One of the market's most profitable segments at present is that for premium-branded mid-sized SUVs of the more compact sort. Lexus is a late-comer to this sector but in characteristic style, has brought something different to it in the form of this UX model.
The UX is the first Lexus to be constructed using its brand's latest GA-C global architecture platform, which offers gains in torsional rigidity that enable this car to be far more nimble and driver-orientated than the company's previous compact model offering, the CT200h. The platform also enables the UX to have the lowest centre of gravity of any vehicle in its class. It's surprisingly light for a hybrid too, thanks to weight-saving measures in the body construction, including the use of lightweight aluminium for the side doors, wings and bonnet, as well as a resin material for the back door.
To start with, just a single UX 250h petrol/electric non-Plug-in hybrid variant is being offered, a car which uses its brand's fourth generation hybrid electric system that features a redesigned 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electronic continuously variable transmission CVT auto transmission. It's available both with front-wheel drive and with Lexus's E-Four AWD system. The engine output is 176bhp, enough to take the car to 62mph in about 8.5s en route to around 110mph. In development, particular efforts were made to reduce any "rubber band" effect in the operation of the hybrid system and transmission, by optimising the level of electric motor assistance and engine rpm to generate a sense of linear acceleration without the engine running at high revs.
Does this look like an SUV to you? For us, it's more of a family hatch than it is any kind of crossover - but maybe that's just the point. Lexus is trying to blur the boundaries here to make movement into this car from, say, a BMW 1 Series or an Audi A3 that much easier. From a stylistic point of view, the Japanese brand says that its aim with the UX wasn't to conform to the established, solid crossover look, but to achieve a strong and stylish silhouette that was more distinctive and dynamic. This design approach can be seen in the way the front and rear wings flare strongly outwards in relation to the car's basic form, which flows out from the lines of the spindle grille to envelop the cabin. At the front, the arrangement of the headlights and the spindle grille are incorporated into a deep, strong shape created by the hood and bumper to try and generate a sense of security. At the rear, a condensed styling treatment contrasts sharply with the flared wings to try and emphasise the UX's crossover qualifications.
The UX measures 4,495mm long, 1,520mm high and 1,840mm wide and has a 2,640mm wheelbase. An 870mm couple distance ensures ample space for rear seat passengers in the surprisingly roomy cabin. The instrument panel has a low, unobtrusive design and the slim A-pillar mouldings have been shaped to improve visibility and give the kind of commanding outward view that is expected of a crossover. Out back, the load area is a generous 791mm long.
You might wonder whether the market really needs another posh little SUV like this, but we would contend that this segment wasn't really complete until Lexus entered it. True to form, the Japanese brand is the only one of the established players in this class to offer the option of hybrid power and that in itself will be enough to garner this UX plenty of sales in a market where plenty of buyers want an alternative to diesel.
Obvious rivals are certain to quickly correct this oversight though and it'll be at that point that Lexus' decision not to -initially at least - given this car plug-in technology might be shown to be a little short-sighted. Then there's the styling. Overall, we like it but this car is really more of an ordinary Focus-style family hatch than any kind of SUV - a Lexus CT200h replacement in all but name. Think of it in those terms and it makes plenty of sense. As Lexus models tend to do.Click here to find out more about our Lexus UX range
This GLC is a mid-sized SUV, but obviously one with a premium badge. In the Mercedes-Benz SUV hierarchy, it slots in just above the smaller GLA but below the brand's really luxurious and pricey 4x4s - the GLE (aimed at BMW's X5), the big 7-seat GLS and the really hard-core go-absolutely-anywhere G model. The GLC aims to combine the best of all these models and in this enhanced form is smart, efficient and very desirable.
Mercedes has worked on making the engine range more powerful and more fuel efficient than before and the mainstream part of the line-up is based around four-cylinder units. In the mainstream range, there are two main diesel options - the 194hp GLC 220d and the 245hp GLC 300d, which get the brand's latest 2.0-litre diesel, replacing the previous 2.1-litre unit. At the top of the line-up sits the fearsome Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4MATIC+ which uses a 4.0-litre petrol V8 offering either 476hp or 510hp. Every GLC model is equipped with all-wheel drive. The petrol versions now use the Mercedes' EQ 48-volt mild hybrid system. Here, there's an integrated starter/alternator unit that can recover up to 10kW of energy when decelerating, which can then be deployed below 2,500prm to reduce the effort required of the combustion engine.
Mercedes has worked on the suspension too, introducing an updated version of its 'Dynamic Body Control' adaptive damping system which can adjust the rate of control to each of the four wheels. As before, there's also the option of 'AIR BODY CONTROL' air suspension, promising a cosseting ride when you want luxury or flat, sportscar-like handling when you're in a hurry. With an optional 'Off Road Engineering Package', you can even manually adjust ride heights through the infotainment system. For highway use, there are now more semi-autonomous driving assistance systems. Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steer Assist provide even more support to help the driver to steer and to keep a safe distance.
Design-wise, first impressions are that the GLC is most definitely related to the C-Class compact executive model it's based upon. There's the same long nose and gently sloping roofline we've come to recognise, along with similar contouring down the flanks. With this revised model, subtle changes have been made to the grille, the lights and the bumpers. At the front, the re-styled headlamps feature full-LED tech, while the daytime running lights feature an extended 'C' shape. The smarter bumper features reshaped vents to either side of the main intake. At the sides, chrome elements span the length of the lower sills, and smarter alloy wheel designs range from 17 to 20 inches. Around the back, the tail lights - also featuring LED tech - get a smarter lighting signature, and sit above a reprofiled bumper.
