehicles. The drivetrain technology implementation is impressive beyond the efficiency gains too, with the smoothness and driving ease both great.
All of which makes it frustrating that the infotainment is so complicated. If only Lexus could work on this, they’d greatly improve the car’s appeal – especially with the rest of the interior being so well put together. As it is, the UX is a good car but falls short of offering the full package.
Thank you to Lexus UK for providing our loan car. Price as reviewed: £33,905