It’s odd to think that it’s been 14 Years since the first Lexus hybrid. Initially met with a few head scratches from some, and some very obvious pushback from others, it was clear from the get-go that Lexus Hybrids had to do it the hard way. Fast forward to 2019, and the proof was in the electric pudding. With sales numbers growing exponentially and other brands adopting hybrid drive systems, it was clear that Lexus was well and truly ahead of the curb. For economic reasons alone, the fuel saving benefits of hybrid technology made perfect sense. Throw in an increased awareness of man-made climate change, future diesel bans in major centres and a lagging electric infrastructure network, it seems in 2019, a hybrid drivetrain makes more sense than ever. But what makes a Lexus Hybrid different from the competition? With a cheaper petrol option available, should you even bother with a Hybrid? Well, after spending 24 hours driving the new Lexus UX around Sydney, it’s quite clear that the difference is in the details.
I first laid eyes on the urban crossover (UX) as it pulled up at the end of my street. Maybe it was because they knew how much I enjoyed being chauffeured around Tasmania in the LS 500, but Lexus insisted my first impressions of the new crossover SUV would be as a passenger. Not that I was complaining. With my favourite combo of ventilated seats and Mark Levinson audio, I was more than happy to kick back and ponder where the UX fits in the greater scheme of things. Offered in 3 models (UX 200 Petrol FWD, UX 250h Hybrid FWD, and UX 250h Hybrid AWD) the UX now nudges the NX and becomes the smallest member of the Lexus SUV family. While paying some homage to its older siblings, the UX looks keen to carve its own path. There is a sense of charm and character about the smaller wheelbase that strips back the ego and encourages you to get involved. And as we arrived at the Old Clare Hotel, that’s exactly what I did.
Strolling around the UX shouldn’t take long, but there’s just so much to take in. That now signature spindle grill looks bigger than ever on a smaller footprint and it’s all the better for it. LED headlights point sharply towards the Lexus badge, in a design statement more about pride than it is arrogance. It’s piercing and bold from every angle with aerodynamics considered on every surface. But my favourite design element is the rear tail light. Made up of 120 LEDs, the continuous bar creates a horizon of sorts where all lines meet. Overall, the package is distinctly Lexus. However, the UX carries an adorability that just doesn’t translate to the larger models. Put it this way, if Lexus was captain planet, and the cars its planeteers, then the UX would be ‘ heart ‘ (or Ma-Ti for my astute readers). Happy-go-lucky, honest, and always keeps the team grounded. But before I could delve deeper into 90’s environmentalist cartoons, I was back in the car and heading for a very special dinner.
In a not so subtle nod to all things Japanese and precision, our host for the evening was no other than legendary chef, and Lexus ambassador, Neil Perry. Neil’s restaurant, Sake, has won more awards than LED’s in my taillight and after seeing the head chef wield his knife, it was easy to see why. The Japanese wizard cut Tuna in a way that made me fearful for his fingers, but when you saw the concentration in his face, you could see he was in the zone. There is definitely something about the Japanese culture of craftsmanship and meticulousness that translates into whatever task they are performing. Every plate was as beautifully presented as it was delicious and although I appreciated every bite, I couldn’t help to think that Sake has now ruined any future sashimi experiences.
The following morning, after a rooftop swim and some breakfast in bed, Lexus was trusting enough to hand me the keys. Leaving the Old Clare in a laneway seemed to be the perfect launch pad for little Ma-Ti. Tourists were curious, pedestrians were everywhere, and the UX never broke a sweat. The combination of a small footprint, taller driving position, and a Hybrid drive meant that you could slowly coast through the crowd. Once I was up and away, I could start to get a feel for the driving dynamics. From slow hairpins to sweeping bends, there was no denying this chassis felt planted. The obvious answer to this was battery location, but after speaking to the Lexus team, there was far more to it. Built on the new Global Architecture-C platform, the UX sits driver and weight as low as possible to achieve the lowest centre of gravity in its class. Couple that with a multi-material body for increased rigidity and decreased weight, and you get a surprisingly agile little package. Even when I was setting up for a photo at Sydney’s picturesque Berry’s Bay lookout, the UX was just such an easy car to maneuver.
But what of these drivetrains? Well, let’s start with the petrol only UX 200. By internal combustion engine standards, the 2.0 litre 4 cylinder is very green. Sipping around 5.8 L/100km, it isn’t far off the hybrid’s 4.5 L/100km and being the most affordable of the range, you could put some your spare change to other green initiatives. I think the petrol makes more sense for those that live outside of cities or those that won’t spend a great amount of time in low-speed scenarios. Beyond that, the Hybrid just suits the personality of this car perfectly. Lower emissions, better economy, quieter drive, and as it’s in its 4th generation, the Hybrid drive system works more seamlessly than ever. If you have the money and a need for all wheel drive, go for it. Otherwise, the front wheel drive UX 250h is my pick of the litter.
But enough pragmatic consumer advice, and back to the final leg of my drive.
My coordinates for were set to Rosebery, and I was genuinely sad to be letting go of little ‘Ma-Ti’. Usually, luxury cars appear gruff and serious, but the UX was just so warm and playful. Never trying too hard and just being true to itself. As I reached my destination and met our host, I was starting to wonder if the Lexus PR team had hacked my brain. Award-winning fashion designer Akira Isogawa was waiting at the very fashionable (and oh so white) La Porte Space. Akira talked me through his craft and career in a way that was unbelievably humble. He went out of his way to mention every artisan that was involved in each garment, never taking credit for something he didn’t do and always playing down the vast amounts he did. I don’t know if I was more impressed by Akira or the Lexus team for finding a human version of the UX. Either way, it was a special way to end my adventure.
I’ve always found it strange that while most modern-day luxury car brands are part of a wider group, for some reason, Lexus seems to cop the brunt of brand association. But rather than engaging with such trivial mudslinging, Lexus just digs deep, pull up their socks and get on with what they do best; Making very comfortable, reliable, sustainably focused luxury cars. All wrapped up in a progressive design language that’s distinctly Japanese. The UX perfectly encapsulates this ethos and I think it will quickly become a little hero for the brand. I’m not sure where all the people went saying “Hybrid technology will never take off “, but you won’t hear Lexus saying “ I told you so “, just like Akira, they let their craft speak for itself.