The new entry-point to the Lexus range reinforces the brand’s commitment to striking design.
Like all the major premium auto players Lexus is extending its range downwards to entice younger buyers into the brand. The UX 200 F Sport is a compact SUV with sporting pretensions, pitched at just over $50K. Can it snag a decent piece of this emerging new luxury market?
Traditionally, luxury car buyers have been ‘people of a certain age.’ Those with the means and desire to buy into a brand that says I’m sitting on a pile of dough and don’t mind spending a chunk of it on some top-shelf wheels.
But the evolution of cars like the Audi A1, BMW 1 Series, and Mercedes-Benz A-Class is all about recruiting younger buyers who love the badge cred, but not the stuffiness that has historically gone with it.
Lexus has built its reputation as a challenger, but after 30 years in existence is now chasing the same, youthful buyers the German ‘Big Three’ and others are targeting with more accessible, more adventurous offerings.
Enter the UX, a compact SUV introduced to the Australian market in early 2019, lowering the cost-of-entry to Lexus ownership. We spent a week with the UX 200 F Sport to see how it stacks up in the brave new world of affordable automotive luxury.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
In 10 years as Toyota president, Akio Toyoda (great grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda) has shaken things up in all parts of the business.
In 2011 he challenged the corporation’s head of design, Tokuo Fukuichi, to move Toyota and Lexus from conservative to exciting, and Fukuichi-san didn’t waste any time.
Design by committee and trying to please all of the people all of the time gave way to a more distinctive and confident approach. Almost immediately the Lexus brand’s now signature ‘spindle grille’ began to appear on concept cars as the key element in a new, edgy, and instantly polarising corporate look and feel.
The exterior is an arresting mix if compound curves, sharp angles, and mysterious recesses. (image: James Cleary)
That dramatic design language quickly transferred to the full production line-up, and love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt Lexus now stands out from the crowd.
Launched in Australia in early 2019, the UX is the latest expression of that individual rather than crowd-pleasing philosophy; the exterior an arresting mix if compound curves, sharp angles, and mysterious recesses.
Standout features are the enormous grille, sitting between jagged LED headlights, plus a three-piece tail-light unit standing proud of the bodywork (comprising no less than 120 LEDs) and spanning the entire width of the car, as well as broad wheelarch over-fenders with a roughly right-angle tweak to their trailing edges.
Standout features are the enormous grille, sitting between jagged LED headlights. (image: James Cleary)
The interior maintains the visual interest with a similar array of intersecting lines and surfaces. A compact instrument binnacle houses a crystal clear configurable digital instrument display, the top surface aligning with a centrally placed 10.3-inch media screen.
Which highlights a well-known and intensely frustrating design shortcoming… the Lexus ‘Remote Touch Interface’ (RTI).
Lexus claims the small touch control pad next to the gearshift in the centre console should feel as familiar to use as a smartphone. But if your current mobile device was as clunky and unwieldy as the RTI set-up, I guarantee it would be headed straight back to its place of purchase accompanied by a curt demand for a refund. Despite available adjustments for speed/sensitivity, even on its most benign setting RTI is maddeningly over-reactive and inaccurate.
The interior maintains the visual interest with a similar array of intersecting lines and surfaces. (image: James Cleary)
On a more positive note, a conventional rotary dial to control audio volume is neatly positioned for fingertip control at the leading edge of the centre armrest. And that armrest pad doubles as a tricky two-way lid for a storage box underneath. Push the button on the right and it opens right to left. Hit the button on the left, and it opens the other way. Clever and super handy.
The combination of wheel-mounted controls for audio, cruise, phone and computer functions, plus rocker switches for the ventilation and other bits and pieces pushes up the button count. But the overall impression is of a well thought-through, high quality cabin environment.
Apropos of nothing, a particularly polite design feature is the wiper system’s auto stop function when a door opens to ensure people getting in or out of the car aren’t splashed.
At just under 4.5 metres long, a touch over 1.8m wide, and a fraction taller than 1.5m, the UX is in the same dimensional ballpark as the volume-selling Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4. Same goes for the wheelbase.
Front seat passengers are provided with a pair of cupholders in the centre console, with a Qi wireless charging pad ahead of them, a decent glove box, as well as generous door bins with enough space for full-size bottles. A large lidded storage box between the seats contains two USB ports, an ‘aux-in’ socket, and a 12-volt outlet.
