Lexus UX300e review – an all-electric small luxury crossover for the city
Can the Japanese masters of luxury make a convincing electric crossover?
Lexus has always been one of those car brands that proudly does its own thing. It's never been afraid to build cars that look quirky, or whose interiors have more in common with high-end Tokyo whisky-swallowing establishments than your average motor.
The new Lexus UX300e, however, feels as if Lexus is starting to fit in with the industry zeitgeist, because it's an electric urban crossover. The brand's first all-electric car, the UX300e promises a range of 196 miles and will set you back £40,900, including the UK government's £3,000 plug-in grant.
Watch my video below to find out what it's like, or read on for sharper, more Samurai-like thoughts.
The car I drove was a top-spec car with the Takumi pack, which whacks £9,600 onto the UX300e's price (or £152 more a month), making it a £50,000 car.
Does it feel like a £50,000 car inside? Certainly. The cabin feels snug, but everything you touch is wrapped in soft leather and you feel cocooned rather than perched on a seat. In typical Lexus fashion it takes five minutes to familiarise yourself with stuff that would be second nature in any other car. But with one exception (which we'll come to), nothing is intrusively difficult to learn.
The wheel's chunky, but not off-puttingly so – and everything you touch feels leathery and plush
Want to turn the thumping Mark Levinson stereo up? The easiest way is to use a roller dial that protrudes from under the centre arm rest – exactly where your palm rests while one-handing it down a motorway. It's unusual, but it works well – however, you have to turn your presumptions of where things should be upside down a bit.
The infotainment system is the oddest bit of the car, given that Lexus still thinks piloting a cursor around the infotainment screen using a touchpad with haptic feedback is easy to do on the move. It isn't. But – praise be – you can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and will never have to use the rest of the car's mildly confusing software once your phone's plugged in.
Who's it really for
Lexus is pitching the UX300e as a mobility solution for urban premium car owners who apparently only drive 29 miles per working day, which is 145 weekly miles and thus neatly fits with the car's 196 mile range. We'll come on to range in a minute, but the UX has a bit of a flaw when it comes to family life. The back seats are reasonably spacious in terms of headroom and legroom, but with the front seats in their lowest setting, there's precisely zero room under them for your passengers' feet. I had the driver's seat decked out because I'm 6'3" and that's where I felt comfortable, but I physically couldn't sit in the back seat behind me because there was no space for my size 10s. Unless you have the gait of a duck, you will have the same problem.
Lexus describes the styling as "brave". You'll either like it or not
I checked the back of a regular hybrid UX and there was a smidge more foot room – presumably the 300e's battery pack eats up hoof space. Not good.
Unusually, however, the all-electric UX's 367-litre boot is 47 litres bigger than the hybrid's. So it's swings and roundabouts – and you'll have to remember not to lower the front seats if you're going to take back-seat passengers.
What's it like to drive?
Relaxing, for a start. The 201hp electric motor driving the front wheels doesn't dominate the experience, it just provides effortless and usable thrust up to motorway speeds. The 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds says it all really – this is a real-world car, not an EV designed to grab YouTube headlines.
Despite its warm performance, the UX handles remarkably well. And although it lulls you into driving in a calm and efficient manner, it responds happily to being thrown into corners at ambitious speeds, with little body roll and no sense that it'd rather you slowed down a bit. There's no sense of stodginess, and you can confidently hammer it down your local B-road without dabbing the brakes before each corner. It's not an electric hot hatch, but it's not dull either.
The electric bits
The batteries in the floorpan eat into rear-passenger footroom – a shame, because rear headroom and legroom is decent
You've probably cottoned on to the fact that the UX300e's 196-mile range and 54.35kWh battery is not going to take you as far on a single charge as something like a less expensive Volkswagen ID.3. Lexus says it could've put more range into the UX, but only with commensurate penalties in terms of extra weight and cost. And in the £40-50k EV space, it's already got a tough battle on its hands against the prolific Model 3, the Polestar 2 and whatever dozen EVs we'll see pop up in the next 12 months.
But again, you have to consider the target market – if you don't have a huge commute and can charge at home, this is a great option. If you want a premium crossover EV in that price bracket, it's currently the only option.
The Lexus UX300e isn't perfect – niggles over rear space and the infotainment system are the main flaws – but if you dig the Lexus vibe, can stomach the price and want to do things a bit differently, it's a very likeable EV.