Lexus takes its first foray into the world of electric vehicles – using a very familiar starting point in the UX compact SUV.
- Surprisingly swift rolling acceleration
- Increased boot space
- Impressive included ownership lures
- Ride quality betrays heft
- Noise insulation has some gaps
- Similarly priced competitors can go much further
Just a matter of weeks after the parent company of Lexus, Toyota, revealed its first purpose-designed electric vehicle globally, Lexus Australia has launched its first EV. With one important difference – they’re not related under the skin.
In the case of the 2021 Lexus UX300e, as the name suggests, the electric compact SUV is a member of the current UX range. An existing petrol or petrol-electric hybrid vehicle adapted with fully electric running gear.
Lexus isn’t alone in treading this path. Fellow prestige rival Mercedes-Benz has spun its electric EQA from the petrol-powered GLA, Volvo swaps the XC40’s petrol power for electric in the XC40, and mainstream cars like the Hyundai Kona, Mazda MX-30 and MG ZS have done the same.
For the UX300e, Lexus has provided a vehicle that’s just like a normal UX. It looks the same, apart from a few tiny detail differences, and it largely functions the same – packing in similar practicality as well.
Two variants are available for Australia, the UX300e Luxury opens the range, or the more highly equipped Sports Luxury acts as the flagship. In this instance, Lexus has opted out of offering its more dynamic looking and handling F Sport grade in the electric line-up.
Both variants use the same 150kW/300Nm front-mounted electric motor driving the front wheels. A 54.3kWh lithium-ion battery powers the EV, with an official real-world-reflective WLTP range of 299–315km.
Price, as ever, might be the sticking point. Starting from $74,000 for the UX300e Luxury, or up to $81,000 for the UX300e Sports Luxury, the new electric Lexus undercuts the price of obvious rivals like the Mercedes-Benz EQA and Volvo XC40 Recharge, but also delivers a shorter driving range.
To counter, Lexus has rolled out its flagship ownership perk, Encore Platinum. The idea being that owners can get top-shelf benefits and even access to other cars when they need, ensuring the UX300e is the right fit for any occasion, even when it’s not.
While some may prefer a more high-tech makeover inside, Lexus has decided to play it safe and keep the electric UX almost identical to the petrol engine models.
Apart from some minor instrument cluster tweaks to display related EV info, the UX300e is a copy-paste of the UX250h and UX200. The Sports Luxury features a rice-paper-inspired washi dash topper and illuminated air vent knobs (that are almost impossible to notice in the daylight), but in the Luxury model everything is business as usual.
That means the same kinda cool UX design flair carries over. It’s a contemporary interior, still, though the design direction here means the 10.3-inch non-touch infotainment display and remote touch-tracer console pad remain to the detriment of user functionality.
Whereas the move to electric power usually means cramming in batteries to the detriment of cargo or passenger space, the placement of the UX300e’s batteries under the floor, and the ability to get rid of exhaust plumbing, means boot space actually grows from 368L in regular models to 414L in the UX300e.
There’s no spare tyre, however. Just a compressor kit and a puncture repair kit.
Otherwise, the cabin stays as before, a little sporty in its layout, with a reasonably low-slung seating position for an SUV. Front seat occupants fare best, but space in the rear can be tight for leg and head room.
Plenty of equipment comes standard, starting with keyless entry and push-button start, heated and ventilated front seats with electric adjustment, a 7.0-inch partially digital instrument cluster, and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system in the UX300e Luxury. Externally there are 300e-exclusive 17-inch aero alloy wheels and auto LED headlights.
Stepping up to the Sports Luxury adds 18-inch alloy wheels, tri-beam LED headlights with auto-levelling, LED front indicators, a sunroof, head-up display, 360-degree camera, leather-accented seats and a range of upgraded interior finishes.
|2021 Lexus UX300e|
|Boot volume||414L seats up|
Infotainment and Connectivity
Comprehensive though it may be, the 10.3-inch infotainment system in the Lexus UX isn’t always intuitive to use.
Everything you could possibly want, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, inbuilt satellite navigation – and even some features you may not, like a CD player – are included.
Accessing menus through the screen is a little convoluted, and access via the touchpad on the go can be tricky. Helpfully, there’s a range of shortcut buttons on a small buttress that extends out from the centre armrest. Once you master those, the system gets quicker and easier to use.
The standard Mark Levinson audio system is a win for a car like this, and offers a much bigger sound stage than you might expect from such a compact car. The only real issue is that if you opt for CarPlay connectivity, the audio becomes incredibly faint.
Regular versions of the UX range carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2019.
Under testing at the time, ANCAP gave the UX a 96 per cent adult occupant rating, 88 per cent child occupant rating, 82 per cent vulnerable road user rating and 83 per cent safety assist rating.
Standard safety equipment for both variants includes eight airbags, pre-collision detect (AKA autonomous emergency braking), traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, auto high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park sensors with park support brake, and a reverse camera.
The UX300e Sports Luxury adds 360-degree cameras and a driver’s head-up display.
Starting the ball rolling, the UX300e is the first Lexus model to feature the brand’s new five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. From 2022, other models will receive the same, and any car purchased during 2021 will also be included.
Lexus sweetens the deal on the UX300e slightly, with complimentary installation of a basic 7kW AC home charger, or the paid option to upgrade to a more sophisticated unit with touch display, Wi-Fi and Ethernet compatibility, smartphone app connectivity, and dynamic load management.
Away from home, UX300e owners will have three years’ complimentary access to the ChargeFox high-speed (up to 50kW) charging network.
