The hybrid which makes it easier to be green … or khaki
When the world as we knew it started to go pear-shaped last year, the automotive industry was equally downcast.
Showrooms were empty. Yet as people emerged from lockdown, an appetite for new cars grew.
Lexus was among those brands to reap the rewards. Like other luxury marques, buyers decided to invest in cars rather than expensive overseas holidays.
Pivotal to the Japanese luxury carmaker’s success has been hybrids. Australians are feeling the alternative fuel gravitational pull, and those not quite willing to holistically embrace electric power.
Lexus will launch its first full battery electric car in November, the UX 300e, but sales of the hybrids continue to gain momentum.
Outstanding fuel efficiency and strong performance are among the benefits. The UX250h, which competes against the likes of BMW’s X1 or a Mercedes-Benz GLA, is the most affordable hybrid SUV in the Lexus range with prices starting from about $56,500 drive-away.
That price is for the two-wheel version, those who want all four wheels powered will pay an extra $11,805. There is also a base petrol-only model that was introduced in December that reduces the get-in price to just over $50k.
Luxury specification lives up to the name. Complimentary items include leather trim, 10.3-inch colour screen, heated front seats with electric adjustment, sunroof, power tailgate, wireless phone charger along with an eight-speaker stereo which is connected to an infotainment system equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For some extra external firepower 18-inch alloys with run-flat tyres can be thrown into the mix for $1520.
Colour options are white, grey, silver, titanium, black, red, blue, bronze and khaki. Premium hues attract a $1500 premium. Interior no-cost choices are cream/black, white/black and pure black.
Lexus maintains a four-year warranty, despite parent company Toyota offering five on mainstream vehicles. Most manufacturers now offer at least five years of coverage, but BMW and Audi remain at three years.
Servicing is required annually or every 15,000km, and each of the first three maintenance visits cost $495 each.
New owners also automatically become “Encore” members with a host of luxury benefits, such as special deals on accommodation, events and loan cars during servicing. There is also a permanent fuel discount of five cents per litre on premium unleaded and diesel at Caltex stations.
Updates to the UX arrived on models since December, and they now have tech which can detect school zone speed signs as part of system which constantly monitors the UX’s speed and provides constant reminders to adhere to road rules if you creep over the limit.
Five stars were awarded by Australia crash safety authority in 2019, and it has all the vital inclusions such as emergency braking that can automatically slow the UX to avoid or reduce the impact of an accident (it watches for pedestrian and cyclists, too). Radar cruise control always maintains a safe distance from other vehicles, rear cross traffic alert warns of impending collisions when reversing and a lane tracing function can help steer the UX back into the middle of the lane if the driver wanders without indicating.
Our test car boasted white leather trim which delivered high levels of opulence. Whether that would survive a family beating over the long-term is debatable, but it certainly looks impressive when new.
Whereas many manufacturers are taking the minimalist approach, Lexus has maintained a combination modern along with tried and tested. Remaining is an array of chunky, large buttons on the dash which makes accessing the aircon simple and fast.
The steering wheel mirrors that approach, making it easy to navigate various menus and information, while the “bull horns” on top of the driver’s binnacle enables fast driving mode changes.
During past Lexus tests we’ve been critical of the touchpad infotainment system and our opinion hasn’t changed. It’s distracting, difficult to navigate and takes your attention away from the road. Luckily the smartphone mirroring apps are now available which is the best option for a more cohesive use of hands-free phone and music functions.
Previous iterations of the UX had limited cargo space, but the boot on hybrid model is now a handy 368 litres — an improvement of about 44 litres.
Another upgrade are two Type-C USB ports in the back (the larger Type-A are being phased out in most models).
Rear seat space is good for two adults as long as those in the front are mindful of not taking too much real estate.
Commonsense inclusions such as storage areas and dual cupholders front and back are covered, but the lack of drink bottle holders in the doors is a frustrating omission.
For those concerned about the time it takes to recharge or who have range anxiety, the hybrid is a perfect alternative.
The driver does nothing but select the mode, economy, sport or normal, and the Lexus tech does the rest.
With enough charge in the battery it will move off silently, but when acceleration increases the petrol engine kicks into gear and delivers the required power. This iteration comes with improvements that have addressed some of the slow throttle responses levelled at the initial UX.
Using judicial use of the right foot, the power delivery is smooth and quiet. Step on the throttle and it can take some time to respond.
It’s an easy and relaxing car to drive with a hushed cabin no matter the road conditions.
While the official fuel usage figure from Lexus is 4.5L for every 100km, we could only manage 5.7L.
Performance isn’t high on the agenda, luxury and efficiency are and those two boxes are well and truly ticked.
The electric power equation doesn’t add up just yet, this moves me closer to a greener alternative without the drawbacks of charging.
Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 $60,277 D/A
Just updated, the new GLA base model has a 1.3-litre turbo four cylinder that puts out 120kW and 250Nm through a seven-speed auto. An impressive, if pricey all-rounder, but doesn’t have the green credentials of a hybrid despite fuel consumption of 6.2L/100km.
Mini Countryman Hybrid $63,000 D/A
The plug-in hybrid combines a 100kW, 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving the front wheels with a 65kW electric motor on the rear axle. Average fuel consumption of 2.4L/100km, with an all-electric range of about 40km.
Efficiency and luxury collide. Easy to drive with less trips to the servo than your average petrol-powered offering, the hybrid UX is green, quiet and opulence combined.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE $56,500 drive-away (cheaper than rivals)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 4 yr w’ty (not bad); 3 services $1485 (fine)
ENGINE 2.0L 4-cyl, electric motor, 133kW (smooth)
SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping (good)
THIRST 4.5L/100km (5.7 on test)
SPARE None; run-flats (standard)
BOOT 368L (now bigger)