REVIEW | Why the Lexus UX 200 EH should be a rare sight on our roads
First impressions of a vehicle can be influenced rather significantly by the environment in which it is driven. Manufacturer representatives go to great lengths to ensure that media samples their wares in the most idyllic of places. Which might lend some credence to assertions that we are out of touch with what the average consumer experiences.
The verdict after a blast through Franschoek Pass might be different compared to an 8km stint through Braamfontein, with the salesperson in the passenger seat grimacing at the following distances of minibus taxis. Mind you, according to some brands, the traditional test drive is shaping up to be placed on the shelf of obsolescence, with virtual product exposures gaining momentum.
My first time at the helm of the Lexus UX was in Stockholm, Sweden, last year. Before you ask, the answer is yes, the trip did involve a visit to the vaunted ABBA museum. And another yes to answer your follow-up: many dubious selfies were taken alongside the lifelike wax figures of the pop quartet.
Thoughts about the car? The pristine countryside asphalt – and ferry ride between two points – went by like a scene from a film. It was magical. And so we said that the Toyota group had done a fine job of re-skinning its C-HR for a more upmarket application in this guise. Because that is essentially what the UX is, save for the inclusion of the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged unit fitted to its humbler counterpart.
In Cape Town on a recent trip to fetch stories for the Sunday Times Lifestyle Motoring supplement, I found myself in the possession of a metallic white UX 250h. My initial sentiments have changed for worse.
This is the model that pairs a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, normally aspirated petrol unit with an electric motor. Oh, it also has a continuously variable transmission (CVT); which, as we mention in virtually every assessment of a car boasting such a gearbox, is rather uninspiring.
Same goes in the case of the UX. The decidedly lacklustre power train fails to mirror the sheer effervescence promised by the daring exterior. That said, the claimed 107kW and 180Nm felt relatively peppy at those coastal altitudes. But one preferred to coax it along gently, avoiding heavy pressure on the accelerator, unless brisk overtaking was required.
This would yield a painful, monotonous drone, shattering the tranquillity of those picturesque drives with the mountain in the background. The UX made for an average-to-good middle lane cruising companion. As with all models hailing from Lexus, the level of standard fare is generous across the range, with only the colour to be specified. Heated seats helped with aches during the throes of a seasonal cold, while the Mark Levinson audio system drowned out that CVT drone.
The navigation never faltered during explorations in far-flung enclaves that are probably not going to make it into the tourism brochures soon. But please, Lexus, can you do something about your infotainment system?
That touchpad controller is an irritation to operate, particularly if you are not left-handed. Scrolling through the menus is a niggly affair and one often finds an inadvertent clicking of the icon adjacent to the intended one. There were many parts of the cabin that felt uncharacteristic of Lexus, with the sense of cheapness conveyed. That includes scratchy panels and a rear hatch cover seemingly made from the same material used for mosquito nets.
A lofty price tag is to be expected, because this is a product from a premium marque, after all. Things range between R602,000 and R729,200. Yet I am not so sure it warrants such outlay. You would have to overlook strong contenders of greater substance such as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40. Then there are long-standing favourites like the BMW X1 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class.
No mystery as to why UX sightings are few and far between on South African roads. I spotted another metallic white example while attending a product launch in Cape Town after this trip. Come to think of it, that could have been the same press unit.