Electric Run-Around: Driving the Lexus UX 300e Urban Compact Crossover

The commute is smooth and whisperingly quiet. Hitting central London’s dense weekend traffic, we feel a touch removed from the chaos outside. There are so many ecological and even logical reasons as to why the electric drive is the way forward, but if you happen to live in a city, a metropolis as large and packed as ours, it’s a no-brainer. I’m almost inclined to see electric cars as instrumental to urban mental health. All that unnecessary noise — removed.

My car for the week is the UX 300e, Lexus’ first battery electric vehicle (BEV). It premiers a host of electric cars by the Japanese marque, including the RZ 450e, which will be revealed later this year. This compact SUV is based on the urban crossover that shares its name, the UX. The BEV mechanics involve a 54.35 kWh battery mounted low, with a 150kW motor replacing the traditional internal combustion engine up front to support the front wheels.

This allows for just over 200 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, with zero to 63 mph in a reasonable 7.5 seconds and an available top speed of 100 mph. According to Lexus, the UX 300e will manage 196 miles on a single charge with the smaller 17-inch wheels, while opting for the 18-inch wheels will reduce this by six miles. Both of which are pretty adequate for daily commutes, which is what this car is designed to do. During the week we drive the car, we charge the battery once, and that’s just to top it up in case of an emergency.

The shape is essentially a tall hatchback; the elevated seating adds to the sense of driver control, plus sitting high makes you feel secure in city settings — theoretically, that is. This is a bonus since Lexus is firmly targeting young city dwellers with this electric UX.

In terms of styling, Lexus designers have made sure their car looks different from the many, many compact SUVs we see on our roads these days — this being the most popular typology at least in cities. The distinctive spindle grille, with its block-shaped mesh pattern, and edgy body language help make the UXe a bit of a non-conformist among others. And even though at first I’m a little taken by the chunky, clunky plastic arches, they prove useful in protecting the tires when roadside parking

The noise, or lack of in the cabin, is not coincidental. Electric cars are generally quiet; the absence of a combustion engine leaves only the gentle hum of the motor and the rattle of metal. So, it is up to carmakers to make sure even these elements are minimized. Later I read in the press pack that by studying BEV noise patterns, Lexus’ development team took specific measures, such as fitting bespoke tires and wheel arch liners that reduce the noise of gravel spatter and water.

The cabin is bright and light, with the upper deck of the instrument panel appearing to be extending out and beyond the windshield, a take from the architectural concept of “engawa”, which means blurring the boundary between inside and out. Saying that, a little decluttering would certainly add to the sense of serenity inside this car.

The UXe comes with a seven-inch driver display in the center console as standard with a 10.3-inch screen available on higher-spec models, which feels at odds with the current evolution towards reducing screen size. Functions are controlled by a touchpad, which is a bit tricky to master, but logical thereafter. There’s also lots of advanced technology on board the vehicle, including the company’s latest navigation and a clear graphic head-up display, as well as Amazon Alexa.

Craft is instrumental to brand Lexus, with even its smaller cars offering some element of the handmade. On higher trim levels, you can specify elements from the Takumi menu which involves the artisan skills of the handful of craftspeople who bring with them over 25 years of experience. Whereas the flagship LS saloon I drove a few years ago is treated to all the Takumi specialties, this UX receives a subtler palate to include material treatments on the dashboard and a rather nice, tactile washi paper-inspired trim and crafted seats. Even the shift selector has been shaped by hand, I’m told.

The UX is a critical car for Lexus — and I suspect so is the 300e. Since its introduction in 2018, the car has introduced new customers to Lexus, entry-level buyers who will theoretically stay brand loyal. With its clean design, that has enough edge to stand out from the high-hatch/crossover/compact SUV crowd, and now battery-electric power, the UX 300e seems a perfectly considered proposition for a practical urban run-around.

Read about the Lexus and Royal College of Art’s latest project here.

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