Lexus' LBX is the luxury city car you never knew you didn’t need

A “Compliance Car” is a vehicle designed not to be sold in large quantities but to satisfy rules around range-wide consumption. For instance, makers of enormous, gas-belching trucks may have to offer a thrifty, gas-sipping ride to balance out the emissions numbers. One infamous example is Aston Martin’s Cygnet, a rebadged Toyota iQ with a luxury interior that sold for three times the iQ’s price. Now, imagine a company chose to make one of those vehicles intentionally. That’s the best way to describe Lexus’ new LBX, a small but luxurious, Europe-exclusive city car that you’ll love sitting in while waiting in traffic.

The LBX is a subcompact car based on the same underlying platform (GA-B) as Toyota’s Yaris Cross, its tiny crossover SUV. The Yaris Cross is a city runaround pretending to be an SUV, complete with flared wheel arches, high ride height and optional All Wheel Drive. Lexus is keen to point out that this isn’t a rebadge, and that the luxury automaker has refined every facet of its design. The wheelbase is longer and wider, the powertrain smaller and faster, with luxury kit everywhere you look. You can call this many things, but it’s not a lazy cash-grab, especially given how much of the early chatter around this car talked about it diluting Lexus’ brand.

Image of a Lexus LBX parked under the canopy of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Inside, you’ll find a 1.5 liter, three-cylinder VVT-iE engine with a bi-polar Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery. That composition offers higher power density and faster response with a smaller footprint than Toyota’s own-brand hybrids, with a lighter weight which is key in such a small car. The combined total output is a restrained 136 DIN hp, which is fitting for a car designed to sit in traffic. But Lexus piqued my interest in this car by claiming that its new hybrid system offered “powerful acceleration like that of a battery electric vehicle.” Given the stately manner in which most small hybrids move, I was curious to put that claim to the test.

If you’re only accelerating to get off the line when the lights change, then you’ll find plenty to like here. It’s too much of a stretch to compare it to an EV but if you’re looking for a performant city car, it’s no slouch. It thrives in the cities, where its small-ish size, speed and driveability let you dart around corners and dive into tight spaces. But this power doesn’t run too far beyond the lights, and putting your foot down on the highway exposes this engine. No amount of sound dampening tech — and there’s a lot of it in this car — can mask the LBX’s anguished screams when you try to accelerate or put the power down going up hills.

Image of the driver position inside a Lexus LBX with a dark grey and black interior, the wheel stands in front of a digital instrument binnacle while an infotainment system sits to its right.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Up front, it’s roomy with a comfortable driving position, while the rear bench seat is higher to offer the passengers a better view. I’m 5’ 11” and had enough headroom, but I doubt anyone taller than me would fancy riding in here for long. There’s not a huge amount of rear legroom either, so you wouldn’t want to do a long trip in one of these.

The Lexus LBX is a lot of car, too much for the role in your life that it’s intended to play, with a lot of frou-frou. Given this is a car designed for short journeys, I’m not sure it needs to have as much technology on board as it actually does. The model I tested had a digital instrument binnacle, a big central console and a heads-up display. Plus, flappy paddles so you can control your braking level and three USB-C ports in the central console. Oh, and a suite of safety tools that were so sensitive it’d erupt in a chorus of pings and bongs if I so much as glanced at the accelerator before the way in front of me was clear.

Image of a Lexus LBX trunk while parked under the canopy of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. The car is painted in “Sonic Copper,” a sort of metallic orange.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Lexus says the LBX is targeted at “younger, city-smart Europeans” rather than the company’s traditional, older base. The marketing is full of youths in red vinyl overcoats and Vitaly jewelry but I’m not sure that’s the demographic who’ll be interested. I’m not sure too many young, city smart Europeans could afford a car like this, or even know how to drive in the first place. Some of the recent stats have been skewed by COVID but the general trend of young people learning to drive has pointed down for a while. The company’s representatives did mention they thought another potential demographic would be empty nesters looking to downsize.

And then there’s the price, with the base model costing £29,995 (around $37,700) on the road in the UK while the fully-specced model is £40,545 (around $50,870). Nobody needs to be told if that’s a lot or not, especially given the various ways people buy new cars these days. But Lexus, knowing that it’s not going to undercut similarly high-spec city cars in the space, say that while the up-front price is higher, it’ll save drivers plenty with its fuel economy. I’m not sure how many people buy a luxury car because they’re keeping their eye on the dollars and cents.

Image of a Lexus LBX parked under the canopy of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. The car is painted in “Sonic Copper,” a sort of metallic orange.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Fundamentally, as much as I like the LBX, I’m unable to square its inherent contradictions as they pile up on top of one another. There are very few faults that I can pick at which are tied to just this vehicle, rather than the quirks inherent in the company’s range. But I just can’t see a world in which people would line up to buy a car that’s this over-equipped and over-specced given the environment in which it thrives.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

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