Boot space is 371 litres (VDA) with the rear seats upright. (image: James Cleary)
Which is enough for the two largest cases in our three-piece hard suitcase set (68 and 105 litres). (image: James Cleary)
Squeezing in the third 35-litre case was never going to happen. (image: James Cleary)
But a swap from the luggage to the 'CarsGuide' pram saw the jumbo-size unit just make it. (image: James Cleary)
Backseaters pick up a centre fold-down armrest with twin cupholders included, but the doors are storage-free zones. Not only that, the rear door aperture is tight, forcing some awkward contortion for entry, and particularly, exit.
Once inside, leg and headroom are passable, although shoulder room will be tight for grown-ups. Twin air vents in the rear of the front centre console is a welcome addition in a car of this size, as are two USB charging ports, but the lack of storage pockets on the front seatbacks feels like a miss.
Backseaters pick up a centre fold-down armrest with twin cupholders included, but the doors are storage-free zones. (image: James Cleary)
Boot space is 371 litres (VDA) with the rear seats upright, which is enough for the two largest cases in our three-piece hard suitcase set (68 and 105 litres). Squeezing in the third 35-litre case was never going to happen, but a swap from the luggage to the CarsGuide pram saw the jumbo-size unit just make it. The second-row backrest split-folds 60/40 to liberate extra capacity.
There are tie-down anchor points at each corner of the cargo floor, a 12-volt power outlet, strategically placed bag hooks and bright lighting, but don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the Dunlop tyres are run-flats.
Towing capacity is the same, rather modest 750kg whether the trailer you’ve connected is braked or unbraked.
The front seats have generous door bins with enough space for full-size bottles. (image: James Cleary)
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
To put the UX 200 F Sport in context, the 200 is the entry model in a three-tier UX range (below the 250h 2WD and 250h AWD), while F Sport is the highest of three specification grades (above ‘Luxury’ and Sports Luxury’).
That’s some heavy-hitting competition and it’s fair to expect a handsome standard equipment list to underpin that price tag.
It features 18-inch alloy wheels, illuminated entry, and F Sport alloy-accented pedals. (image: James Cleary)
Aside from the active and passive safety tech detailed in the safety section below, the UX 200 F Sport features a leather-accented F Sport shift lever and heated steering wheel, power-adjustable steering column, leather-accented seat trim, eight-way power-adjustable, heated and ventilated F Sport front seats, Qi wireless phone charging, active cruise control, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control air (including ‘Lexus Climate Concierge’ management of climate, front seats, and the steering wheel), 18-inch alloy wheels, illuminated entry, and F Sport alloy-accented pedals.
Also included are bi-LED headlights (with auto levelling and adaptive high beam), LED fog lights, LED tail-lights, adaptive variable suspension, five drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+, Custom), a rear performance damper, paddle shifters, the 8.0-inch multimedia screen, 7.0-inch digital driver information display, reversing camera, parking sensors (front and rear), satellite navigation (with ‘SUNA Live Traffic’ updates), eight-speaker audio (with digital radio), and voice recognition for media and other functions.
An 8.0-inch multimedia screen is also included. (image: James Cleary)
No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity here, as Lexus sticks with its own media/audio connection set-up.
An impressive number of boxes ticked, though, and our test example was fitted with an optional moonroof ($2500) and premium ‘Cobalt Mica’ paint ($1500), for an as-tested price of $57,450.
Other colours available are: 'Khaki Metal' (green), 'Carnelian' (orange), 'White Nova', 'Mercury Grey', 'Premium Silver', 'Titanium' (silver), 'Onyx' (black), 'Graphite Black', and 'Caliente' (red).
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The UX is powered by an all-alloy 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated (non-turbo) four-cylinder petrol engine producing 126kW at 6600rpm and 205Nm at 4800rpm.
Its specs include dual ‘VVT-i’ (Variable Valve Timing-intelligence) managed by an electric motor on the intake side and conventional hydraulic actuation on the exhaust side, plus a combination of direct- and port-injection, as well as electronic throttle control.
Drive goes to the front wheels via a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), with a conventional first gear added to aid take-off, and ‘steps’ to mimic normal ratios accessible via wheel-mounted paddles.
The UX is powered by an all-alloy 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated (non-turbo) four-cylinder petrol engine. (image: James Cleary)
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.8L/100km, the UX 200 emitting 132g/km of CO2 in the process.
Despite the standard stop-start system, an available ‘ECO Mode’, and a relatively conservative driving style over close to 300km of city, suburban and freeway running we didn’t get close to that figure, the on-board read-out coming in at 8.7L/100km.
The good news is the minimum fuel requirement is 91 RON regular unleaded, of which you’ll need 47 litres to fill the tank.
