The Italian job: Checking out the new Lexus LBX in Milan

A Red Lexus LBX car on a pavement near the beach.

Georgia Lewis finds the new Lexus an irresistible draw…

It’s a hard life, heading off to Milan for the European launch of the new Lexus LBX. After much time spent looking at and playing with this hybrid compact SUV, I really wanted to take one for a spin.

Did you go to university with someone who was always keen to save the whales or the rainforests? Or whatever the eco-cause du jour was? But curiously they drove an old, leaded petrol-fuelled VW Beetle?

We should care about the planet – and that includes the cars we drive

Perhaps you were that student, with your placard-laden Vee-Dub stalling and spluttering around campus, belching out black smoke. I’m afraid I was the smug kid driving the much newer car that ran on slightly cleaner unleaded, wondering why you were all about saving the planet, until it came to your car. Sorry.

If my university alumni emails are any indication, plenty of my fellow students, including the aforementioned VW drivers, have done very well since graduation. I would be surprised to find too many of my former classmates driving ancient, polluting bangers. Despite questionable vehicle choices back in the day, the university eco-warriors were ultimately right. We should care about the planet – and that includes the cars we drive.

Which brings me nicely to the new Lexus

A red, grey and gold Lexus LBX under a spotlight in a car show room.

The Lexus LBX is a hybrid compact SUV that is aimed at a wide range of drivers who have a bit of cash to splash on a car, would like something comfortable and luxurious, but also eco-friendly and maybe a bit cool. I feel like I, along with my alumnus, have become a target demographic.

On my trip to Milan for the European launch, I learned a few things. Including discovering that the Duomo is so beautiful, I actually started to cry in the piazza.

The world does not need another compact SUV that resembles a Stormtrooper helmet. Instead, we have an elegant SUV

Before the launch, I’d only seen a few deliberately vague teaser shots and a video of the LBX, which were not so much a flash of leg, but more like a hint of toe. In my head, I was trying to fill in the blanks before I saw the LBX in the flesh, but my brain kept defaulting to the Range Rover Evoque.

When I got my first look at the LBX, as three of them drove into a warehouse space simultaneously, it was pleasing to learn that the designers have not simply taken their cues from the Evoque – or any other brand, for that matter. The world does not need another compact SUV that resembles a Stormtrooper helmet. Instead, we have an elegant little SUV. It still looks like a Lexus, but there are enough design tweaks to make it stand out from the brand’s sedate saloon cars that are certainly comfortable, but not necessarily cool.

Let’s look at it properly

At the back, there is a sleek red line of light rather than chunky tail lights, which helps ensure the LBX looks like an LBX, rather than a Frankenstein’s monster of derivative design ideas. It’s an individual.

Inside, it has the comfort and space required for the buyers who will inevitably use the LBX as a soccer taxi, without being an overbearing blindspot-riddled behemoth that is difficult to park and regularly causes motorway chaos with ill-advised merging attempts. I hasten to add that these debacles are sometimes caused by poor driving. And I advise such people to get a Ford Fiesta for everyone’s sake.

Moving swiftly on, the leather seats – or the vegan leather option, if you prefer – are high-end, without looking like puffy cow skin quilts. The leather continues along the dashboard along with a trim called Tsuyusami. These are charcoal-coloured inlays made with multiple layers of film. The cabin features ambient lighting with 50 different colour options.

A black passenger car seat with red stitching.

Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is the driver’s seat. From the time you open the near-noiseless door, it’s clear that driver comfort is a priority. The cockpit concept is called Tazuna, which basically means the main controls and information sources are immediately around the driver. With some cars, where you get in the driver’s seat for the first time and spend 10 minutes working out where everything is. The LBX is simple and intuitive.

It’s a car for everyone, apparently

As a bonus for any household where people of varying heights drive the car, the LBX can memorise the seating positions for three different people. This is definitely something I would love in a car. I am the corgi-legged driver who slides the seat almost all the way forward to reach the pedals. My husband, while not a giant, still needs to adjust absolutely everything when he takes the wheel.

From the time you open the near-noiseless door, it’s clear that driver comfort is a priority

The steering wheel is designed so the instruments aren’t obscured when you turn the wheel. And if you want to shift it yourself, there are ergonomic paddle shifters for the times when the automatic gearbox doesn’t quite find the gear you want. They’re in easy reach for my twiggy little fingers.

I was at a static launch, so we didn’t get to drive the LBX. Instead, we spent a lot of time fondling parked cars, twiddling via touchscreen with radio stations, navigation and climate control, inspecting the generous luggage space, playing musical chairs with the front and back seats, counting cup-holders, admiring the 18-inch wheels, and pushing whatever buttons we could without accidentally sending the cars careering around the building.

A blue, red, white and gold Lexus LBX on the top floor of an open car park.

Getting behind the wheel

I would love to take the LBX for a spin on the open road and around my patch of London. It has a 1.5-litre self-charging hybrid powertrain. So there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy zero-emissions motoring on my daily errands. Plus it’d be nice to see what the 134bhp and 185Nm of torque feels like on the M40.

While there is a big push towards getting everyone driving electric cars, for many drivers, the hybrids are a sensible, practical gateway between the internal combustion engine and pure electric. This is where the LBX should do well in the UK. Hybrid vehicle sales are up, reflecting the market research Lexus undertook when deciding what powertrain to bestow upon the LBX.

In the meantime, I will have to content myself with contemplating which of the four “atmospheres” (Elegant, Relaxed, Emotion, and Cool) I would choose on my LBX. And who knows? I might even end up making further inquiries when the order books open in October. You can make a reservation from next month.

Unlike my bizarre experience in customising my own Tesla Model S Plaid online, which culminated in the website asking me for a startlingly small £100 deposit, the LBX is offering all manner of toys for all four atmospheres, so all I really need to do is choose colours. And I really want the one with the red seatbelt.

The LBX is certainly luxurious, but it’s made for the real world — and, as I’m sure my old university colleagues would agree, it’s a world worth saving.

Read all about it

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About Georgia Lewis
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing... When she's not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.

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