Based on Lexus’ best-selling UX urban crossover, its first all-electric vehicle leverages 15 years of experience in electrified hybrids, but how does it stand up in what is fast becoming a competitive field?
Toyota was quick on the trigger when it came to plug-in and self-charging hybrids, but it was very slow to embrace battery electric models, always claiming it was too early to focus on EVs. However, as its competitors continued to push out cars with zero emissions at the tailpipe, Toyota perhaps thought better of their approach and in June last year the brand announced it was planning to bring forward its target of having 50 per cent of its sales as EVs from 2030 to 2025. The first will be the bZ4X – a mid-sized SUV, but that won’t arrive until summer 2022 so if you’re desperate for an electric Japanese car before then you’ll have to turn to its luxury division Lexus. The UX 300e, is the group's first BEV and with a 54kWh battery and a range of 196 miles there’s nothing revolutionary about it but Lexus argue its decades of hybrid know-how has been fed directly into the development of the UX300e’s motor, inverter, gears and battery giving them the upper hand. So, has that knowledge transfer marked it out from its rivals? We get one on test for a week to find out.
The UX 300e’s all-new drivetrain features a 201bhp electric motor that enables it to reach 62mph in 7.5 seconds, which neither makes it fast nor slow when compared to other electric compact crossovers. Located low in the engine bay, it is powered by a 54 kilowatt-hour battery sat directly underneath the floor of the cabin, to help lower the car’s centre of gravity. Lexus say that its refined suspension tuning endows the UX 300e with accurate steering, handling agility and ride comfort. It certainly ticks the latter box in that the car is very well-damped and impressive at soaking up ruts and bumps. However, push on through sweeping turns and it becomes very boaty, it also badly torque steers, which isn’t uncommon in front-wheel drive EVs when you have well over 200lb-ft delivered from the get go and scrabbling for traction.
There are three driving modes – Normal, Eco or Sport but all they seem to do is affect throttle response, and four levels of deceleration which like the Audi e-tron can be activated via paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and in typical Lexus fashion – multiple buttons for one function – you can also adjust the amount of brake regeneration by moving the gear selector to ‘B’. Using either of these options doesn’t allow for one-pedal driving which is a shame and it’s a little confusing as to why there are two options to effect engine braking. The transition point between the regen braking and hydraulic brake system is also one of the worst we’ve experienced.
All that aside however, the ride comfort is exemplary, the steering is nice and light and it’s agile around town, with a best-in-segment 10.4 m curb-to-curb turning diameter making it easy to manoeuvre and convenient to park too. It’s everything you’d expect from a Lexus powertrain – quiet, smooth and suited to a slower pace of life. Not ideal for those who expect a rewarding driving experience when tackling a winding country road with a bit of enthusiasm.
With a claimed range of 196 miles for a car like ours on 17 inch wheels, the Lexus UX 300e once again sits in the middle of its competitors. Although – even in warm weather – a full charge showed us just 165 miles and we were losing roughly a third of the showed charge, however those trips majored on fast roads and not driving particularly carefully. Lexus argues that its owners on average cover only 29 miles a day in their cars so it’s plentiful enough, but for longer road trips you can’t help but think the longer range similarly priced SUVs offer more convenience. It does better than the Mazda MX-30 at least which only manages 124 miles on a charge. It’s also fairly slow to juice – with the ability to only charge at up to 50kW it takes 50 minutes to reach 80 per cent capacity in 50 minutes.
With over 1.8 million Lexus electrified hybrids around the globe today, the UX 300e engineering team was able to call upon their know-how in battery design, manufacturing and management systems and the brand are clearly confident as the battery is guaranteed by a standard eight-year/100,000-mile warranty, which can be extended 10 years/600,000 miles if the customer includes a battery health check in each vehicle service. And when the UX 300e reaches the end of its life span, Lexus has a take-back scheme to ensure its batteries are recycled safely and responsibly.
Let’s address the elephant in the room – the price point. While Lexus has stepped in to ensure customers are not disadvantaged by changes to the Government-funded grant support for new EV purchases, introducing a £2155 reduction, it still starts from £41,475, which is £485 more than a Standard Range Plus Tesla Model 3, and for that you get a car that handles better, has more performance, a bigger range, over-the-air updates and the car maker’s charging network. Although it’s worth noting Lexus say that when fully rolled out, customers will have access to Europe’s largest network of around 160.000 public charging stations where payment is made via a single monthly invoice. Even so, the model we had (Premium Plus) cost £45,845, and for £3245 more you can get a Long Range version with 360 miles – oh and a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds, too. We know which one we’d rather have.
The PCP offer available this summer is at least attractive with monthly payments from £429 (versus £635 for the Tesla) on a 48 month agreement. In addition, Lexus’s Kinto One service is offering personal contract hire leasing for the UX 300e at £465 per month with a £2790 initial rental (versus £523 and a down payment of £6000 for the Tesla).
Still, while it’s expensive to buy, it is cheaper to own than most combustion-engined alternatives once you factor in fuel costs (Lexus quotes £3000 over four years compared to a diesel rival), in addition to Congestion Charge and road tax exemption. Care plans are also available ranging from £15 per month for 35 months to £30. For business customers, the UX 300e attracts significant cost benefits, including a one per cent benefit-in-kind rating for company car tax as well as a Business Contract Hire offer with monthly payments of £387 (Tesla ask for £472 per month). Being a Lexus it will also be reliable, and the dealers appear to have a better rep than Tesla’s limited network.