What's it like to drive? 6/10
A kerb weight nudging 2.0 tonnes and a peak torque number (205Nm) that doesn’t arrive until a lofty 4800rpm goes a long way towards telling the UX 200 F Sport performance story.
Lexus claims 0-100km/h acceleration in 9.2sec. Hardly blazing speed, and the general lack of thrust is compounded by the nature of the CVT auto.
Continuously variable transmissions have come a long way in recent years, but despite the addition of a conventional first gear to give the UX some extra pep at step-off, this unit’s like a throwback to the not so good old days.
In a bid to keep the engine in its operating sweet spot, constantly balancing performance and economy goals, this CVT creates a droning engine noise and drivetrain quality that for those old enough to remember manual gearboxes feels like a constantly slipping clutch.
The UX 200 F Sport feels balanced and predictable, putting it’s power down nicely on a brisk B-road run. (image: James Cleary)
The UX is underpinned by the ‘Lexus Global Architecture – C’ platform (a Lexus name for Toyota’s TNGA chassis architecture) and suspension is by struts at the front and trailing wishbones at the rear, with the F Sport featuring adaptive variable suspension and a rear performance damper, the latter designed to improve chassis rigidity and minimise vibrations.
Overall ride comfort is good, but the standard 18-inch alloy rims are shod with 225/50 Dunlop run-flat tyres (SP Sport Maxx 050 DSST CTT) and they’re relatively noisy, with an accompanying tendency to follow irregularities in the road surface.
Dial up the Sportier drive settings and everything tightens up appreciably, so if you’re that way inclined, the sport part of the F Sport’s personality is there to be explored.
The electrically assisted steering delivers decent accuracy and road feel, while switching between the CVT’s ‘ratio’ points via the wheel-mounted paddles adds to the sense of engagement. With some momentum up, the UX 200 F Sport feels balanced and predictable, putting it’s power down nicely on a brisk B-road run.
The electrically assisted steering delivers decent accuracy and road feel. (image: James Cleary)
Braking is by ventilated discs at the front (305mm) with solid rotors at the rear (281mm), and stopping power is reassuringly firm.
A tight 10.4m turning circle makes parking pretty easy, supported by a high-quality reversing camera and proximity sensors front and rear.
Despite the fact the UX 200 is a front-wheel drive only proposition, with a running ground clearance of 160mm, that’s unlikely to ever venture off the bitumen, Lexus quotes clearance angles for those keen to push the car’s dynamic boundaries off-road. So, the approach angle is 14 degrees, departure is 25 degrees, and break over is 17 degrees. Good luck.
Warranty & Safety Rating
4 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
The UX is the entry point to the entire Lexus range but doesn’t lack in terms of active and passive safety, scoring a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in November, 2018.
To help avoid a crash, as well as the usual suspects like ABS, EBD, BA and stability and traction controls, the ‘Safety Sense+’ system includes the ‘Pre-collision system’ (Lexus-speak for AEB) with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, all-speed radar active cruise control, ‘Lane Tracing Assist’, traffic-sign recognition, active high beam control, blind-spot monitoring, evasive steering assist, a reversing camera (with sensors and clearance sonar), ‘Rear Cross Traffic Alert’, and a tyre inflation warning system.
If all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the UX boasts eight airbags (driver, front passenger [dual], driver's knee, side, cushion and curtain side) as well as a forward collision warning and pre-collision braking system. Not a lot of gaps there.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
The standard Lexus warranty in Australia is four years/100,000km, which scores points for being one year above the luxury segment norm, but has them taken away again because unlike most others the kilometre component is limited. Plus, the mainstream market standard is now five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
To balance the scales, the ‘Lexus Encore Privileges’ program provides 24-hour roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty, as well as access to owner events and special offers.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/15,000km (whichever comes first). The first service is free, the second is $631, the third $523, and the fourth $631.
A Lexus loan car is provided while your pride and joy is in the workshop, or a pick-up and return option (from home or office) is available. You’ll also receive a complimentary wash and interior vacuum. Nice.
The new entry-point to the Lexus range reinforces the brand’s commitment to striking design. (image: James Cleary)
The new entry-point to the Lexus range reinforces the brand’s commitment to striking design, the UX 200 F Sport combining compact SUV practicality and top shelf finish with a lengthy standard equipment list and the latest safety tech. But it’s an underwhelming drive, hampered by a lack of urge, mediocre CVT auto, and standard run-flat rubber that doesn’t do its driving refinement any favours.