Review

Lexus UX300e review

3/5

Toyota’s first ever production battery electric car is a lot less innovative than you might expect

Lexus UX300e

It might be badged as a Lexus, but this is Toyota’s first-ever battery electric production model. And it’s that fact, rather than any great technical virtuosity, which marks this vehicle out.

With 190 miles of range from its medium-sized lithium-ion battery, the Lexus UX 300e is a family-sized SUV/crossover selling in what Toyota claims is the sweet spot of battery-car price, range, and environmental impact.

It marks, however, if not a volte-face for the Japanese manufacturer, at least a partial thaw towards this technology and chemistry in the face of European pressure to produce zero-tailpipe-emission battery vehicles.

Up until very recently, Toyota has had the most profound suspicion of pure battery electric and lithium-ion chemistry in particular. Last year we saw a course correction in a speech from Shigeki Terashi, the company’s executive vice president, promising an acceleration of its battery electric research and over half of its global sales to be electrified vehicles by 2025.

You have to be careful with this term, ‘electrified vehicles’, which is elastic enough to encompass Toyota’s most-favored self-charging hybrid technology as well as battery electric, but this was most certainly a sea change. It was confirmed by the company’s European division, which promised that battery electric will play a significant role in the planned 5.5 million annual electrified vehicle sales by around 2030.

Was Toyota bounced into this?

One can’t help wondering how much Toyota has been bounced into this move. Partly because of the simplicity of the UX300e, which is a battery electric version of last year’s hybrid UX model, which is in turn a ‘Lexus-ized’ version of Toyota’s hybrid urban crossover, the CH-R. Wheels within wheels? Well yes and while just bunging some batteries under this frame adds nearly quarter of a tonne to the already heavy UX, it also frees up 47 litres of boot space.

What this isn’t, however, is in anyway brainiac-clever or innovated. It drives its front wheels with an AC synchronous motor, which everyone uses and Toyota has on the shelf of its parts-bin warehouse (which looks like Hanger 51 in the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Just down the aisle are the step-down single-gear transmissions, control electronics, battery cooling and control electronics. Even Toyota admits that its hybrid research program has left it with a lot of knowhow on battery electrics.

The really clever stuff is when you start combining lightweight, aerodynamic structures with battery tech such as that in Volkswagen’s MEB platform, which underpins the ID3 range and many more to come. Toyota’s version comes next year. If things had been different, the company would rather have waited, but the political and price pressure is unremitting. Last December the BloombergNEF battery survey stated that lithium-ion battery prices had fallen from £831 per kWh in 2010, to £118 today, and were expected to fall further to about £75 per kWh by 2023. As Conan Doyle’s great detective, Sherlock Holmes used to say: “the game is afoot”.

Under the skin

Beneath the £570 optional ‘celestial blue’ coachwork is a braced-up UX frame with reworked dampers and adjusted steering electronics, in its heaviest guise it weighs 1.84 tonnes and none of the models have the capability to tow anything at all.

The 201bhp/221lb ft motor is fed current from a 54.35kWh battery pack, which gives a 196-mile range on 17-inch wheels, or 190 miles with the 18-inch wheels fitted to our test car.

Performance is a top speed of 100mph, with 0-62mph in 7.5sec. Recharging times are 8 hours 15 minutes on a 7.4kW home wallbox, and about 50 minutes for an 80 per cent charge on a 50kW DC fast charger, which is the maximum current the car will accept.

On 18-inch wheels, the driveline efficiency is 3.6 miles per kWh and well-to-wheels CO2 emissions, using the latest Government generating figures is 41.4g/km.  

Inside and out

On first acquaintance, the UX300e is ‘Lexus Weird’ from stem to stern; creases fired from a cannon, grilles and intakes like seal caves on a Cornish coast; who needs the rule of three, or the golden ratio? Trouble is, I cannot honestly remember a single aspect of this car except its weirdness and, however good that makes the designer, you simply can’t live with an automotive Edward Scissorhands.

Inside the dash presents an almost overwhelming spread of buttons and screens, leather and glass. While prices without the Government’s £3,000 plug-in grant start at £43,900, this is the zenith-trim £53,500 Takumi Pack, which contains just about everything Lexus can throw at the car including a charcoal-suede kitchen sink, although the lower dash plastics are scratchy and unpleasant. 