The UX 300e shares the same distinctive design characteristics of the original UX crossover launched a few years ago, including the typical large grille flanked by slim headlights, crisp character lines down the side with chunky plastic arches and a coupé-like roofline that tapers away towards a striking rear end with its full-width light bar. The only giveaway as to its powertrain are the exclusive 17” and 18” wheels, larger underfloor covers, ‘Electric’ lettering on the side, and DC and AC charging inlet covers on the left and right rear quarters respectively. It’s a low-riding, smart looking compact SUV aimed at affluent 30-something city (or should that now be home working?) slickers.
The aerodynamics have also been enhanced – from the wheels which feature flaps on each side of the spokes (which increase cooling efficiency and reduce turbulence along the sides of the car) to the rear combination light (which reduces air pressure changes by about 16 per cent) and the shutters in the lower front grille. Depending on the battery state, the shutters are opened and closed automatically to reduce the UX 300e’s coefficient of drag to 0.31. In situations where the airflow generated through driving exceeds what is required for cooling, the shutters are closed to optimise the airflow entering through the grille.
Production is overseen by ‘Takumi’ master craftspeople, and with the 300e you can see evidence of that everywhere, from the hand-sanded paintwork to the traditional Japanese quilting technique for the stitching – even the drive selector has been shaped by hand. Perhaps that’s where the money has gone? Before shipping, every UX 300e is checked to detect and rectify unwanted noise and vibrations within the cabin – something I should imagine Tesla don’t do judging by how even the newest cars suffer from squeaks and rattles. Other than that the cabin is as you’d expect with a mix of textures, angles and buttons but well-built and finished.
The driving instruments have been specially designed with a digital speedometer, driving range and deceleration indicator and there’s a wide panel in the centre of the dash reserved for the infotainment screen and Lexus’s famed analogue clock, but you only get seven inches of it unless you opt for the Takumi pack (more on that in a bit) and it then stretches to 10.3. If you’re already a UX owner you’ll quickly spot the archaic touchpad infotainment system, which is infuriating to use on the move and lags behind the standard of most rivals – we recommend using CarPlay or Android Auto to sync your smartphone.
With a lack of exhaust note, Lexus went to great lengths to reduce in-cabin noise, fitting acoustic glass, underfloor covers and bespoke BEV tyres and wheel arch liners that reduce din caused by stones, grit or water spraying up from the road. In addition a compact new PCU is mounted on the engine compartments main cross member, thus reducing noise and vibration while the specially developed compact transaxle has a sound-proof cover. As a result it’s a very serene place to be, complimented by exceptional craftsmanship.
Now on to the negatives. Sadly, for anyone over six foot – this car is hugely impractical – even for the driver and front passenger. If you do want to get comfortable it comes to the detriment of the rear passengers who will have next to no leg room with the front seats set as far back as possible. Granted we’re a tall family, my husband is 6 foot 3 inches, my step son a few inches taller than that and with them in the front, things were a little tight for my four-old and new born in the back, and after an hour’s drive everyone (with the exception of the baby) was uncomfortable. In our opinion its way too small for a family car.
While there’s little room in the cabin itself, the positioning of the battery pack has, unusually for an EV, created 47 litres of additional luggage space compared to the combustion engined UX 250h. But at 367 litres it’s still small for its class with the Polestar 2 – a four-door saloon – offering 405 litres. It does at least two handy storage areas for charging cables, however there’s no frunk or innovative storage solutions inside – just the usual with door bins, a central armrest cubby and two cup holders.
It is well kitted-out as standard and in common with the rest of the UX family, the 300e is equipped with the Lexus Safety System (which includes all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist with lane departure alert and steering assist, road sign assist and intelligent high-beam bi-LED headlamps), in addition to 17 inch alloy wheels, aluminium roof rails, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, illuminated entry, eight-way power front seat adjustment, reversing camera with guidelines, six speaker audio system with over-the-air map updates for the satellite navigation, four USB ports and Aux socket.
There are two other trim levels: Premium (£45,245) and Takumi (£51,345). Premium Plus Pack adds leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats, rear privacy glass, smart keyless entry, card key, smartphone wireless charger and illuminated door handles with puddle lights. The Takumi Pack adds 18 inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and auto brake, triple-eye LED headlights and cornering lights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 360° panoramic view monitor, hands-free power tailgate, aluminium scuff plates, 13 speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system, 10.3 inch Lexus Navigation, head-up display and a sunroof.
That aforementioned charging network is accessible using the ‘Lexus Link’ app and allows for remote control of vehicle functions and BEV-related tasks in addition to many useful features such as ‘Find my Car’, ‘Driving Analytics’ and ‘Service and Maintenance’ to help the owner manage the care of their UX 300e.
The 300e is a car expected to make up as much as one third of UX sales by 2022, and given similarly priced EVs are quicker, have more range and space, we think the majority of buyers will be die-hard Lexus enthusiasts. Yes, build quality is fantastic, it looks great and it’s comfortable as a small two-plus-two but with Lexus itself preferring you to view the Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 Recharge as its natural rivals – other than loyalty to what Alan Partridge calls the Japanese Mercedes – we’re not sure why you’d opt for the 300e. While not in the premium segment there are also other all-electric crossovers to might tempt you, including the Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate (£37,200), Kia e-Niro 4+ (£39,645), Peugeot e-2008 GT Premium (£38,580) and DS 3 Crossback E-Tense Ultra Prestige (£31,660). Even in top-spec trims they are all cheaper, and have similar or better range claims and/or larger boot volumes. And if you wait a few months there are a few more options in the shape of the much larger Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y – both expected to be priced from £41,330 and under £30,000 respectively. Lexus certainly has its work cut out.
Price (RRP OTR): From £41,475, £47,400 (model as tested)
Top speed: 100mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Driving range (combined): 196 miles
Charging time: 8 hours (0-100%, 6.6kW), 52 minutes (0-100%, 50kW)
Insurance group: 39A
Vehicle warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles
Battery warranty: 8 years/100,000 miles