Like flagship Lexus models, including the LS, LC and LX, the UX300e comes with three years’ access to the Encore Platinum ownership program, which includes access to another Lexus when travelling interstate or to New Zealand, for up to eight days, four times during the program period. Free Westfield valet parking is also available up to eight times as part of Encore Platinum.
Capped-price servicing is available priced at $295 per visit for each of the UX300e’s first five services – at 12-month/15,000km intervals.
In terms of energy consumption, Lexus offers a 15.0kWh/100km mixed-cycle claim, or a 360km driving range on the more lenient ADR/NEDC test cycle. On the more real-world-reflective WLTP test cycle that range drops to 299–315km.
At the launch of the 300e, Lexus offered a very limited drive program, with no urban driving, so we’ll need to conduct further testing when the car comes through the Drive garage for a longer stay. True to form, fresh off a charge, the car showed a 299km range with the air-conditioning off, or 263km with it on.
After a 60–80km/h open-road cruise up the Great Ocean Road and a rise-and-fall run up and down Deans Marsh Road nearby, the trip meter settled at a still respectable 16.4kWh/100km, with 134km on the clock and a suggested 143km remaining – or 277km with the climate control on.
Hardly the stuff of continent crossing, but more than enough for urban dwellers. In those instances where you want to get away for a long weekend or a trip away, rather than worry about range, booking a petrol or hybrid car through Lexus Encore Platinum means you can run long trips worry-free.
|At a glance||2021 Lexus UX300e|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km (plus up to 10 years’ battery warranty)|
|Service intervals||12 months / 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$885 (3 years) | $1475 (5 years)|
|Energy cons. (claimed)||15.0kWh/100km|
|Energy cons. (on test)||16.4kWh/100km|
With additional sound-deadening measures, and of course the near silence of an electric motor, the UX300e feels incredibly premium on the road.
It’s not until speeds rise that you notice there’s still a decent amount of wind noise up high in the cabin from around the tops of the B-pillars. Not that it’s likely to be a direct competitor, but having recently spent time in a Mazda MX-30 Electric, the Mazda is a much quieter and calmer cruiser.
While Lexus was very keen to convey the low centre of gravity, less weight of the electric motor compared to a petrol one, and an underlying dynamic nature to the UX300e, that’s really only a part-truth.
Yes, the UX300e drives rather nicely. It steps off the line briskly without delay or hesitation, builds speed smoothly, and if you need a quick burst of speed on the go, it can even chirp its front tyres at 70km/h.
In an attempt to keep the driving behaviour closer to that of a regular car, there’s no heavy regen when you lift off the accelerator and no one-pedal driving mode. You can use the shift paddles to reduce or increase the amount of regenerative braking available, and the steps between each are minor.
It’s no dynamic benchmark. The extra weight of the battery pack can be felt, and the car feels weighty and ponderous through bends as a result. There’s probably a good reason why there’s no sharper F Sport set-up available for the 300e.
Steering is super-light, though using the car’s drive modes and dialling into sport mode adds more weight and (perhaps ironically) brings a more settled and stable feel, instead of the light and darty steering feel otherwise.
The brakes themselves appear to be a little clumsy as they hand over from regen to friction braking. Without a comprehensive drive in start-stop traffic, it’s hard to say how problematic this might be – it’s another thing we’ll hone in on at a later date.
With a bit of jittering and flexing over diagonal road ripples, and some clumsy crashing through tarmac joins and potholes, the UX betrays its origins as a combustion car converted for use as an EV, rather than built from the ground up to carry the weight of batteries.
That said, with a kerb weight of 1840kg it is only around 215kg heavier than the front-drive UX250h – no more than the difference from having a couple of passengers on board. The 300e also claims 141mm of ground clearance compared to 160mm in the 250h owing to the underslung battery pack.
Under the bonnet resides a 150kW/300Nm electric motor, making the UX300e the most powerful member of the UX range. Unlike the UX250h, which is available with all-wheel drive, however, the UX300e is front-drive only.
Lexus claims the UX300e will run from rest to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds, but rather than try and harness its sprinting ability, the fantastically flexible and swift rolling acceleration is the real highlight.
Claimed charging times supplied by Lexus suggest a 6.5-hour charge from empty at a 7kW 240V/32A wall box (the UX300e can charge at 6.6kW AC, by our numbers that should be closer to just over eight hours for a full charge, or 6.5 to 80 per cent). On a 50kW DC fast charger, a 0–80 per cent charge should take 52 minutes, or 80 minutes to full.
The UX300e features dual charging ports, with a Type 2 AC charge port and a CHAdeMO DC fast-charge port.
|Key details||2021 Lexus UX300e|
|Engine||Single electric motor|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||81.5kW/t|
Australia’s electric vehicle market, while ever-growing, still offers few directly comparable competitors.
For the UX300e’s $74,000 opening price, there are a few elephants in the room. Namely the new Polestar 2, with a $59,900 opening price and a 470km range, and of course the Tesla Model 3 – priced the same as the Polestar and with 491km of range.
Lexus counters this with a very strong level of standard equipment. The element that’s harder to see, but factors into pricing, is that Encore Platinum access – putting a four-wheel drive for a weekend in the snow, or a sports car for a thrilling week away, just a few app clicks away.
For urban dwellers, happy to stick to short to mid-range commutes and nearby adventuring, the UX makes a great companion. It’s compact, fully featured, and carries a premium look and feel.
It drives with the serenity and pace befitting its position at the top of the UX range, but in some ways – range and charging speed, namely – it feels like Lexus may soon surpass itself, making this a stopgap model.