A decade or so ago, the traditional car industry was still being rather shy in its approach to sustainability. Some of the more progressive designers have long been active behind the scenes, yet it took the fear of strict legislation, and the spark from Tesla’s success in particular, to truly challenge frontiers.

Against this background, Lexus has been leading a quiet ecological revolution. This is a company that tends not to shout too loud. In 1989, when Toyota first introduced its luxury arm, a single consumer complaint led to a special service campaign, marking Lexus as a customer-focused brand. In 2004, the marque became one of the first to invest in hybrid-electric powertrains, debuting the efficient technology in the world’s original luxury hybrid the RX 400h, and then three years later in the first V8 hybrid LS 600hL.

Lexus UX 250h door detail

The UX is the latest product to join the Lexus hybrid family to be its smallest SUV. Lexus has been delivering premium sports utilities for some 24 years, and although our roads are congested with crossovers of all shapes and sizes, the genre’s popularity is ever-growing, especially with more compact products like this. Adding a hybrid engine to an SUV, of course, makes perfect marketing sense.

The name is a take on ‘urban crossover’, alluding to the car’s appeal for urbanites and younger buyers. This UX 250h hybrid model pairs a 2.0-litre engine with the fourth-generation Lexus battery hybrid power. The marque refers to the UX as self-charging – referencing the additional conventional engine which eliminates the need for finding a charge mid-travel. It is a clever play on words, since Lexus will continue to concentrate on its hybrid technology with the view of entering the fully electric car market in the near future.

To drive the UX is difficult to fault. You sit a little high, although the ergonomics are sound. The car feels happiest in the city, riding at moderate speeds and quietly. The engine switches smoothly from petrol to electric which you can monitor on the digital display. The car will accelerate to 62mph in 8.5-seconds, while its top speed is electronically controlled at 110mph. There is an electronic CVT transmission, and a choice of front-wheel drive and the optional E-Four system, which diverts some of the drive to the rear wheels when extra traction is needed. Crucially, the car claims an average of 42.8mpg and emissions of 131g/km of CO2, numbers which rise to 35.6mpg and 157g/km with the 18-inch alloyed F-Sport model.

Like the Mercedes GLA, the UX continues the trend in adapting the tall hatchback vernacular. In the past, Lexus struggled to find a distinct visual voice, and there is still a certain earnestness to its current ‘L-finesse’ design theme. In the UX, it manifests in a more subtle take on the distinctive spindle grille with its block-shape mesh pattern, introduced in the LF-Gh concept eight years ago and subsequently the face of all Lexus cars.

Lexus UX 250h cabin

The cabin is bright, light and, essential for a hybrid, quiet 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’ – blurring the boundary between inside and out. The UX offers a high spec of advanced technology, including the company’s latest navigation and a clear graphic head-up-display as well as Amazon Alexa. On higher trim levels, it is also a gallery of sorts for presenting the intricate Takumi artisan skills of the handful of craftspeople who bring with them over twenty-five years of experience. Whereas the flagship LS saloon we drove last year is treated to all the Takumi delicacies, the UX gets teaser elements – material treatments on the dashboard, washi paper inspired trims, and crafted seats. Finally, the UX can be ordered with a Mark Levinson audio system and a sunroof.

For Lexus, the UX is a crucial product in Europe. In the UK alone, the firm says some 80 per cent of buyers are expected to be new to the marque. With its practical credentials, ecological flavour and quiet presence, this is certainly a possibility. There is also enough unusual styling for the UX to maintain its individuality on the road. §