Lexus' smallest crossover punches above its weight with excellent driveability and youthful design
Lexus UX versus them The Lexus UX200 has excellent ride quality and low noise, vibration and harshness levels. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

The first time Lexus made a small car was a decade ago. The CT hatchback, powered by a modest hybrid powertrain, did not quite take off - at least not in Singapore.

But as they say, if at first you do not succeed, try another way.

Which is what Lexus did with the new UX. The compact banks on the unstoppable crossover craze, but its profile is actually more tall hatch than rugged sport utility vehicle (SUV).

The silhouette suggests sportiness and dynamic driving, which the car manages to deliver in surprisingly generous portions.

The test-car is a UX200, powered by a 2-litre engine producing 170bhp and 204Nm. The numbers are respectable and attained without the aid of forced induction. Instead, a high compression ratio of 13:1 gives it turbo-like performance.

Paired with a continuously variable transmission with direct shift, it sends the car to 100kmh in 9.2 seconds - but it often feels quicker - and a top speed of 190kmh.

At the wheel, the driving is satisfying and engaging, with none of the high centre of gravity issues that many SUV-type cars grapple with.

Its helm is extremely precise and effortless, allowing for sharp and quick turning responses. At 1,520mm, the UX200 is only slightly taller than a Volkswagen Golf.

The Toyota RAV4 with which it shares a platform is visibly taller.

Set against a width of 1,840mm, this gives the UX a sturdy roadholding quality that escapes its peers. Compared with cars like the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Infiniti QX30, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40, the UX is able to hold its own rather well in the driveability department.

This is despite losing out in sheer firepower against the turbocharged field. It is also a front-wheel-drive, versus all-wheel-drive for most of its rivals.

Yet, it suffers little for it. Swift corners are executed with a high degree of flawlessness and elicit no more body roll than what a compact hatch betrays. It is nimble and agile at any speed - an attribute born not just of its dimensions and sound chassis, but a prompt and seamless power delivery.

And if Lexus has made a name for itself in silent operation in the past 30 years, the UX is a maverick which extols verve and playfulness.

As if to emphasise that, its breezy acceleration is accompanied by a sporty exhaust note. It is faint, but its presence is unmistakable.

Occupants will also appreciate its excellent ride quality and low noise, vibration and harshness levels. Its rather cramped rear quarters may not be in its favour, though.

The UX has a youthful and cheerful design. It looks sleek and elegant - an achievement for a crossover - marred ever so slightly by a naked exhaust which seems out of place in the premium segment.

But the car is quite exquisite inside. It has an array of luxury features, including an electrically adjustable steering wheel, eight-way power seats with memory, ventilation and comfort access function, a 10.3-inch infotainment screen with navigation, and a finishing befitting a Lexus.

There are also LED headlamps and daytime-running lights, hands-free tailgate and keyless access and ignition.

At under $160,000, the UX is competitively priced for a premium crossover. It is a very likeable car which offers Lexus values with a twist. And it looks set to become a far bigger hit than the CT.