Volvo XC40 vs Lexus UX: Which is the best premium small SUV?

Moving Well | Report: Tim Nicholson | Photos: Shannon Morris | Posted on 23 September 2019

The premium small SUV segment is booming, so we put two popular models to the test.


New vehicle sales in Australia might be sliding, but there are some bright spots to be found amid the doom and gloom. 

One market segment bucking the trend is premium small SUVs, with the number of offerings more than doubling in just five years.

We hand-picked two of the newest premium high-riders – Volvo’s well-regarded XC40 and the new Lexus UX – for a comparison test that took us on a round trip from Melbourne to Echuca.

Drive-by glance

Volvo XC40
  • Dynamically engaging, classy cabin.
  • Some options should be standard.

 

Lexus UX
  • Strong performance and value for money.
  • Rear seat and boot size.
VOLVO XC40 vs LEXUS UX

Battle of the premium small SUVs: Volvo v Lexus



The XC40 launched in April 2018 and has already overtaken its rivals to be the top-selling model in the segment. The UX arrived in January this year, slotting into the Lexus line-up under the popular NX SUV. 

The Volvo is offered with a choice of two petrol engines and three model grades, while the Lexus offers a petrol or petrol-electric hybrid powertrain across three model grades.

We sampled two front-wheel-drive Lexus variants – the petrol UX200 F Sport and the hybrid UX250h Sports Luxury – but have focused on the UX200 F Sport as it is more closely aligned to the specification of the XC40 T4 Inscription.

The XC40 costs $50,990 plus on-road costs, but Volvo fitted our test car with the optional Technology Pack that bundles up adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, park assist and more for $5580, bringing the price to $56,570.

It is well specified, with a solid list of standard safety gear – as one would hope from a Volvo – and comfort and tech gear including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen with satellite navigation, but it is missing a digital radio.

Lexus is known for offering more standard equipment than its European rivals, and the UX is no different. Priced from $53,450, the UX200 F Sport misses out on Apple CarPlay/Android Auto for now but features a suite of active safety gear and a 10.3-inch multimedia system. 

Both cars have a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

Each model offers a different take on small SUV design. The XC40 has a boxy body, but it’s a shape that works well with Volvo’s current design language. It has a noticeably higher ride height (211 millimetres compared with 160 millimetres) and is larger than the Lexus in all dimensions except length.

VOLVO XC40 T4 INSCRIPTION
VOLVO XC40 T4 INSCRIPTION

The Volvo has a quieter cabin than the Lexus and feels more refined.


The UX looks more like a jacked-up hatchback than a fully fledged SUV, and so feels much closer to the ground than the Volvo. The F Sport gains unique front and rear bumpers, grille and 18-inch wheels.

Inside, the F Sport theme continues with red stitching on the exquisitely supportive sports seats. It’s dark but classy and has the fit and finish that Lexus is famous for. But a thick C-pillar and small rear windscreen means rear visibility is poor, and the massive A-pillar impacts forward visibility. 

The Volvo’s cabin also looks and feels high-end thanks to premium materials, but it is funkier than the Lexus – chalk it up to that Scandinavian design aesthetic. ‘Driftwood’ inlays and mini Swedish flags on the seats are nice touches, and the high seating position ensures good forward visibility. But a big C-pillar means relying on the surround-view monitor when reversing.

Volvo’s infotainment system is more user friendly than when it debuted on the larger XC90 in 2015. You have to drill down into the menu to find some functions, but it still bests the Lexus system. The Japanese brand recently announced a major upgrade to its infotainment for the RX SUV update, but the UX version with its finger tracker is clunky and feels dated. 

Rear-seat passengers will find the Volvo more comfortable. There’s much more space in the XC40’s second row, but the seats are firmer than in the Lexus. The Volvo also has a much bigger boot with 460 litres of cargo space, compared with 371 litres in the Lexus.

The UX200’s 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine is rowdy when pushed around town but comes alive on the open road. Unlike other UX variants, the F Sport gains adaptive variable suspension and a rear performance damper that sharpens the ride and handling. As such the ride is firmer than the hybrid UX, but it’s more dynamically capable. Its continuously variable transmission (CVT) acts like a regular automatic.

LEXUS UX200 F
LEXUS UX200 F

Lexus is known for offering more standard equipment than its European rivals.


The UX200 F Sport sits lower to the ground than the Volvo and in that sense feels sportier. However, the Swede’s willing 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a perfect match for the chassis, offering brisk performance and excellent dynamic prowess. 

The Volvo has a quieter cabin than the Lexus and feels more refined. The eight-speed automatic is smooth, but a little jolty when reversing.

We recorded fuel use of 9.1L/100km in the Volvo. The UX figure was 10.0L/100km, however that was over a shorter period. The UX hybrid recorded 6.5L/100km.

The verdict

Despite their clear differences, there is little to separate the overall ability of the two cars. We were pleasantly surprised by the Lexus UX200, but the overall refinement, space and packaging of the Volvo XC40 gives it the edge this time.

VOLVO XC40 T4 INSCRIPTION

LEXUS UX200 F

PRICE

As tested $50,990 + $7150 on-road costs.
Model range $44,990 to $55,990.

As tested $53,450 + $5700 on-road costs.
Model range $44,450 to $61,450. 

DRIVETRAIN

2.0-litre, four-cylinder, eight-speed auto, AWD.

2.0-litre, four-cylinder, CVT, FWD. 

POWER

140kW@4700rpm.

126kW@6600rpm.

TORQUE

300Nm@1400-4000rpm.

205Nm@4800rpm.

FUEL ECONOMY

9.1L/100km (RACV test).

10.0L/100km (RACV test).