Chatting With 2019 Lexus UX Chief Engineer Chika Kako
After the debut of the 2019 Lexus UX compact luxury crossover, we chatted with its chief engineer, Chika Kako. Kako-san wears many hats at Lexus; not only is she the chief engineer responsible for UX, she leads the development of Lexus’ “touch tracer” infotainment control system, and is an executive vice president for Lexus International. Her team’s Lexus UX will be offered in three flavors around the world including an entry-level front-drive variant (UX 200) that’s powered by a new 2.0-liter four cylinder gasoline engine and CVT. Two hybrid versions of the UX utilize a new 2.0-liter gas engine with Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid system and a new CVT that has a mechanical first gear for better driving feel off the line. Although other markets will get a front-drive UX 250h, the only UX hybrid for the U.S. will be the all-wheel-drive UX 250h, with the hybrid drive system powering the rear wheels.
Lexus UX chief engineer Chika Kako
Motor Trend: What vehicles did you benchmark?
Chika Kako: As a crossover we checked of course, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, [and] Audi Q3. We also [checked the] Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and BMW 1 Series. If we look at the market here right now, BMW X2 is coming, our package is quite close.
MT: UX rides on the Lexus GA-C. What is the GA-C and TNGA?
CK: At Lexus GA-C is our global architecture “C-platform” and it’s the same TNGA platform as CH-R, Auris, and of course, Prius. It’s a common (shared) platform, however, because the basis already provides good noise and vibration levels, as well as drivability and rigidity, we were able to further expand and enhance from what we had as a baseline.
There are several things we have done [at Lexus for UX]. We have made center of gravity lower, we are using aluminum doors, fender and foot panels, and the [liftgate] is a resin door with aluminum reinforcement. These changes make the center of gravity lower. Body rigidity is also reinforced by using laser screw welding and body adhesives in the structure. This makes the body more rigid and handling response better.
MT: Who is the target market for UX?
CK: If we talk about volume, Europe is biggest market for this vehicle, but it should do well in Japan and North America. We are targeting 80 countries.
MT: At the 2018 Geneva auto show, one Toyota’s and Lexus’ big announcements is that they would no longer be producing diesel powertrains for passenger cars (commercial and heavier duty grade vehicles like HiLux trucks and Land Cruisers would still retain diesel engines). How can your Lexus UX compete in Europe when all its competitors offer diesel?
CK: Hybrid is kind of an identity for Lexus, especially in Europe. Already 98 percent of Lexus in Europe is hybrid. I think people really like the bottom-end torque in diesel, but in we think our new 2.0-liter hybrid offers a good balance between power and fuel efficiency.
MT: So performance is similar between the Lexus UX hybrid and the German luxury crossover diesels?
CK: Hmmm. I think [our] 0-100 kilometers per hour is getting better, but initial acceleration is a little different [because it’s a hybrid]. This vehicle is what we call a “CO2” [emissions] fighter; we prioritize fuel efficiency. That’s what the AWD system is mainly for; secure starting on a low mu [slippery] road. It’s not really a sportive all-wheel-drive system.
MT: The taillights on the UX are very striking. Can you talk about the design?
CK: The appearance is quite unique, but it serves an aerodynamic function and is inspired by the rear wing of a race car. Our designers and engineers collaborated on the question, “How can we modify the shape and stabilize the airflow?“
It’s about letting the airflow be smoothed out, rather than the air wrapping around behind the car creating different pressure zones. That kind of thinking was also applied on the fender edge molding. If you look at the car, there is quite a unique shape to the fender. The upper portion is quite straight, but the back edge is abrupt. This is really for the aerodynamics.
MT: Speaking of the fender molding, can is it always black or can it be body colored?
CK: The fender molding you see is on every car. Color can’t be changed. Some on our marketing side actually requested to have body color molding, but if we do that the volume of the body gets heavier. In the end, the size of the car looks smaller, because the body side is taller. That’s why we intentionally have black arch molding; the exterior design is really about making the car look strong and secure.
MT: What about the interior?
CK: First of all, because the package itself is quite small, I wanted to offer up openness and wide vision, even in this small car. So layout of all of the components was really considered when it comes to HMI (human machine interface) and ergonomics. Especially for me, I’m quite short at 161 cm (5 feet 3 inches), and I sit very close to the windshield. In the case of the UX vehicle, even if I sit at the lowest seat setting, I can still have good vision and visibility. Same for controls; when I sit forward in other cars, sometimes the armrest is not in a good position, but in UX we paid attention to placement of things like armrests and all controls. We also have introduced the second-generation Touch Tracer from the LC [sports coupe] and we are discussing how we can improve it for the future.
The Lexus UX 200 and UX 250h will be built in Kyushu, Japan, and go on sale in October in Europe, and December in the U.S.