Lexus has a new member in its SUV family, and the new Lexus UX is the smallest of them all, slotting under the NX. Billed as the brand’s “first-ever compact luxury crossover” and “a new gateway to the brand,” the UX made its debut at the ongoing 2018 Geneva Motor Show.

“The first-ever Lexus UX is designed for the modern urban explorer seeking a fresh, contemporary and dynamic take on luxury driving. We designed it to appeal to buyers in their 30s who seek not only what is new and exciting, but what is also relevant to their lifestyles,” explained Chika Kako, executive VP of Lexus and chief engineer of the UX.

To go up against the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, the UX is the first Lexus to use the brand’s GA-C (that’s Global Architecture – Compact) platform. Lexus says that the rigid structure and low center of gravity help the UX deliver exemplary handling agility and ride comfort, along with a distinctive driving personality.

The UX is 4,496 mm long and has a 2,639 mm wheelbase, which makes it 144 mm shorter than the NX, although the wheelbase deficit is just 21 mm. Design highlights include flared front and rear fenders and a simple rear design. Lexus’ signature spindle grille uses a new block-shape mesh pattern here with individual elements that gradually change in shape as they radiate out from the Lexus emblem. As such, the grille takes on a 3D appearance, Lexus says.

No underline tick LED daytime running lights here – the DRLs are instead arranged in an arrowhead motif above the headlights. A new Lexus design element, the full-width tail lights are formed by a sequence of 120 LEDs that taper toward the centre, measuring just 3 mm thick at its narrowest point.

While the UX cabin design is new, it’s unmistakably Lexus. The brand says that the UX gives the driver a commanding view of the road expected from a crossover, with a driving position of a sport hatch. The “seat-in-control” concept focuses operation of all key vehicle functions around the driver’s side of the cabin, and the seatback shape allows the driver to operate the controls while maintaining a comfortable, natural posture, Lexus says.

The air vents sound particularly cool. They use a new single-knob control for airflow direction and volume, while the vents themselves are illuminated using a new wireless system. Each control’s LED is wirelessly powered using electromagnetic resonance between two coils vibrating at the same frequency. Using the same design principle as the Lexus LC’s rear lamps, the vent LEDs use mirror optics to create the effect of floating lighting depth, even though the reflector element is just 3 mm thick.

Of course, there are some Japanese tradition-inspired elements. An optional leather upholstery is inspired by sashiko, a customary Japanese quilting technique also used in the making of judo and kendo martial arts uniforms.

The UX offers a choice of two different grain patterns and four colours. In a Lexus first, the UX offers a new trim finish inspired by the grain of Japanese paper known as washi. Created using a slush-molding process and a carefully chosen surface finish, it evokes a calm and warm feeling. A leather grain finish, shared with the top-end LC coupe and LS sedan, is also available.

The 2019 Lexus UX comes in two versions – the UX 200 and the UX 250h hybrid. The UX 200 introduces the new Dynamic Force 2.0 litre naturally aspirated engine coupled with the new Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission.

The new 168 hp engine employs high-speed combustion, multi-hole direct fuel injectors, a continuously variable capacity oil pump, a variable cooling system and VVT-iE on the intake side to achieve maximum thermal efficiency of around 40%.

The Direct-Shift CVT combines the smooth performance of a conventional CVT with a more direct driving feel. A conventional CVT uses two pulleys, connected by a belt, that can change their radius and the effective gear ratio seamlessly without the step effect.

The Direct-Shift uses an additional gearset for starting off from a stop, giving the UX a quicker, more linear acceleration feel. Because the gears reduce the need for the CVT’s pulleys and belt mechanism to be used in the low range, more of the CVT’s ratio spread can be dedicated to the higher range, maximising efficiency, Lexus says.

The same engine is used in the UX 250h, paired to a new fourth generation hybrid system with a projected output of 176 hp. The hybrid system has a compact and lightweight new transaxle and Power Control Unit, designed to minimise power losses through heat and friction. Locating the nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery and compact cooling system below the rear seat helps maximise cabin and cargo space, while supporting the low centre of gravity.

The E-Four system gives the UX 250h AWD capability by using an additional electric motor on the rear axle. Power distribution between the front and rear axles is automatically optimised when accelerating, cornering, or driving on slippery surfaces. When a loss of rear-wheel grip is detected, power directed to the rear is increased to around 80%, at speeds up to 70 km/h, contributing to handling and stability.

The UX 250h debuts Predictive Efficient Drive, a Lexus-first system that analyses driving habits and the expected road and traffic conditions to optimise charging/discharging of the hybrid battery. The more the UX 250h is driven, the more data is gathered to help optimise fuel consumption, although the system can be turned off.

We’re all creatures of habit, and Predictive Deceleration Support uses accumulated knowledge about a driver’s behavior to predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop. For example, when the UX approaches a location where the driver has slowed or stopped in the past, and the driver eases off the gas, PDS increases regenerative braking. The system can provide deceleration support up to about 300 metres ahead.

Predictive State of Charge (SOC) control for the hybrid battery is a world-first technology that functions on both downhill roads and in congested traffic. Operating when the UX is following guidance from the navigation system, it will predict the route for a distance of up to about 10 km ahead.

Lastly, F Sport. The sporty treatment is available for both UX 200 and UX 250h. Exclusive suspension tuning includes specific springs and stabiliser bars, plus rear performance dampers to sharpen handling. The F Sport option can be combined with a UX-tailored version of the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS).

Exterior F Sport features emphasise a low and wide form for a “road-hungry look”. Elements include a different spindle grille mesh, large fog lamp bezels with L-shaped chrome moldings and detailing that repeats the F-mesh grille pattern, a unique rear bumper, 18-inch alloys and jet-black body trim.

Inside, F Sport cars get front sports seats, a moving meter, F Sport steering wheel with dimpled leather (also on the shift knob), eight-inch TFT colour display and aluminium pedals. Active Sound Control (ASC) generates the aural effect of gearshifts (CVT, remember) and there’s a sportier “S+ Sound” in the Sport S+ mode.

Production of the Lexus UX will start later this year ahead of December sales in the US.