Lexus always needed a breakthrough model to attract new generation of younger customers. Here it is, the LBX. Surprisingly, it's not an EV. That's because it's based on Toyota's Yaris Cross, which uses a full-Hybrid drivetrain. But Lexus has re-imagined that design in a far more premium manner.
So. The Lexus LBX. Is it merely a Toyota Yaris Cross with a premium badge? Or the properly Lexus-engineered small entry-level model the company has always needed? Perhaps it doesn't matter. This car, a self-charging full-Hybrid designed in Europe for Europe, is the model that will really push its brand forward. In the past, we've always rather respected Lexus for not simply re-badging a small Toyota and creating a big-selling entry model that would rack up sales but diminish its brand. The closest the company came to that was with the Prius-based CT200h hatch, sold between 2011 and 2020, but that was still very much its own car, fundamentally re-engineered for 'Lexus-ness'. Which is pretty much what we have here with the LBX. Yes, all the basic engineering is borrowed from the Yaris Cross, but much has also been re-engineered so that this car feels like a Lexus. And those letters? Some at the brand say they stand for 'Lexus Breakthrough Crossover'; others that the 'L' is for Lexus, the 'B' for the B-SUV segment that this car competes in and the 'X' again references crossover status. Call it what you like though: it's the most important car the company has launched for a decade.
The only drivetrain on offer is the self-charging full-Hybrid engine from Toyota's Yaris Cross. Except that here, that 1.5-litre three cylinder petrol/electric powerplant is a bit different. It draws its power (134bhp) from a new, larger e-motor powered by a new battery using sophisticated bipolar nickel metal hydride tech first seen in the brand's largest model, the RX. This provides greater power density, supposedly giving an instant feeling of acceleration a bit like an EV, though the 0-62mph stat of 9.2s isn't actually very EV-like (though it's 2 seconds quicker than the equivalent Yaris Cross). Handling's been worked on too, with revised suspension, a wider track and a 'Vehicle Posture Control' system that automatically uses the brakes to reduce pitching through turns. The CVT auto gearbox has been re-worked to deliver a more linear feel. And huge efforts have been made to create refinement more in keeping with a Lexus. Rather than just stuffing the Yaris Cross platform with sound-proofing, the development team tried to eliminate noise at source, hence the added engine balancer shaft and the work put in around the bodywork's flex joints. As an alternative to the standard front-driven model, Lexus will also offer a top E-Four all-wheel drive version, which adds an extra electric motor on the rear axle.
As with the engine, the fundamental design here is not quite the carry-over concept it first seems. Yes, the TNGA-B platform is borrowed from the Yaris Cross, but it's wheelbase has been stretched by 20mm over that car. Which means that, though this is indeed the smallest Lexus ever, it's still a little bigger than its Toyota cousin, 4,190mm long, 1,825mm wide and 1,545mm high. If you know the Lexus brand though, what you'll probably notice first about the LBX is that it dispenses with the company's most familiar visual trademark, the front 'spindle'-style grille. A lower section of mesh replaces it, with a narrow strip above including a trim piece linking the LED headlights. The designers say the result is 'instantly recognisable as a Lexus': we're not so sure. At the rear, there's a full-width LED light bar. Wheel sizes are either 17 or 18-inches. The cabin is satisfyingly Lexus-like, with plenty of super-soft plastics and stitched leather in evidence, though lower quality materials still feature lower down. The technology's of the premium kind too, with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, an optional head-up display and a 9.8-inch 'Lexus Link Connect' centre screen. Storage space is okay, with one cup holder in front of the NX-style gear selector and another behind, under an armrest that slides out and tilts to reveal another stowage area. Getting into the rear isn't as easy as it could be and space in the back is certainly at a premium: adults won't want to be stuck here for long and you don't get either seat pockets or cup holders. Boot space is just about acceptable at 332-litres in the front-driven model, but bear in mind that this drops to 255-litres in the E-Four AWD variant, thanks to its extra motor beneath the floor.
Think in terms of an asking price starting from around £30,000 for this LBX, the objective being to compete with class rivals like the Volvo XC40 and the Audi Q3. That base figure gets you entry-level 'Urban' trim. Beyond that, there's are 'Premium', 'Premium Plus', 'Premium Plus Design', 'Takumi', 'Takumi Design' and 'Original Edition' grades with prices up to £40,000. The brand thinks it will sell around 25,000 LBXs a year. Lexus plans to offer the car with a choice of four what it calls 'atmospheres' - basically trim packs that change the look and feel of the car. 'Elegant' gives you a leather-free cabin and 18-inch alloy wheels. 'Relax' focuses on what the company calls "luxurious elements and premium style". 'Emotion' would be your variant of choice if you wanted your LBX to have a sporty look, giving you a bi-tone roof. And finally, 'Cool' builds on the 'Emotion' model's urban sporty vibe with a little extra luxury. Lexus is also using the LBX to introduce a 'Bespoke Build' programme which enables customers to personalise their cars through customising things like stitching colours, different material colours and textures - even different-coloured seat belts. As usual with a Lexus, you can also pay extra for an upgraded Mark Levinson stereo. Other options include Lexus's digital keyless entry system, air purification technology, a head-up display and a remote parking system that allows you to stand outside the car and park it via a phone app. Fortunately, safety isn't in any way optional, all LBX models getting Lexus' very complete 'Safety System+' package. This gives you 'Collision warning with autonomous braking', 'Blind spot monitoring', 'Cross traffic alert', 'Adaptive cruise control', 'Lane assist' and Lexus' 'e-latch' door release and safe exit-release technology that prevents passengers from opening their doors into the path of an approaching vehicle or cyclist.
Expect similar efficiency figures to those of a Yaris Cross, which means that with a front-driven LBX, you'd be looking at around 66 miles to the gallon on the combined cycle and just under 120g/km of CO2. Expect those figures to take a bit of a hit if you go for the slightly heavier E-Four AWD version. As with the Toyota, Lexus expects this car to run over half its time in electric mode during city driving. The full-Hybrid engine's intrinsic efficiency should help a lot with future residual values. There'll be a ready stream of customers wanting that on the used market when the time comes to sell, most of these people well aware that Lexus Hybrids have an enviable record for reliability. On to after-sales cover. It's worth pointing out that Lexus gives you a much better warranty than the limited three year one you'll get with most premium rivals. From the showroom, the car comes with a three year warranty, but providing you continue to regularly maintain it at a one of the brand's franchised dealerships, 12 months of extra warranty cover will be included with every scheduled service, up to 100,000 miles or ten years, whichever comes first. Fixed price servicing plans are available if you want to spread the cost of maintenance, allowing you to spread the cost over two years or more. However you go about paying for maintenance, on an LBX it shouldn't cost you too much. The Hybrid set-up has a good record for minimising tyre wear and its battery will last the life of the car. Plus the regenerative braking set-up helps extend the life of the brake pads: over 60,000 miles of driving, the front pads should only need replacing once, while the rear pads and all discs will probably last the full distance.
Lexus says it wasn't trying to make a cheaper car here: just a smaller one. However you define this LBX model's role, it could hardly be more important to its maker, opening up an entirely new segment for the brand and likely to account for nearly a third of the company's sales going forward. Even more importantly, over half of those sales are expected to be conquested from other brands. It all makes you wonder why Lexus didn't bring us a car like this sooner. Of course it tried to with the CT200h, but that model was too quirky and a little too expensive to sell in the kind of numbers the Japanese maker wanted. This LBX will do much better; an admirable second car if you already own a Lexus. But also one that deserves to be considered on its own merits.