The digital instrument binnacle shows a digital speed readout and a circular power/charge meter with ancillaries to either side, including a battery charge meter, charmingly showing an icon of what looks like a petrol pump. Big ‘ears’ flanking the binnacle handle the selection of Sport, Normal and Eco driving modes and on the other side, turning the traction control off. The steering-wheel buttons are a bit haphazard and trying to turn the lane-keeping assistance off is gosh wobbling. There’s also a very fiddly centre console touchpad, which makes selecting items on the screen quite difficult. 

Accommodation is all to the front seats at the expense of the rears, where taller adults will have their knees pressed hard into the seat backs. The driving position is comfortable but high-set, and there’s not very much movement for the steering and seat.

Despite its boost over the hybrid UX, the 300e model’s 367-litre boot isn’t exceptional, there’s space under the floor but no room for a spare. The rear seat backs split 60/40 per cent and fold onto the bases so the load bed is markedly stepped.

On the road

With MacPherson-strut front and independent rear wishbone suspension, the UX starts in a good place for ride and handling. The low-speed ride is surprisingly soft and gentle, but with well damped body movement. There’s a muffled thudding from the Michelin 225/50/R18 tyres and the nose flows gently with the road surface, but 1.8 tonnes is a lot of weight and when the roads are less-well maintained and the wheels are asked to travel farther and faster in their arches, the thudding becomes more insistence and fairly close to crashing.

Handling is very typical for the class, with the dampers giving a valiant show of holding the body securely without it rolling over on to the front wheels in the corners, but ultimately losing the fight. The steering is inert feeling, but there’s creditable precision there so you can slot the UX through narrow gaps with confidence.

The UX feels brisk and perky rather than brutally fast, but there’s a lot of torque, and on the wet and slippery Surrey Hills roads of the launch, the traction control light stayed on for long periods and the steering wheel was tugged around in my hands. Driven gently, the UX looked as though it would easily meet its claimed efficiency figures.

There are a couple of ways of increasing the regenerating capacity with steering-wheel paddles and a B function on the gearlever. Either works well, and the brakes feel as smooth and linear as you’d expect from a car maker that has so much experience with petrol/electric hybrid models.

Conclusion

While Lexus claims this is the only battery electric vehicle in the premium family SUV market, that’s far from the case. Volvo is launching its XC40 Recharge at the same time as the UX300e and there’s the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona electric alternatives, as well as VW’s ID3 range and Peugeot’s e-2008. It’s not bad, but somehow, we expected more of Toyota/Lexus. Perhaps next year we’ll see a more complete solution to battery electric motoring, but don’t expect the company to give up its commitment to petrol/electric hybrid or fuel cells anytime soon.

 

THE FACTS

Lexus UX 300e

TESTED five-door SUV/Crossover, with AC synchronous electric motor driving the front wheels and 54.35kWh lithium-ion battery with step-down gearing

PRICE/ON SALE without £3,000 Government PIGG, from £43,900 to £53,500 as tested. On sale now first deliveries in March 2021

POWER/TORQUE 201bhp/221lb ft

TOP SPEED 100mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 7.5sec

RANGE WLTP  190 - 196 miles

EFFICIENCY (18-inch wheels) 3.6 miles per kWh

CO2 EMISSIONS zero at tail pipe, well-to-wheels 41.4/km

VED £0 zero rated

 

VERDICT

Could do better and cleverer might be a pithy verdict on this family SUV crossover. The Lexus is well priced and nicely specced. It’s not a bad drive though the traction isn’t the greatest and Lexus models tend to be reliable and have good residual values. But the range isn’t wonderful and will fall considerably in cold weather, at high speeds or on hills, and there are more interesting models out there.

 

TELEGRAPH RATING three stars out of five

 

THE RIVALS

Prices don’t include the £3,000 Government grant                                                                                                    

 

Kia Niro 4 plus from £39,145

The 64kWh battery models made an impressive debut; practical driving and the normalisation of EV motoring at affordable prices. The 201bhp/291lb ft drivetrain drives the front wheels and offers a range of 282miles. Driving experience isn’t as good as the Can be quite hard to get hold of.

Volkswagen ID3 from £38,880

A smaller car with a smaller 58kWh battery, but much better efficiency. Rear-drive only, but a four-wheel drive SUV version is planned. The cabin isn’t totally convincing, but the 265-mile range, brisk performance and that price certainly is.

Volvo XC40 Recharge from £59,985

Insanely priced for the 4x4 First Edition versions, though cheaper front drive versions with smaller batteries will be made available. Relaxed to drive and (mostly) smooth riding

 

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