GRR Garage: The highs and lows of hybrid power

05th September 2019
Seán Ward

As predicted, the last few weeks have been economical and serene. Every one of us in the GRR office is a petrolhead, and so we all love noise, power, and speed. But there are times when you just want to get home slowly and quietly, and without having to stop and fill up. The UX is, as you might imagine, quite good for that.


The two questions I had in my mind before spending too much time in the car, however, weren’t specifically about economy and comfort. They were: How does the UX drive as a hybrid, and how does it compare to other small petrol or diesel SUVs?


Let’s start with the ‘what’s it like as a hybrid’ bit first, and actually it’s quite good. Toyota and Lexus have both been doing this hybrid business for quite some time now, and while not every hybrid they’ve made has been all that brilliant, most have been pretty good.

In the case of the UX, let’s look at the transmission. It’s a CVT (Constant Variable Transmission), the same type of transmission you’ll find in many other hybrids. As CVTs don’t have fixed gear ratios, the revs rise and fall depending on what’s required. If you need full power the revs will rise to the optimum revs for speed, and if you’re driving for economy the revs will drop almost as low as tick over. Clever though they are, CVTs rarely provide a pleasant driving experience, but, thankfully, the CVT in the UX does. Sure, I’d rather have a more conventional automatic, but where some CVTs seem to have a mind of their own and never know what to do, the UX’s doesn’t let the revs climb uncontrollably. As CVTs go, it’s quite a good one.


As for the brake pedal, often a weak point for hybrid and electric cars, isn’t that bad either – no, not the brake pedal itself, but the way the pedal communicates what the brakes are really doing. Because hybrids have systems that use the brakes to harvest energy that would otherwise be wasted as heat, the brake pedal might not feel natural or consistent because sometimes the system will harvest more or less energy from one moment to the next. The result is a disconnect between how much pressure you apply to the pedal and how much braking you actually get. The UX’s isn’t perfect – sometimes the brakes don’t give you quite the bite you were expecting – but in comparison to some other hybrids, it’s pretty good.

If you’re still with me, I’ll move on from the technicalities of regenerative braking…


How does it compare to petrol and diesel SUVs? The biggest difference is perhaps how economical it is, or rather how economical it is in certain situations. If you’re doing a long distance run, up to say Scotland, you’ll almost certainly be better off with a traditional petrol diesel – particularly a diesel,  as they’re just better at doing long distance hauls. If you’re doing a shorter drive, though, with a fair bit of stop-start-traffic, the UX shines. You’ve got petrol power when you need it, but you can nudge forward in traffic without using any fuel whatsoever the rest of the time. If you lift off the throttle and coast as often as you can, too, the batteries will be topped up and you’ll have plenty of electric power left for the next bit of stop-start entertainment. 

For me, the disappointment for the UX is still the suspension control and the size of the boot. Boot size isn’t something I would usually touch on, but it is much smaller than I’d imagined it would be, thanks to all of the electric gubbins piled away under the boot floor. The suspension isn’t controlled enough, either. It crashes over lumps and bumps, and just isn’t as polished or as comfortable as I’d expect a Lexus to be.

All in all I do like the serenity. But I’m not sure this would be the quiet car for me.

MPG this week: 50.1.

Photography by Joe Harding.

  • GRR Garage

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