Inside, the GLC now gets the latest version of Mercedes's MBUX infotainment system. This means that the centre-dash display, which has grown from 8.4 inches to 10.25 inches, is now touch sensitive, and can respond to both gesture and more detailed voice commands. A 12.3-inch digital driver's instrument binnacle display is now offered in place of the previous car's analogue gauges, and its three sections can be customised to display different information. These menus can be accessed through the updated steering wheel, which features a mix of physical and touch-sensitive controls first seen on the E-Class. The cabin also features a couple of new material options, including two new wood finishes for the dashboard. Boot space is up to 580-litres seats up - nearly 100-litres more than the C-Class - while seats down, this becomes a cavernous 1600-litres.
And in summary? Well image is everything when it comes to premium mid-sized SUVs and on that basis, this improved GLC is a very desirable package. In terms of styling, technology and efficiency, it borrows hugely from other Mercedes models - to very good effect. Plus options like air suspension offer the kind of luxury that used to be limited to much larger luxury SUVs, enabling this car to cross ravines one minute and carve through a set of bends at speed the next.
Some may feel that there are still more dynamic choices to make in this segment: the trendier-looking Range Rover Evoque for example. Or the more sharply-handling BMW X3. As an all-rounder though, combining many of the qualities you'll find in both those cars, the GLC is a tempting package.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz GLC range
Audi's understated Q5 continues its subtle conquest of the premium mid-sized SUV sector. This improved version of the second generation model gets the option of plug-in hybrid power and an SQ5 TDI diesel variant at the top of the range. As before, this Audi offers car-like driving dynamics that are great on tarmac and are even pretty effective for light off road use. There's loads of advanced technology and a beautifully practical interior crafted in the brand's own inimitable style. In short, if you can afford it, you'd like one.
Most Q5 customers will want the 190PS 2.0 TDI diesel engine used in the volume '40 TDI' variant, but low mileage owners shouldn't discount the 245PS 2.0 TFSI petrol unit in the alternative '45 TFSI' derivative. There's also a '50 TFSIe' plug-in petrol variant that uses a 299PS powertrain. And at the top of the range, buyers looking for a sporting Q5 choose between two very different variants. One is another plug-in petrol model, the 'Competition 55 TFSIe', which offers 367PS. And one is a diesel, the SQ5 TDI, which offers 347PS. Across the range, Audi's smooth seven-speed S tronic auto gearbox is standard, as is quattro 4WD, which uses the brand's 'ultra' technology to always disengage the rear-axle drive whenever it isn't needed: if necessary, the system can then proactively re-engage it.
The most powerful variants can be ordered with an optional sport differential at the rear axle which distributes torque between the wheels for sharper handling. And all models get Torque vectoring for extra cornering precision. Dynamically, Audi has tried to make this Q5 feel sporty yet extremely comfortable; key elements of this lie with the supple five-link suspension set-up and the progressive electromechanical power steering system. Choose a model with adaptive damping and you'll be able to tailor the ride quality via the various settings of the standard 'Audi drive select' vehicle dynamics system. You can do the same thing with the even more sophisticated adaptive air suspension package that's available as an option. Those venturing 'off piste' will be interested in the two settings added to the 'drive select' set-up - 'lift/offroad' and 'allroad'.
Compared to the previous model, this second generation Q5 has grown in nearly all of its dimensions and takes a defined and taut stance on the road. A sculpturally flared Singleframe grille with a solid frame dominates its aerodynamically flat front end. This feature is flanked by headlights that use either xenon or full-LED technology - or buyers can order Audi's advanced adaptable Matrix LED system as an option. A distinctively curved and strongly undercut shoulder line gives structure to the side view. The strongly emphasised wheel arches are a reference to the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, and the low greenhouse tapers back down early. Just as at the front, horizontal lines at the rear aim to convey an image of width and presence. The tailgate wraps around the C-pillars - a typical feature of Audi Q models.
At the wheel, a three-dimensional trim strip runs across the entire width of the instrument panel and here's a re-designed three-spoke multifunction steering wheel. This remains a five-seat model and the rear seat is split into three segments. Longitudinal and seat back angle adjustment are optional. Depending on the rear seat position, the basic volume of the luggage compartment ranges from 550 to 610-litres, 10-litres more than in the previous Q5. When the rear bench is folded down, this volume grows to 1,550-litres.
Whether your destination is Sainsburys or the annual family skiing trip to Crans Montana, you'll feel better about doing it in an Audi Q5. In between, in contrast to larger, plusher and thirstier 4x4s, you won't get that nagging feeling of using a sledgehammer to crash a nut when it comes to meeting your real motoring needs. Nor, when you're alone on a twisty B road, should you need to wish you'd bought something sportier.
Of course, this second generation model faces tough competition, but the well considered package of changes made to this smart, well equipped and high-tech mid-sized premium SUV should keep it very competitive with cars like Mercedes' GLC and BMW's X3 in the chasing pack. Certainly it's not cheap - but then neither is anything else in this segment and at least you'll get a decent part of your money back at resale time. True, it doesn't have the showiness of a Range Rover Evoque or the ultimate handling feedback of a BMW X3, but many will still find this Audi a perfect balance between these two extremes. Resolutely hi-tech and resolutely real world, the Q5 remains resolutely right.Click here to find out more about our Audi Q5 range