Outside the Comfort Zone

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

21 thoughts on “Outside the Comfort Zone”

  1. We had some discussion lately about what’s in a name, but the very first thing this Lexus does for me is reopen that line of thought. It’s not just that its very concept is of its time, or that its styling is. The actual name it’s graced with is loaded with semantic meaning for “creative urban explorers” in a way that “GT” (for example) simply wouldn’t be. UX, or User eXperience as a term is so freely applied to anything from the most mundane of phone apps to any kind of service delivery that it seems completely apposite to the era of car as appliance.
    No longer does the name of your car of choice conjure up thoughts of motoring holidays across Europe, or Swiss spas; instead it’s the output of a three hour meeting determining whether three taps and a swipe engages the user less or more than one tap and a keyboard entry. Actual driving is, like, sooo over…

  2. Good morning Eóin. The play of light on the UX in your artfully moody twilight photos do, I think, flatter it somewhat. Here it is in full light:

    There’s really rather a lot going on in that side profile and I’m not sure it all comes together successfully. My eye is drawn in particular to the asymmetric wheelarches, with their curved leading edges and angular trailing edges.

    It’s instructive to compare it to the Mazda CX-30, a similar sized CUV:

    I know which I think is the more confident and coherent design, but would be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

    1. If I was in charge of the automotive industry, I’d charge Mazda’s design department with running Jaguar design.

    2. A few weeks ago, I came across the Mazda 3 saloon in the real world for the first time. It paled next the striking hatchback at the motor shows, but in natural light, it truly came alive. Nobody does surfaces like Mazda.

      (As the Mazda doesn’t deserve mention in the same breadth as that car, I just want to casually remind anyone reading this that the 3 saloon is a competitor to the BMW 2 series GranCoupé, a photo of which I won’t post for humanitarian reasons. Now that’s a design that’s in no danger whatsoever of ever being compared to a Jaguar. Not even the X-type. But it comes with a ‘premium’ badge attached, so it must be better than good.)

    3. I like that Hiroshima Jaguar. It would be about the same size as a late 90s C-D class car, I expect. I wonder does it have a rear centre arm-rest?

    4. These current Mazdas’ flanks always look like a flag that’s distorted by the wind

      How does this car behave in an accident when its metalwork is so easily bent by the wind?

  3. Not seeing an Urban Crossover in the metal, I’m sorry to be a fence sitter. Whilst the Toyota C-HR raises my blood pressure, this UX leaves me a little cold. A mark of a B+, could do better.
    Here’s another view of the UX

    As for the Mazda, that back end resembles a child’s toy; push down on the springy back and watch it wheel away (on a hard surface, a carpet just wouldn’t work)

    1. Nice bus!

      Have you been at the sherry again, Andrew, or are you drawing our attention to the wheel arches?

  4. How dare you, occifer…
    Yes, those wheel arches are rather fetching on the Trolleybus. I’m sure the Lexus spiel will contain elements of their athletic rhythm and dynamic stance of their latest baby and in fairness, they have tried to do something different from everyone else. As Mr Doyle pertinently points out, it sure ain’t no German car.
    My base levels really do like Mazda’s red but the CX-30 is a bit Tonka Toy. I’m not a projected customer though being far too old to consider such sporting crossed with utilitarian tendencies.

  5. The term “creative urban explorers” probably emerged from Lexus market research data. It sounds like a “persona”, an amalgam of the characteristics of the target demographic. I have my doubts about personas as a design tool. Up to a point they are handy for simplifying a target user group and so might be useful. Ford´s “Antonella” who was the persona imagined as the Fiesta customer at one time is believable. She was a youngish female living in an urban area.

    Whether there are many people who can be fully characterised as “creative urban explorers” is not obvious. I don´t think there are distinct groups who we´d call creative urban explorers. I think real creative urban explorers have an old Ford Fusion or fifth hand Mitsubishi Carisma or an old Laguna estate (i.e. something cheap and useful). There might be some who think of themselves a bit in this way but who are not really creative, urban or explorative. I reminds me of the kind of yellow-beige hiking boot that symbolises outdoorinesss which is not worn by actual outdoorsy people. This car is like that boot. Lexus don´t have a USP for this car and so the whole deal rests on styling. The CH-D does it better.
    About the design, it looks like a plausible Toyota and not like a plausible Lexus. It isn´t a horror but my impression is that some design tropes have run their course and this car is where they ran out of steam. Opel´s Grandland X is the European equivalent of this. On the plus side, if one can afford the car and it does the job then I don´t think anyone should avoid it.
    Is it called “UX” as a nod to the concept of “user-experience”?

    1. Possibly not, but that’s certainly the first association that came to my mind!

  6. between CX30 and the Lexus, the mazda for life.
    however it´s not my kind of car, a deflated cx-30 lowered would be better than the current mazda 3 of which I struggle to digest the c pillar.

  7. it’s a sad business when we’re reduced to pondering
    such lacklustre things as this Lexus and the Mazda.
    I certainly prefer the Lexus, it takes more risks and is,
    for me, better resolved. in my lifelong kitchen-table-
    “designing” of cars and motorcycles I can recall a passing
    penchant for wheel arches round at front and cocked at
    the rear. they can work well, though I can’t offer examples.
    the Mazda’s arches seem designed for bigger wheels, and
    the black bits are just too big. and a pox on Mazda red.
    while I’m at it, a pox on alloy wheels too, most of them are
    infantile to look at, enviromentally costly to produce, and
    no lighter than sensibly sized and engineered steel wheels.

  8. If I have a problem with Lexus and some Toyotas it´s that the drama in the front is not matched by the rest of the car. I am prett sure all of these Waku-Doki cars could be saved by more sensible valences. The sides and rear are actually okay. The front is OTT. The Mazda is dramatic yet consistent and not out of control. Having looked at the Mazda 3 saloon it is pretty much the car Alfa Romeo should have made with the Giulietta. I quite like the Giulietta but Mazda´s offerings in the same market are clearly better Alfas.

  9. A review of the Mazda3 saloon is here. https://www.whatcar.com/mazda/3/saloon/review/n20270/in-the-cabin
    It gets my vote for its buttons and controls. The dimensions of the 3 saloon are very close to a mid 90s C-D class car which makes it right-sized in my book.
    Whatcar think that because the 6 is nearly the same price as the 3 it makes the 3 a bad deal – why not buy the 6 they ask. They miss the point that the 6 is nice but rather too big (especially wide). So, the Mazda3 saloon is pretty much the car for someone who wants a useful amount of car and no more. The boot holds 440 litres, a little shy of the 460 litres I consider most acceptable. Still.

    Notice that the photos at Whatcar are very legible and realististically toned. So what´s with Car magazine and its John Hinde aesthetic (especially in print)?

    1. the 3 saloon is very nice IMHO, the 3 5doors is pretty heavy, and also I agree with who says, it could have been an Alfa Romeo

  10. Great though the Mazda 3 saloon looks it’s underpinnings are very, very far from Jaguar-esque. Cheapy McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear axle, all made from stamped steel. I had one as a courtesy car and you feel that poverty car rear suspension setup on a bad road, although I’ll admit it’s very good on smooth roads. Not OK for a car that can cost over £30k, IMHO.

    Mazda are making some of the best looking mainstream cars you can buy right now though, their surfacing in particular is very subtle and nuanced and can take a long time to fully absorb.

    1. in comparison with the previous model it has become poorer in regard of the suspensions.

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