The UX designation for the latest model from Lexus was derived from the guiding concept to describe its mission as an Urban X-over (crossover) aimed at the modern urban explorer … So we took the hybrid-powered UX 250h SE to explore the Exe River, nowadays known as Hex River Valley.
It was around 1700 when the first pioneer risked bringing his livestock to graze in the valley ‘under the mountains of Red Sand above the Rock of the Lions’, as it was so grandiloquently described. This sounded the advent of the agricultural history and European settlement in the area – at the time known as the Exe River Valley.
It was apparently called that due to the numerous streams and ox wagon routes that crisscrossed each other – forming x-es. But over time the name was distorted and changed to Hex. However, there is another story (a quite well-known one) on how the name came about.
It was in one of the beautiful Cape-Dutch style farmhouses on Buffelskraal (today known as Clovelly), that the legend of the fair spirit (the ‘hex’ or witch) who supposedly haunts the Hex River Mountains originated. It was in the year 1768 when the beautiful Eliza Meiring came to stay on Buffelskraal.
According to legend, she was so popular with the local young men that any would-be suitor was set the initial task of bringing her a disa from the inaccessible precipices of the Matroosberg, at 2249 m the highest peak of the range. The difficulty of the task was intended to deter unwanted suitors.
She favoured one young chap, by the name of Jean Durand, but when he tried to court her, he was also set the task of securing a red disa for her. In his attempt to find the flower, he fell to his death. So shocked was fair Eliza that she became deranged and had to be locked up in an upper room of the house. However, one night she forced a window open, but in trying to reach the ground she slipped and fell to her death. According to another version of the story, she did escape, climbed the mountain in search of her lover, and also fell to her death.
She was called the witch of the Exe River Valley (die heks van Exeriviervallei, in Afrikaans), and the name of the Exe changed to the Hex River Valley. The date 1768 and the initials ‘E.M.’ were once carved into the window sill of the house … and it is said that on a clear moonlit night her ghost can still be seen on the mountains, in an eternal search for her lover.
The new UX, the Lexus competitor for the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40 (interestingly enough, not the BMW X2, according to Lexus) is now available in two front-wheel-drive versions; the UX 200 (also available in F Sport guise) and the 250h with an efficient two‑litre petrol engine and fourth-generation hybrid drive system.
It is the first Lexus constructed on the new Global Architecture‑Compact (GA‑C) platform and was designed and engineered by a team under the guidance of Chika Kako, the first female chief engineer within Toyota and Lexus, and its aerodynamic profile, large wheels, and impressive front fascia give it an agile, sporty stance.
The prominent spindle grille has a unique mesh pattern enveloping the cabin and Takumi (Japanese for “artisan”) modellers refined the exterior surfaces. The design detailing on the UX, such as the full-width rear lights with its distinctive night-time signature, is notable.
Initially, the plan was to do the trip to the Hex in the EX spec model, but we received a 250h model in the end. Its modern and attractive, if somewhat quirky, exterior lines are complemented by a luxurious interior that feels spacious and inviting. It made the 150 km trip from the Mother City, past Worcester to the Hex River Valley a short, pleasant one.
The eight‑inch TFT LCD display screen created realistic, analogue gauges in a three-dimensional space and it was easily manipulated from the steering wheel, but the same cannot be said of the Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) as, even with haptic vibrations and intuitive operations, it still is not as user-friendly as a rotary knob system.
Similarly, while the general cabin layout exudes Lexus attention-to-detail, the piano keyboard type design for secondary functions and the control packed central console feels cluttered compared to the rest of the interior. The eight-way power-adjustable seats were comfortable, though, and the beautiful sound quality of the Mark Levinson system contributed to the soothing atmosphere in the cabin.
The Hybrid Drive powertrain in the UX 250h combines a 2.0‑litre four-cylinder petrol engine (107 kW of power and 180 Nm of torque) with two electric motor-generators in a light and compact transaxle delivering a total system output of 135 kW.
On the route over the Du Toitskloof Pass and the Hex River mountains, the UX 250h provided a responsive drive, and the D-CVT with Sequential Shiftmatic feature felt dynamic and fluid on the undulating roads. Even more impressive was the distance and speed the hybrid UX reached in electric mode – up to 115 km/h (raised from 70 km/h in previous hybrids).
Acceleration was linear, with the engine less raucous at higher revs and it also proved very agile and responsive in the corners. It also turned out to be quite frugal over the route, but sometimes one wished for some extra power to complement the competent chassis.
It also felt stable and secure on the gravel roads leading through the vineyards in the shadow of Matroosberg, the highest mountain peak in the Western Cape, and after a quick visit to the village of De Doorns, the hub of the valley, we headed back towards Cape Town.
From small beginnings in the late 1900s, the Hex River Valley has now become the biggest producer of table grapes in South Africa and it also hosts the biggest pre-cooler in the Southern hemisphere … and the winery with the longest harvest season in the world.
Our vehicle: Lexus UX 250h SE
Engine: M20A-FXS, Four-cylinder, EFI+D-4S
Displacement: 1,987 cc
Maximum power: 107 kW @ 6,000 rpm
Maximum torque: 180 Nm @ 4,400 rpm
Electric motors: Two, Total system power 135 kW
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
0-100 km//h: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 177 km/h
Consumption: 4.5 ℓ/100 km (claimed by manufacturer)
CO2 emissions: 103 g/km
Base price: R699,000
Linear acceleration, quiet, calm interior, and good ride quality, well-appointed and luxurious, but not very sporty.
We do not like
The remote touch interface (RTI) is not user-friendly, cluttered feel to the positioning of the secondary control functions.
RoadTrip rating: 86%
– Ferdi de Vos