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Lexus UX Debuts In Geneva With Just-Wild-Enough Styling

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Lexus expands its crossover coverage with subcompact UX.

One year, we see a fabulous concept revealed. The next, we cry bitter tears of disappointment when a far more boring, bland design arrives in production form. Thankfully, Lexus seems to have struck a balance between keeping well-received concepts as-is for production (Lexus LC 500 anyone?) and dialing back the crazy on its more mainstream products. The 2019 Lexus UX follows that trend. The Japanese luxury brand has delivered a distinctive and eye-catching design that likely won't offend those who freaked out about the concept.

Those of you allergic to giant, gaping grilles will be disappointed, but the design works overall with a very aggressive, modern look that sports nothing too questionable. "We designed the UX to appeal to buyers in their 30s who seek not only what is new and exciting, but what is also relevant to their lifestyles," said Chika Kako, executive vice president of Lexus International and chief engineer of the UX. The interior in particular is much more subdued than the concept's outlandish, sci-fi cockpit, looking much like a shrunken NX.

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Gone are the seats with woven fabric stretched across tubular frames. Instead, buyers can select an optional leather treatment inspired by sashiko, a traditional Japanese quilting technique used for kendo martial arts gear. To give it a modern touch, its perforation pattern is mathematically derived, though it looks like basic triangles to us. Meanwhile, the dash trim has a finish option inspired by the look and feel of washi, traditional Japanese paper. The vents have nested LEDs that use mirror optics to produce a 3-D floating effect. In size, the UX is decidedly subcompact, lining up with other luxury crossovers like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

It a small and manageable size for young, urban types, sitting somewhere between those aforementioned models and compacts like the NX, Q5 and X3. Underpinnings are based on the smaller GA-C version of Toyota's global architecture, shared with the Toyota CH-R, but the Lexus UX has the option of all-wheel drive courtesy of a hybrid model with the electric motor powering the rear wheels. The base UX 200 is strictly front-wheel drive, powered by a 168-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It's not turbocharged, but packs just about every possible timing and injection technology. That engine is paired with a new "Direct-Shift" CVT, which adds a de facto first gear for starts and gives the CVT a better spread for efficiency at higher speeds.

You could say that the UX 250h replaces the unloved CT200h as the small hybrid for Lexus shoppers, but let's not be mean. Instead, Lexus has smartly position the 250h as the AWD option in the lineup, adding a nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery and compact cooling system under the rear seat and an electric motor on the rear axle. Total system output should be around 176 hp at launch, with up to 80 percent of the power available to the rear wheels-though only at lower speeds. The car also has some neat tricks up its sleeve for hypermilers, with the ability to 'learn' an owner's regular route and driving habits then to apply what it has learned to capture more regenerative braking based on its prediction of upcoming stops.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lexus promises the UX's best-in-class low centre of gravity and stiff chassis will provide an engaging drive (something the Camry has delivered), and its optional F-Sport package will dial up the sporting levels with a tuned suspension and an available adaptive damping system to go along with a sporty body kit and interior treatment. However, Lexus may be going a step too far with fake exhaust noise in the sport modes and fake rev-matching noises to give people the sense of stepped ratios instead of the dreaded CVT drone. Lexus will begin churning out UX crossovers starting this fall, with pricing-possibly in the low $30,000 range-expected to arrive closer to its December launch.