2019 Lexus UX.
2019 Lexus UX.

Tested: Lexus’ new small SUV which lacks some sizzle

IN Lexus's new compact SUV, the UX stands for "Urban eXplorer". Drive this fancy derivative of the Toyota C-HR and the immediate impression is that it could just as easily stand for "utilitarian execution".

The latest technology and upmarket materials enhance a donor vehicle with compromised boot and rear leg space. What the UX does well, however, it does very well.

Its interior, while too conservative to be outstanding, has the build quality and driver focus to appeal at the price, which starts at about $51,000 on the road.

The Lexus UX is priced from about $51,000.
The Lexus UX is priced from about $51,000.

Standard kit on the entry Luxury version is extensive - you're not going to find a Euro-built small SUV with this level of equipment for anywhere near the price - and includes the latest active safety software, eight-speaker audio and powered front seats.

Its 10.3-inch touchscreen can also be controlled using the touchpad mounted between the front seats. It is an improvement on previous versions but is still fiddly to operate, compared to a dial. The audio controls mounted alongside are also not the most intuitive set-up.

A classy, if superfluous, touch in our digitised world, there is an analog clock. The inclusion of a CD player will satisfy older owners.

The UX has compromised boot space.
The UX has compromised boot space.

The leap up to Sports Luxury adds about $8500 but includes bigger wheels, leather-highlighted seats, ventilated front seats, adaptive headlamps and a 13-speaker audio.

At just $500 more, the range-topping F Sport is distinguished by unique front and rear bumpers. It comes with adaptive suspension, five drive modes (other versions have three) and active sound control.

The 2.0-litre engine, good for 126kW/205Nm, drives the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission.

The UX250h - the hybrid that's tipped to account for the bulk of sales, in front or all-wheel drive guise - adds a nickel-metal hydride battery and electric motors to boost propulsion and trim fuel use.

In front-drive guise, the hybrid is $3500 more than its conventional counterpart and AWD ups the price by another $4500. Given the urban remit, front-drive should do the job, saving money at the dealership and service station.

The UX interior is its strong point.
The UX interior is its strong point.

Front and back, there are a pair of USB ports and a 12V socket, ensuring connectivity doesn't become an issue when fully loaded.

What will be an issue with all seats in use is space - there's precious little shoulder and legroom for the rear seat and the boot won't stow more than a couple of suitcases. There are no rear door pockets.

On the road

Lexus seems to have aimed for competence when it comes to the UX's road manners. It does everything without fuss but doesn't engage or encourage the driver.

The F Sport's adaptive suspension works well to suppress jolts around town, whereas the standard shocks can be a touch jittery over lumps and bumps.

The UX is one of the better equipped small luxury SUVs.
The UX is one of the better equipped small luxury SUVs.

Performance from the hybrid is more than adequate but even in sports mode it doesn't feel particularly sporty. Full right-foot provocation can also generate higher-than-expected tyre roar from the front wheels.

In the UX200, the engine is a touch raucous under full throttle; in the hybrid, it's more subdued.

One of the better examples of the genre, the CVT is tuned to perform like a conventional automatic and even sounds like one.

The upside is the UX is a frugal operator. Lexus quotes a combined fuel use of 4.5L/100km for the front-drive hybrid, a figure that improves in stop-start driving that most city dwellers will encounter on their daily commute.

The active safety software seems well calibrated, with the lane keep capable of centring the UX through freeway corners.

The hybrid is expected to make up the bulk of the sales.
The hybrid is expected to make up the bulk of the sales.

Victoria's profusion of temporary speed signs didn't confuse the traffic sign recognition. This dutifully displays the prevailing limit alongside the figure in the digital speedo - and flares red if you exceed it.

Verdict 3/5

The UX fulfils its brief as a prestige urban crossover in terms of style and the standard of materials. The lack of space effectively limits its use to couples - but there's no shortage of potential buyers living in inner-city apartments.

Lexus UX vitals

Price: From $54,300-$56,000 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 4 years/100,000km, no capped pricing

Safety: 8 airbags, AEB, lane keep, blind spot

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, electric motors, 131kW/205Nm

Thirst: 4.5L/100km

Spare: Space-saver (Luxury) or repair kit

Boot: 320L