The Lexus UX is the luxurious new SUV designed for city living

It may be small but the UX is the car set to propel Lexus to a new sales record.

Approaching the brand's 30th birthday, the first small SUV from Lexus will tip local sales beyond 10,000 for the first time.

The UX will offer a petrol-only UX200 and a petrol-electric hybrid with the UX250h and pricing should start around $45K.

Not that the UX changes the game markedly. Remove the distinctive black wheel arch flares – doubling to improve aerodynamics for better high-speed stability – and the UX could easily pass as a hatchback.

It's more city runabout than adventurous explorer.

The low down

From the outside the UX looks lower than some rivals, but its angular and adventurous styling makes it longer than all its rivals, the Audi Q2, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and chunky Volvo XC40.

Leveraging the latest lightweight architecture also employed under various Toyotas, it's allowed the centre of gravity to be even lower.

Engineers have also employed innovative laser welding and the gluing of key body components for a stronger, lighter structure.

The driving position, too, is low by SUV standards, and the seating position more like a hatch.

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Sex appeal

The world of automotive engineering is dominated by men, but the UX was overseen by an ambitious chief engineer, Chika Kako.

She says one of the focuses with the UX was ensuring it was just as comfortable for women as men.

From the seating position to the controls, she wanted to ensure the car was accessible and inviting.

"I wanted to create a vehicle that you're able to get a good feel with the seating position, the ergonomics … easy to use, those are things I really wanted to emphasise with the UX," she said.

Lexus Australia chief Scott Thompson estimates 58 per cent of buyers will come from mainstream brands.

"Our research indicates the majority of buyers in this segment … are step-up buyers," he said, adding that "75 per cent of UX buyers will be new to our brand".

Forward focus

Inside, the UX is very much focused on the front seats.

There's ample leg and headroom as well as a driver-focused cockpit that tilts the centre stack towards the steerer.

Those in the rear aren't as well catered for; head room is OK but legroom is very tight, limiting the UX's usefulness for any more than two permanent occupants.

The boot, too, has a high floor, limiting its capacity. although Australian versions will trade off some of the underfloor storage for a (slightly) larger main luggage area.

Inside running

While quality is high on the agenda – Takumi experts honed panels to within 0.01mm accuracy – Lexus has stepped up the Japanese influence.

Leather trims are available in five colours, including a sashiko-inspired quilted trim, similar to that used in martial arts uniforms.

Or you can opt for washi dash trim, inspired by the unique paper popular in Japanese homes.

There are also new colours, including Nori Green and Cadmium Orange, stepping out from the conservative hues that typically dominate luxury land.

Trim levels amount to Luxury, Sports Luxury and F-Sport, the latter getting unique wheels and grille, as well as a larger, more advanced digital instrument cluster that changes its layout depending on the drive mode.

Two-up

The UX debuts a new 2.0-litre hybrid drivetrain, equating to a healthy 131kW power output.

It's no fireball but uses its generous dollop of mid-range torque to good effect – thank the electric motor for that – quickly building pace when you press the accelerator.

The UX250h will be available as a front-driver or you can option an all-wheel drive system, which places another electric motor to power the rear wheels.

Traditional thinking

Those wanting more character can choose the new 2.0-litre engine, claimed to have world-leading thermal efficiency.

It's identical to the engine in the latest Toyota Corolla, right down to its innovative CVT transmission that employs a regular torque converter with a traditional first gear for sharper take-offs.

This comes with a penalty, though, taking its toll on refinement; accelerate hard and the body gets a noticeable vibration and thrum as the rorty engine builds speed.

Plus, it's noticeably more vocal than the hybrid.

Pure city slicker

Lexus says the UX moniker was inspired by "urban crossover".

In other words, it's more about tackling suburbs rather than wilderness.

Its diminutive dimensions make it easy to manoeuvre in traffic, the punchy performance helping dart into gaps.

Indeed, the UX drives more perky hatchback than traditional SUV.

Stepping up

Stepping into a Lexus will mean paying more money with the UX.

Lexus Australia boss Scott Thompson has confirmed the five-door UX will start above the $40,900 entry price for the CT200h.

That's hardly surprising given its rivals.

They include the Audi Q2 (from $41,800) and Q3 (from $43,400), BMW X1 (from $45,900) and Mercedes-Benz GLA (from $44,200).

But in keeping with its long running strategy, Lexus plans to offer more features-per-dollar than rivals.