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First Drive

Lexus UX 250h review: ‘self-charging’ hybrid SUV driven

£34,580 when new
Published: 13 Apr 2019


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Which Lexus hybrid is this?

The UX: a small hatchback riding a little bit taller than Lexus’s ancient entry-level offering, the CT. The UX wears plastic wheelarch cladding to look all tough and outdoorsy, and as usual for Lexus, the rest of the bodywork is an earthquake aftermath of cracks, creases and wrinkles.

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In isolation, it’s an eyeful, but park it next to the tedious likes of the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and co and the Lexus is easily the most interesting looking of the pack. Check out those taillights. They’ve got fins. Party like its 1959, folks. The neighbours’ curtains will positively vibrate with jealousy.

Does the UX have a USP besides looking like a peed-off Pokemon?

Of course it does. It’s the hybrid factor. It’s there in BLOCK CAPITALS on every digital billboard in the land. ‘NEW LEXUS UX. SELF-CHARGING HYBRID’. Clever branding, really, if irritatingly worded. Obviously, Lexus has not skewered the laws of thermodynamics and made a perpetual-motion car that never needs refuelling.

But if you’re a green-thinking urbanite caught up in the go-electric movement, that’ll really grab you. You live in a city. You’ve got nowhere to plug in overnight. That knocks the Mini Countryman Cooper S PHEV off the shopping list. A self-charging hybrid? Good for under 100g/km of CO2? You’d be beating down the Lexus salesman’s front door at 3am begging for a test-drive.

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And what exactly would I be getting, under that brazen bodyshell?

The usual Lexus hybrid recipe, in one of its finer executions. At last. The front wheels are driven along by a naturally aspirated, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine blended with an electric motor to deliver 181bhp altogether. In reality, you’re barely using half of that.

As usual, the handover between traffic-crawling EV power and e-boosted petrol drive is brokered by a CVT gearbox. And this is where, with your Lexus hybrid bingo cards at the ready, you’ll be expecting the usual moans about mooing, whining, droning protests from under the bonnet as the car bleeds away all but a morsel of power, leaving your heavy, underpowered hybrid stranded mid-lane change, doing about twenty-thousand rpm.

Off you go, then…

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No can do – this is the best execution of the theory yet, for two reasons.

One: it’s unfathomably quiet. Even when you rouse the engine, there’s no longer the buzzing, resonant hive of bees vibrating through the bulkhead. You squeeze the throttle and let the hybrid’s computers politely sort out the power balance, rather than tiptoeing around desperately trying to stay in the parameters of battery power. Brake pedal feel is still mushy, but easier to modulate than older Lexus efforts.

Two: when you do need to stop mooching about and really ask for some urgency, the UX actually delivers. It’s a portly car for its size, at around 1,600kg, but at last there’s some sense of torquey e-boost getting things moving on demand.

For no reason we can conjure, Lexus is keeping the utterly rubbish old CT200h hatchback on sale for a while, in parallel with the new, finned UX. We can only assume this is to show how much progress it's made.

Hurrah, job well done Lexus!

Not so fast. We have gripes. The edgy styling will make the neighbours envious, but desire will quickly turn to fury when you plough all over their lawn and flowerbeds trying to manoeuvre your UX.

The visibility is really poor and hemmed-in. It’s a touch claustrophobic inside, especially compared to a Volvo XC40. This is not a big car, but inside it feels small and dark and difficult to place. The meaningless, woolly steering doesn’t help matters. You’ll be depending on the piercing, shrieking parking sensors, and army of cameras.

What else?

The usual Lexus interior own-goals. Stellar build quality marred by cheap’n’nasty switchgear. There’s oodles of incongruous LFA supercar inspiration too. The motorised instrument display – a gimmick, but a fun one. The stumpy horns for changing driving modes either side of the instrument binnacle, which you’ll never use because they’re cumbersome to reach. Or the multi-decked dashboard layout, with its fiddly climate controls and fingertrap wireless charging pad.

Supercar trickle-down features might sound great in the marketing pitch, but none of it actually makes the UX easy to operate. And worst of all, the 8-bit infotainment screen and its hateful touchpad mouse control. This 1980s arcade game masquerading as a premium nfotainment system was terrible when Lexus first brought it out, and it’s still a pulsating, puss-filled boil on the face of any Lexus fascia.

Time and time again, we hope that it’ll click in our brains and become second-nature, but everyone at TG agrees it’s a dead-end. Japan is great at consumer electronics, so how did this slip through the sign-off meeting? Bizarre.

Can you nitpick the economy?

Not really. Official, pleasingly realistic claims are 49-53mpg, and our average economy was over 43-47mpg, which is notably better than a pure petrol crossover would return over the same inner-London-then-motorway-schlep journey. What’s more, economy refused to dip below 40-something even mired in the worst London gridlock.

If you drive to the advantages these hybrids offer, they’re impressive bits of kit. At long last, this is a pleasant one to drive too. Not fun, not remotely engaging or memorable, really, but it rides with a real maturity. It’s placidly refined. It gets about the place without feeling flogged like a reluctant seaside donkey.

Would you buy one?

It’s well worth considering, which is far more than can be said for the dreadfully cramped, uncomfortable CT200h. It still pays to do the maths, and make sure it’s suited to your life (as opposed to say, a VW Golf or Ford Focus, which will just blend into the background of whatever lifestyle you throw at it).

Don’t bother adding more weight with all-wheel drive. But do plump for F Sport trim safe in the knowledge it doesn’t knacker the ride like speccing an S-line Audi Q3 does.

The UX 250h is a good effort from Lexus. It’s more interesting, and more town-friendly, than most of its immediate rivals. Or, to put it another way, it’s a more expensive, more cramped, butcher-looking Toyota Prius, wearing a Scream mask. But at least no-one will mistake you for an Uber and vomit all over the seatbacks when you’re bumbling home of an evening.


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