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When you’re ready to cross over to luxury, this world beater makes sense
IN 2019, LEXUS flew a small group of media practitioners from the region (this writer being one of them) to Japan. There was no new car or crossover to be previewed or launched; no groundbreaking development to be revealed.
See, the agenda was, arguably, even more important than specific products. Lexus officials went on to actually explain what the brand is all about — distilling for us the values it holds dear. Calling the trip the “Lexus Cultural Experience,” the trip was about pulling back the curtains to lay bare underlying philosophies. Let me be clear though: Lexus is a global brand. And it has probably worked harder than most marques to earn its seat at the premium auto table long dominated by European players.
So I preface this review of the Lexus UX with this overview, if you will. Clichéd as it sounds, to understand the brand is to understand this crucial gateway model. That’s what Lexus Philippines Brand Manager Jade Sison tells me as I borrow the Blazing Carnelian Contrast Layering (I know it’s a mouthful)-colored UX 200 F Sport.
Lexus appropriates the term “omotenashi,” a distinct Japanese quality of “anticipatory hospitality.” Ms. Sison explains, “Our cars are a testament of our brand’s commitment to deliver amazing experiences each and every time. Every Lexus is designed with the customer at the forefront. However, this is further deepened with our passion for craft and omotenashi. This is the art of exceptional hospitality — we endeavor to give our guests the impeccable customer care and experience that only Lexus can give.”
Even as the Lexus UX (with the UX 200 F Sport priced at P3.378 million) is the entry point into the rarefied value propositions of Toyota’s luxe brand, it does bear many accoutrements and the panache of its more expensive brethren. If Lexus wants to be known for attention to detail, then it could not drop the ball with the UX.
Granted it’s more of a raised hatchback with increased capacity and capability than an SUV, the UX embraces its diminutive proportions by rewarding the driver with more spirited driving, as well as the benefits of a best-in-class turning radius of 5.2 meters you obviously don’t get in larger rides. The minutiae do not fall through the cracks. Lexus says high-tensile steel, high-strength adhesives, and laser screw welding are employed in the UX. And how’s this for detail? Pop open the door. You’ll see the plastic-protected door catch in the door sill. In other models, it’s just bare.
On the outside, the Lexus UX is unafraid to show off an ironed suit — donning sharp angles and clever panel folds throughout its body — which helps to play tricks on your eyes into thinking there are several shades of the aforementioned Blazing Carnelian Contrast Layering. However you feel about it, I think this touch serves to make the signature Spindle Grille a coherent feature; the bowtie for this smartly dressed crossover. This is fringed by ultra-compact LEDs with L-shaped DRL brows. Moving to the rear, a continuous light-strip bridges the two oddly shaped taillights that, per Lexus, actually help to channel air for better aerodynamics. The liftgate can be operated by sweeping a foot under the bumper when you have two arms’ worth of groceries.
The UX is significant for many things. One of these is the fact that it’s the first Lexus essentially designed by a woman. “Our aim for the new UX was not to conform to the established crossover look, but to break with contention and create something more distinct and dynamic,” said Chief Engineer Chika Kako. You could say that the lady’s touch comes out in more intuitively design — particularly for features such as the trackpad and the unique center armrest controls for the entertainment system.
There are parlor tricks as well that don’t feel kitschy, such as the LFA-inspired “movable meter ring” that boasts legible, good-looking graphics. The F Sport gets a hefty steering wheel which should serve to inspire the (safe) racer in you when those 18-inch wheels fitted with 225/50 tires are grabbing corners and hitting apexes — motivated by the 2.0-liter four-banger with Direct-Shift CVT that dishes out 168hp. Cornering lights are a great touch at night for added safety and visibility. The F Sport trim gets, among other niceties, sport seats that promise better bolstering for more dynamic drives.
To the right of a luxurious-looking analog clock is the large 10.3-inch multi-information screen that spoils the driver with vibrant, well-executed displays of vitals he or she needs to know such as audio, climate, and navigation info. While there’s no Apple CarPlay, the system did read my phone’s content and played songs complete with metadata (such as album covers) that can appear on both the screen and within the instrument cluster — and played on the Lexus Premium Audio System hooked up to eight speakers.
One of the unique touches on the UX is the location of the Drive Mode Selector, which earns a spot on the dashboard to the right of the instrument cluster. The knob allows the driver to choose from five modes: Normal, Eco, Sport S, Sport S+, and Custom. For symmetry, I suppose, Lexus affixes another knob (which turns the traction control on or off) on the left side.
The choice of materials and level of craftsmanship within are other strengths of the UX. Another Japanese concept, “engawa,” or “harmonious melding of indoor and outdoor spaces” is said to be applied in the driver’s seat not just for aesthetics but ease of operation.
The only downside I see in the UX is that the second row can be a tight squeeze, particularly for taller passengers. Overall, it’s a reasonably sized vehicle that should fit four average-sized adults plus a child.
All told, when you’re ready to, well, cross over to more luxurious brands, it’s hard to beat the UX with its skillset and price of admission. You can get the “base” UX for P2.658 million if you’re willing to let go of some of the pampering. It should still get the job done most nicely — in that inimitable Lexus way.