There’s a very good reason that BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and plenty more besides have hurried to introduce compact SUVs in recent years: no other premium market sector is growing at a faster rate across Europe just now.
Lexus wasn’t about to sit back and watch its rivals grab fistfuls of market share, which is why its line-up of SUVs is now three rather than two-strong. The new UX slots in beneath the mid-sized NX, which itself sits one rung below the flagship RX.
Lexus reckons something like 80% of UX buyers in Britain will never have owned a Lexus before, which means this distinctive crossover serves a dual purpose: earn revenue in the short term and bring new lifelong customers into the fold beyond that. The company’s marketeers have aimed it directly at 30-something city dwellers, a group that it refers to as ‘creative urban explorers’, but it accepts that a significant number of buyers will also be older couples downsizing from full-size SUVs. Whoever the UX is aimed at, the car is must prove itself against is the Volvo XC40, our favourite compact SUV.
The UX is clearly the most car-like of all the XC40’s challengers, for it is a mere 68mm taller than a VW Golf but some 129mm lower-set than a Jaguar E-Pace. With a very low slung seating position within that fairly squat body the UX even feels more hatchback than it does SUV. Those buyers who are looking for a lofty seating position and a commanding view of the road will be well advised to continue their search elsewhere.
The pay-off, of course, is that the UX doesn’t have the teetering centre of gravity of a more conventional compact SUV, which means it should handle with the poise and agility of a hatchback. With that same goal in mind, Lexus’s engineers worked especially hard to make the car’s structure as rigid as it could be - which also improves refinement and safety - while the use of composites for the bootlid and aluminium for the door skins helps to keep weight down. At 1620kg the two-wheel-drive hybrid UX isn’t as hopelessly overweight as it might be.
What Lexus calls a ‘brave design’ others might describe as overwrought. There are sharp angles and creases wherever you look, but it all seems to be part of a wider effort to make the UX stand out from the countless other small premium SUVs. Even its drivetrain is somewhat unusual, and that at a time when most other car makers seem to be converging on more or less the same powertrain technologies. Lexus might well be following the herd with the UX, but it will not be caught dead copying its rivals wholesale.