SINGAPORE (Mar 27): A city drive in the new UX, Lexus’ contribution to the subcompact SUV category

If you like the height and ground clearance of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) but favour the nippy nature of a hatchback, there is a car out there that will tick all your boxes — the new UX, the first subcompact SUV from Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus. It combines the best attributes and versatility of an SUV with the sleek and elegant styling of a hatchback. Its fluid lines and distinctive spindle grille offer little doubt as to its pedigree while creating a wholly unique driving experience for fans of the marque. It is available in three variants — urban, luxury and F Sport.

The UX stacks up well against some very credible competitors in the luxury subcompact SUV range, like BMW’s X1, the Audi Q3 and the MINI Cooper Countryman. What sets it apart is its appeal as a Japanese car, which means an unrivalled eye for detail and top-quality finishing. To that end, there is no faulting the car on its interior, from its perforated leather seats to the washi-tape finish of the dashboard (these are only available in the luxury and F Sport models). It is the first car from the Japanese marque to have been designed by a woman, and it shows — sitting inside the car is quite a treat, from both visual and tactile perspectives.

The exterior design also wins full marks. The sleek, stylish exterior reflects the SUV’s dynamic agility and is complemented by the block-shape mesh pattern of the new spindle grille. Aero stabilising wheel arch mouldings and rear combination lamps significantly reduce wind resistance for improved control and performance, while ultra-compact LED headlamps work in tandem with the L-shaped daytime running lights and vertical illumination lines for superior visibility and a striking look.

As a late entrant to the luxury subcompact SUV market, the new UX stands out with an unrivalled eye for detail and top-quality finishing

Once inside, I personally find the cockpit significantly less fussy than the UX’s older brother, the NX, and the arrangement of the controls feel more intuitive. All the UXs have a loaded infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, a mobile WiFi hotspot and four USB ports, with upgrades including a larger 10.3in centre screen, built-in navigation, wireless charging and an eight-speaker premium audio system. The touchpad controller is located at the base of the centre armrest and while I laud its positioning, I did find it a bit perplexing to use — perhaps, the few hours I had with the car did not give me the opportunity to get accustomed to it.

The boot space in the urban models is surprisingly small and I found the liftover height to be a bit too high for comfort. At 228 litres, it is large enough for either one golf bag, a stroller or a full load of groceries, but any combination of the three would probably be a bit of a struggle. The rear seats can be collapsed for additional space, however, should an Ikea run be necessary. If boot space is a major point of contention, the luxury and F Sport models have slightly more wiggle room with 271 litres.

The UX’s key safety features include standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. This system employs sophisticated sensors and cameras on board to not only reduce or avoid accidents, but also to enhance driving pleasure by removing the daily stresses of commuting. These have become standard industry features in the last few years and make their debut with Lexus in the UX.

In terms of performance, the 2.0-litre engine did not particularly impress with its accelerating abilities, but a great steering feel and good handling made up for the lack of quickness. The transmission is smooth enough, bearing in mind this is a car dedicated to urban travel — although you can take it for long drives, it is really best suited to nipping about in the city. In fact, when faced with twisty roads — we are talking about you, Petaling Street — I definitely appreciated the agility of the car, which is improved further by Active Cornering Assist. This feature monitors the vehicle’s trajectory through curves and applies appropriate braking on the inside wheels to suppress understeer.

In all three variants, you can choose your driving mode with a twistable knob on the left side of the steering wheel. There is Normal; on Eco, the throttle is palpably tempered while Sport gets you more power and a more secure steering feel. In F Sport models, three modes jump to five — Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom — which really lets you up the ante on your driving experience. But no matter how much you let it rip, the UX’s efficiency promise remains intact at 6.2 litres per 100km.

The UX assures you of a safe drive that is undeniably pleasant, both from a behind-the-wheel perspective as well as a passenger’s. It provides what it promises — that is all you want in a car, really.