The new Lexus UX is one of the most eye-catching vehicles in the crossover segment. Pic:SUPPLIED
The new Lexus UX is one of the most eye-catching vehicles in the crossover segment. Pic:SUPPLIED

The new kid on the block in SA’s small premium crossover segment replaces the discontinued and hardly imaginative Lexus CT200.

Drive the new Lexus UX expecting a kind a total departure from any Lexus-ism or a riveting drive texture, and you’ll come away disappointed. It’s not a nimble handler but not everyone expects that in this sort of niche.

These crossovers may essentially be compact hatches perched on stilts, but they are robbed of dynamic ability in favour of style and frugality, especially in hybrid UX250 form. All three models offered at launch, the UX 200 EX, UX 200 F Sports and UX 250h all cost well over half-a-million, with the flagship UX 200 F Sports skirting over the 700K mark.

Moreover, if you’d rather spend your hard-earned cash on a more traditional vehicle than a swoopy crossover, the R599,000 asked for the entry-level UX 200 EX can fetch you a brand spanking new Lexus ES250 EX sedan, while for slightly less money than the UX 200 F-Sport, you can get the medium-size NX SUV in entry-level 300E flavour.

The equivalent money would net you plenty of alternatives in the premium crossover class in the form of the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X2 and Jaguar E-Pace. You can add the cheaper Audi Q2, Volvo XC40 and its Toyota CH-R twin for good measure.

Déjà vu! UX cabin mirrors that of the ES in both quality and arrangement. Pic: SUPPLIED
Déjà vu! UX cabin mirrors that of the ES in both quality and arrangement. Pic: SUPPLIED

By most standards, the Lexus UX is an appealing vehicle. It’s chunky, not particularly rounded and strategically blocky and diagonal in some areas. On paper, and next to similarly priced alternatives, the figures look meek: 107kW and 135Nm for the hybrid UX 250h, and 126kW and 205Nm for both non-hybrids, all this from a new 2.0-litre naturally aspirated in-line four cylinder petrol engine.

Power is sent to the front wheels in all models through a CVT transmission. Did I get a kick on my first drive experience on some choice Cape Town back roads last week? Not entirely. Starting with the base UX 200 EX, I found it a decent runner, but its performance envelope was found wanting on steep inclines.

Its briskness mostly extends to maintaining highway speeds and overtaking. The motor felt strained when opening up the throttle and the unhappiness communicated via an intrusive engine and tyre noise that filled the cabin.

The front-wheel drive chassis is claimed to be designed with sporting prowess but I found it more a sumptuous cruiser. It’s a basic Lexus chassis architecture that offers glimpses of the legendary Lexus in-drive suppleness, and though perfectly competent in handling, discount any expectations of sports-hatch spine-tingling driving fun.

Squint your eyes a bit and the Toyota CH-R appears somewhere inside that bold design. Pic: SUPPLIED
Squint your eyes a bit and the Toyota CH-R appears somewhere inside that bold design. Pic: SUPPLIED

As expected of a Lexus, there is plenty of standard kit and quality interior build. The cabin is also styled like in the ES 250 sedan and features TFT LCD displays, touchpad surface haptic vibrations, dual rear-seat USB ports, a Drive Select controller, electric tilt and telescopic steering column, adaptive cruise control, a Pre-Crash System (PCS), Blind Sport Monitor, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, LED Adaptive High-beam System (AHS) among more regular fitments like power windows, climate control and multi-function remote steering buttons.

With the hybrid version you’ll score a temporary Battery Electric Vehicle when travelling slowly for reduced fuel consumption, and, at over 40km/h all Lexus UX revert to being 2.0 petrol-powered cars.

Initial findings are of a compact SUV crafted with Lexus panache. It’s only the eye-popping asking prices of this new car which raise eyebrows.

The Lexus UX models retail at R599,000 for the EX grade, R699,000 for the Hybrid 250h SE and R726,200 for the F Sport. The entire UX range comes with a seven-year/105,000km warranty and full maintenance plan. The vehicle service intervals are at every 15,000km, alternatively once a year.