Lexus lobs an electric SUV into a surprisingly busy segment. How well does it hold up?
Compared to the monumental gamble Lexus took back in 2004 when it launched its revolutionary RX 400h – the first car in both the luxury and SUV sectors to feature a hybrid powertrain – you could almost accuse the brand of playing it safe with the all-new UX 300e.
That’s because it’s simply the latest of a handful of similar-sized models designed to capitalise on the rising popularity of both SUVs and electrification. In the past couple of years alone, we’ve seen the launch of various electric crossovers such as the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro, Peugeot e-2008 and DS 3 Crossback E-Tense.
However, with a list price in Europe starting at $80,000 and rising to almost $100,000 if you specify the range-topping Takumi pack, you could argue that Lexus’s first all-electric vehicle is a more natural rival to the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2. It’s certainly how Lexus would like us to view “the only all-electric crossover SUV in the premium segment”.
It is not yet confirmed for Australia, and if it were, it’s hard to see how the prices from Europe could be lower here.
Either way you look at it, though, the UX 300e will have its work cut out. All of those aforementioned rivals, bar the 3 Crossback E-Tense, have a longer range than the UX 300e’s claimed 315km, and although a 0-100km/h of 7.5sec and a top speed of 160km/h are perfectly respectable, they won’t be grabbing any headlines.
Our press car came equipped with the Takumi pack, with its great-sounding Mark Levinson sound system and larger (10.3-inch) infotainment screen. But as we’ve mentioned previously about the hybrid UX, we do wish its distinctive-looking interior was backed up with a little more substance. Because although it feels well screwed together, there’s far too much scratchy plastic on display in lower sections of the cabin for a car at this price point.
Despite the UX 300e gaining Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you still have to navigate your preferred system using the fiddly laptop-style touchpad located between the front seats. Compared with the slick touchscreen-based infotainment systems in a Model 3 or Polestar 2, it feels distinctly old school.
The car is, at least, pretty simple to drive and pleasingly brisk around town. Okay, it’s not Model 3 quick, but the UX 300e feels faster than its numbers suggest, such is the eagerness of its acceleration, which is on tap the moment you put your foot down. In fact, if the road is wet, the UX relies quite heavily on its traction control system to prevent its front wheels from spinning up.
There are several drive modes to choose from (Sport provides the best throttle response) and two trailing-throttle energy regeneration regimes – ‘D’ and ‘B’. In the latter, you can use the paddles behind the steering wheel to increase regen, but even in its most aggressive mode, it doesn’t quite allow for ‘one-pedal driving’.
Perhaps if the regen effect was a little stronger, it might make the power in its 54.3kWh battery go a little further. As it is, though, we’d expect to see around 240km in mixed real-world conditions.
To handle the extra weight of the batteries, extra bracing has been added over the regular UX hybrid and the dampers reworked to maintain optimum weight distribution, but don’t go thinking the UX 300e is a ‘sporty’ proposition. The steering is accurate enough but lacks feel, the brakes are a bit mushy, and although it changes direction keenly enough, there’s plenty of body roll if you go thundering in to a tight corner. This soft set-up does at least deliver a respectable ride, especially around town.
If you live in a city, are hankering after a compact SUV and fancy going electric, then we can see why the UX 300e would be a tempting proposition.
However, if you have a family, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there are a plethora of cheaper and significantly more spacious rivals out there, ranging from the Kona Electric to the Model 3. Both of those cars also offer notably longer ranges.