An Urban Explorer makes a break for the coastline.
Life has been of late, more than a little, shall we say, constrained. Not that I’m necessarily complaining – it’s for the greater good and after all, matters could be a good deal worse – but from an automotive perspective, thus far, 2020 has been something of a damp squib. All this being so, one takes what thin gruel that comes one’s way.
It has become my habit to take an early evening walk through the shuttered West Cork town where I’ve currently been isolating myself. Little of note comes to light and with dramatically curtailed inbound traffic, the chances of sighting something noteworthy of has all but ceased.
Therefore an anthracite grey CUV is hardly a particularly edifying sight – heavens, you’re probably knee deep in the things – or at least might be had the World not turned on its head. But for reasons best known to the vagaries of the car market the vehicle in question is not only amongst the least observed of the breed, but is – if we are to believe the auto press – barely a CUV at all.
The Lexus UX (for that is its name) is the entry point to world of Toyota City’s prestige nameplate. Replacing the rather unloved and certainly unlovely CT hatchback model, the UX, based on a related TNGA platform to that of Toyota’s C-HR crossover, (according to the folk at Autocar who carried out the due diligence – or at the very least copied the press kit) is only 68mm taller than a VW Golf and 129 mm lower than Jaguar’s equivalent E-Pace.
This ought to mean that the vehicle drives in a manner commensurate with that of a five door hatchback, rather than an artificially raised height version of same – which once again, perusing Autocar, it more or less appears to do. Allegedly, Lexus have targeted the UX at city dwellers in their thirties, a demographic it describes as ‘creative urban explorers’. One supposes Lexus’ marketers must earn their crust somehow.
Aiming to gain a slice of a market hitherto denied them – the carmaker projects something in the region of 80% of UX buyers in the UK never having owned a Lexus before. Whether it’s any good is not for me to adjudge – Autocar gave it a decent review, with the inevitable proviso that Audi’s interior was nicer, Jaguar’s chassis was more intuitive and Volvo’s package was better.
Striking. That’s the adjective of note here. As we have by now established, Lexus is no longer in the business of hiding lights under bushels – or anything else for that matter. After all, the previous approach didn’t yield much either in sales or reputational terms, so one supposes that they might as well try this and see where it takes them.
You may not think much of Lexus’ current styling direction, but what I will say is that unlike a good many of its putative rivals, it is at least coherent. Parked in the vicinity was an Audi Q3 sportback (that’s a coupé version of Audi’s Q3 crossover for those of you who lack the time or interest), a tangible illustration of the creative incoherence and stylistic banality which has latterly taken hold of the German car industry.
You might say the UX is somewhat over-wrought. Maybe it is. But from an exterior design perspective it’s on a completely different level to that of its (predominantly) German rivals. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I like it, but I do admire it – (taken in isolation, some of the surfacing is lovely) – and that certainly isn’t anything approaching what can be said about the rival products of Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt, Sindelfingen or heaven help us, Munich-Milbertshoven – to say nothing of Gothenburg or Whitley.
Lexus have travelled some considerable distance from the high ideals that underpinned their introductory model. But such was the thoroughness of the LS400 that much of the reputational heavy lifting was duly carried out. And as much as we might decry it, post-LS400 (V1.0) they simply haven’t had to try so hard.
That the UX represents a leftfield choice speaks volumes about where the market was in those now halcyon pre-C-19 times. But while the world may look broadly similar, we’re well outside what once constituted normality – to say nothing of comfort zones.