10 FEBRUARY 2020
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Electric cars are all the rage. But overall they are still selling in small numbers except in the case of Lexus (plus mother corporation Toyota) and their hybrid range.
Lexus, from Japan, enjoyed record UK sales in 2019 – 15,126 vehicles, 70% of which were hybrid SUVs, the highest ever sales tally for the luxury hybrid leader – with a 58% sales increase in these semi off-the-road vehicles over the previous year. The description ‘utility’ actually fits except that Lexus is very much into the luxury end of the market. It certainly is not a utility vehicle with the generally accepted meaning of the word.
BTN editor in chief Malcolm Ginsberg is an electric car fan but a flat dweller. For him the current hybrids are the perfect solution, no charging requirement, emission friendly and literally ‘less taxing’. In Harrow, London, if you register your car, street parking charges are cancelled. But you still need to obey the local time zones.
Lexus introduced its first hybrid in 2005 a sensational integration of a regular petrol engine and a long-life battery. The test car, the new UX SUV represents the fourth generation of the self-charging power train and also launches what is termed the Lexus Global Architecture – Compact (GA-C) platform. Most of the numerous innovations are unseen but add up to a safer, lighter and more efficient vehicle. Typically, the Pre-Collision System (PCS) uses camera-based detection to recognize pedestrians in low light, and its radar capability enables detection of cyclists during the day. Sad to say the pedal pushing fraternity as a breed seem to stick to their own rules and the quicker they are licensed the better with compulsory insurance introduced.
The Japanese company, with its huge Toyota production unit just outside Derby, have high hopes for the UX, its bigger brother, the NX, Lexus biggest selling car in the UK.
If you have never driven a hybrid car go and visit a local dealer. You will find it different from anything experienced previously. At low speeds it is fully electric and in a traffic crawl you can see the fuel consumption actually improving. It is called “EV mode” and as an experienced hybrid driver I never had any problems with the battery running out of charge. Once on the move, proper, you are into the eco, and then power mode. The CVT style gearbox is very smooth giving effortless acceleration, feeling quicker than it really is. Downhill with the UX, up to 70mph no fuel at all is used, and you may well be topping up the battery.
The 2ltr UX is nicely put together, a front wheel drive five-seat mini SUV, with a speedy 0-60mph in 8.5sec and an easy 45mpg. Whilst it sits slightly higher off the road and affords better visibility than a traditional saloon it is not a car for muddy fields and the like. For that you need the E-Four electric all-wheel drive version.
Heated seats with manual six-way adjustment and a lever on the steering column in enable the setting of its height and the correct sight line for the various dials and information viewing. Everything comes to hand with ease.
Getting in is very easy but the test car was without auto folding door mirrors, something I would always specify.
A display fitted in the binnacle means being able to see the sat nav turning information without needing to turn one’s head. The Premium Plus Pack only offers a 7in central display not the 10.1in one available on the higher grade model. There is a power tailgate and the rear compartment sits up nicely for loading shopping and cases. But it is not that big. It is a question of the old trade-off between cabin space and the boot. In this case the passenger wins.
The little SUV handles with the poise and agility of a hatchback and brings a smile back to meriting. In typical Lexus fashion the UX’s cabin is manufactured to a high grade and the switchgear feels very solid.
Lexus tries to stand out from the crowd and most of the innovations work, except in the case the UX’s infotainment control device, a flat track pad close to the gear lever. If you ineptly jab a finger on to the pad whilst driving the cursor darts around the screen apparently of its own accord. The danger is you take your eyes off the road while trying to sort it out. Others say you need more than a week to begin to master it and in fact it works very well. The older Lexus just had four buttons to press. Very easy.
And the driving experience? Sitting on 18in wheels and a two-litre motor performance could be termed ‘sparky’. On the open road the UX combines that precise steering with good body control and the sort of grip required to actually feel quite keen in corners. Taller SUVs tend to lean. It is fine in the wet and never offered anything but a fine reassuring hold on the road in spite of being called up to stop very quickly when a torrent of rain descended on to a motorway. That experience was impressive.
Lexus claims 65.7mpg for the hybrid UX and over the course of the test, as noted, I managed 45mpg including stop-go conditions followed by hard driving.
Does the UX look like good value? The entry-level model just sneaks under £30,000 with the Premium Plus Pack adding £4,200 and the appropriate Terrane Khaki metallic paintwork another £570. She competes with the Audi Q3, Range Rover Evoque, Peugeot 3008, but no longer the Infiniti QX30 with Nissan having pulled that brand from the UK market.
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Ride and Comfort 8
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