The Lexus UX has what it takes to carve a niche in the bulging compact crossover segment
Lexus UX: Nimble crossover The Lexus UX200 has a contemporary styling, with an emphasis on aerodynamics, elegance and accessibility. PHOTO: TOYOTA MOTOR

Nearly 30 years ago, Toyota made the Lexus LS, a sedan which caught the luxury makers napping like the proverbial hare.

As surely as the LS propelled Lexus into the premium segment, its rivals have all but caught up since.

To stay ahead of the race, the Japanese manufacturer is making a foray into a segment all luxury marques have visited - the nook between premium and mass.

Lexus had gone there before with the CT hybrid hatch, but with limited success. This time, riding on the crossover tsunami, it is trying again with the UX.

Does the UX have what it takes to jostle with the hordes of compact crossovers?

In a word, yes, especially for those who might be tempted by a Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1, Audi Q3 or Volvo XC40.

Design-wise, the UX exudes a contemporary styling, but is not as fussy as the Toyota C-HR. There is emphasis on aerodynamics, elegance and accessibility.

Inside, the car is of a very high quality for products in its segment. Notable features include a dash top lined with a surface reminiscent of Japanese washi paper, a large infotainment screen paired with a user-friendly touchpad, and hi-fi controls recessed in the beak of the centre armrest.

Behind the wheel, there is no mistaking the car for anything else but a Lexus - an impression reinforced as soon as you are on the road.

Powered by a new high-compression 2-litre normally aspirated engine paired with either a continuously-variable transmission with a fixed first gear (UX200) or a hybrid drivetrain (UX250h), the UX is surprisingly well at ease.

The UX200 drives like a light turbo mated to a dual clutch, which is a very good thing. It is blessed with a breezy throttle response, linear acceleration from the word go, punchy mid range - and none of the negativity associated with such engine-gearbox combinations.

Similarly, the UX250h is unlike any other hybrid. Instead of a focus on economy, the car possesses a strong performance bias. It is actually quicker than the UX200.

Even in Eco mode, it is able to keep up with highway flow effortlessly. But surprisingly, it feels more like a continuously variable transmission than its twin.

Its strong points include a smooth stop-start system, brakes that feel natural (without the regeneration stodgy feel), and not a hint of the retarded throttle many hybrids are cursed with.

Both cars ride far better than the C-HR, with controlled rebound even on cobbled streets.

Despite having the same wheelbase as the C-HR, its rear section is not as tight as the Toyota's. And ride quality in the second row is just as good as in the first - a rarity.

The UX is, however, not the most spacious among its peers.

But it scores well on driveability. Its steering is adequately weighted, sharp and quick, but unfortunately, still comes across as a wee bit detached.

The front-wheel-driven UX will trace its course flawlessly round a sweeping bend, but betrays a hint of roll in tighter angles. Still, it qualifies as the most nimble crossover from Lexus.

Yet, for all its dynamic abilities, the UX is not a car which leaves you out of breath after a spin. Then again, none of its rivals will tick that box convincingly, either.

The Lexus, however, just about pips them in the area of refinement - with a level of noise, vibration and harshness that matches cars up to one grade higher.

In that sense, the UX has raised the bar in its segment, but probably not by as much as the LS did three decades ago.