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Lexus UX300e review: All-electric high ride

(Pocket-lint) – The baby of the Lexus SUV range, the UX – which we first reviewed at release in the middle of 2019 – now has a new and all-electric face in the guise of the Lexus UX300e.

Indeed, it’s one of the first B-segment SUVs to roll off any EV production line, giving it a head start against some fairly formidable potential competitors – such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and incoming Tesla Model Y (the latter circa 2022).

Not only that, Lexus is modernising, by now bringing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to its in-car system, meaning the tech setup is eminently more usable.

But even with this step forward, the head start off the start line, and the SUV market going strong, does the UX300e make a truly compelling case given its range and asking price?

Eye-catching design

In its all-electric form the UX300e has more angles and poise than the earlier UX250h, giving it extra sharpness and eye-catching looks. A few years back we thought that Lexus’ design was whacky, but as its cars are seen more on the roads we now find it fitting and futuristic.

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Just as we said of the earlier UX: “There are plenty of points to admire: the rear lamps ooze hi-tech, connecting together in a full-width strip; the auto-illuminating front LED lights kick into action based on ambient light levels and give the agressive front an even more poised stance; then there’s that huge front grille that almost wraps around the front, which is unlike anything else on the market.” All points that certainly help set this SUV’s sense of style apart from yet another BMW or Audi high-rider.

Sat in the driver’s seat and the Lexus UX300e is a very comfortable place to be – if not slightly awkward in way of this review, being a European-sourced left-hand-drive vehicle driven on UK roads. Still, these seats were wonderfully comfortable and the rear space is reasonable for additional passengers.

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The inside the finish is decent, although with an entry price of almost £41,000 in the UK (€43,900), you can find better elsewhere. Sure, there’s some fancy on-dash stitching and soft-touch covers, but there’s a fair bit of plastic on display too. A few extra grand and you’re into Polestar 2 territory – so, for comparison, despite being different vehicle types, there are going to be a lot of questions on prospective buyers’ minds.

That price can only increase, with two pack options: Premium Plus (£/€3,500), which adds leather upholstery, keyless entry, privacy glass, heated and ventilated front seats (plus heated rears and steering wheel), wireless charger; and Takumi (£/€9,600), which adds all of that plus LED lights with adaptive beam, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, 360 degree panoramic view, head-up display (HUD), 10.3-inch navigation, and 13-speaker Mark Levinson surround system (which sounds super), and a sunroof.

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If you go full Takumi then the asking price is £/€53,500, which is then very much in the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 (with Performance Pack) ballpark. We know which we’d choose.

Slip-and-slide electric ride

While the first UX was a mild hybrid with limited battery gains, the UX300e is a wholly different beast that’s entirely dependent on battery charge to get you from A to B. Lexus considered just how much battery to plonk into the base of this SUV, opting for a 196 mile range per charge result – there was space for more battery, but the costs and relative gains wouldn’t fit to most customers’ driving needs, Lexus tells us.

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So, realistically, you can probably get a solid 170 miles out of the UX300e if it’s topped up overnight. And not many people have to worry about an 85 mile commute daily. If you do then, well, an early-doors electric vehicle really probably isn’t what you should be buying anyway. Do more short hop drives – and the average is said to be 15 miles each way – and that’s a full working week ticked off with no anxiety (unlike in a Honda e, where that range is roughly half again).

Having a battery does mean added weight though. And having an all-electric motor means higher torque – which is great for overtakes and a dash of speed even when travelling at pace already. However, combine that weight and that torque into a front-wheel-drive configuration – there’s no other drivetrain option for the UX300e – and a heavy foot will see it slip around as those front wheels spin. The car can tell, it tells you so with traction warning, but it’s not for the heavy footed – save that for the higher speeds.

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We drove the UX300e across various B-roads in the UK and found it calm and composed most of the time, without much noise to worry about – which is very typically Lexus, really, and just what you would expect. A detour for a quick spot of lunchtime shopping saw us take a couple of motorways, where that electric pep really comes into its own. Go faster, however, and you’ll be draining the battery quicker – which will decrease range potential. Such is the way with EV driving. Still, the EV version is far more exciting than the CVT gearbox of the original UX.

User experience on the up

So it’s very comfortable to be in, it delivers plenty of pep, and there’s a fair finish included in the price (ignoring the all-in Takumi pack, which is a lot of extra cash). This is normally the part of the review where we go on at Lexus for having a nigh-on unusable tech setup.

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But, wait, it’s 2020 and Lexus is advancing with the times. Plug a phone in and you can have Android Auto or Apple CarPlay take over, giving a usable satnav system – although we did have problems in this car’s version setup with Android Auto – and easy way to play your tunes through, say, Spotify.

However, while this is a step forward, there’s still the Lexus legacy physical interface – which is like a little mousemat and takes a lot of time to get used to using. If you think you’re getting touchscreen controls then think again, that’s not the route that Lexus is taking at this moment in time.

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Not that we mind: a more classic setup without fingerprint smears all over the screens keeps things neat. We’re on board with the UX’s panel of physical buttons below the dash, offering controls for climate and more. That’s one area where other makers – Audi being one particular example – have gone overboard by burying such settings into touchscreens. The Lexus approach is more direct, more tacticle.

We’re also fond of the digital driver screen, which is used to display driving information, speedometer and so forth. It’s an oddity that Lexus sticks to a mechanical fuel gague here, though, despite being an electric vehicle. We would rather have more detailed range predictions in miles written in front of us, adjusting in real-time, to give a greater sense of accuracy and range.

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Overall, then, the Lexus UX300e is a step forward in the tech department – but it’s still not class-leading in this category by any means. And when Polestar is pushing its all-Google setup – which is rather amazing – there’s still a little too much criticism here for a future-facing vehicle type.

Verdict

We’re really pleased that Lexus is finally stepping up in the tech department with the integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, making the UX300e a car that you could actually live with day to day, without the tech interface driving you crazy too quickly. Although this overall setup – no touchscreens and a mix of the old and the new – still feels somewhat behind the times in what is such a future-facing vehicle.

If you want to go all-electric, however, then other high-ride options are few and far between right now. There’s the less exciting Peugeot e-2008, or the cheaper Kona Electric. Wait and the Ford Mustang Mach-E could have some appeal – although it feels like a polar opposite to this Lexus in terms of design language. Or sit at a lower ride height, forego some of your passengers’ comforts and, for a lump more cash, there’s the Tesla Model 3 or Polestar 2.

What’s going to really appeal about the Lexus UX300e is, quite simply, that it’s a B-segment SUV. These kinds of cars are super popular at the moment given how easy it is to seat four or five people. As an EV it’s got plenty of pep and the near-to-200-mile range is solid for a car of this type. All of that might just make it an ideal match for an EV early adopter.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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