Lexus launched the UX crossover for the 2019 model year. The company aimed the new subcompact crossover at the “modern urban explorer,” which sounds a bit more charitable than “upmarket, city-dwelling DINKs” (dual-income-no-kids). The UX is the entry-level Lexus crossover — sort of a fancier, more powerful and markedly more expensive version of the Toyota C-HR.
I drove the UX 250h, the hybrid model, which begins a bit above $34,000. Is it the subcompact you want for traversing the paved-over wilderness? I’m not so sure.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Volvo each offer a luxury subcompact competitor (the GLA-Class, X1, Q3 and XC40, respectively) that’s more powerful, more fun and more practical than this Lexus. I’d argue those cars are all more attractive than the UX, which will put off some with its big spindle grille and aggressive power lines. To be fair, none of those cars deliver fuel economy approaching the UX’s hybrid powertrain’s figures; it’s rated for 39 mpg combined. But if minimizing one’s carbon footprint is the buyer’s overriding concern, why not buy the fully-electric Hyundai Kona EV for about the same price?
The UX 250h is not quick, but it handles well.
Lexus lists an 8.6-second 0-60 mph time for the UX 250h, which is base-engine Subaru territory. Still, the hybrid is the more potent of the two UX powertrains, and the subcompact makes up for its lack of straight-line speed with its driving character and handling. As a de facto hatchback, it has a lot of positive hatchback characteristics, such as precise steering, a low center of gravity and good balance in corners.
I wouldn’t describe driving it as exhilarating, but it makes the most of its 181 horsepower. The cabin is luxurious and quiet, without the grating noise one might complain about from a Toyota hybrid. If you don’t often need to floor it merging onto a highway, the UX 250h will agreeably get you from A to B.
This Lexus is freaking tiny.
Some subcompacts, like the Kia Seltos, offer surprising space and versatility. The Lexus UX is not one of them. It’s a pint-sized, cladded, and modestly lifted hatchback. A high load floor and a sloping back roof combine to form a ludicrously small trunk. It measures 17.1 cubic feet, but seems smaller; I couldn’t fit my son’s diaper bag in the narrow sliver of space between the floor and the tonneau cover the UX offers for some reason.
The rear seating area is tight, too, and makes accommodating a front occupant and a car seat on the same side of the vehicle a challenge. If your nest has an occupancy of greater than two, you probably need a bigger Lexus.
The corporate infotainment touchpad is an absolute nuisance.
Touchscreens are problematic — potentially more distracting than texting, according to at least one study. Instead of a touchscreen, Lexus UX uses a touchpad to the right of the PRND shifter to manipulate the screen. It bills itself as a sophisticated haptic interface that “mimics smartphone operations.”
I found navigating complex menus with it to be an infuriating nuisance. Coordinating your finger movement on the pad with the free-floating cursor on the screen adds another layer of distraction, instead of peeling one away. I had to pull the car over to perform simple functions like changing the radio station. Touchscreen alternatives should be explored, but a simple click wheel would have been more intuitive and functional.
Price as Tested: $43,625
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid, CVT, all-wheel-drive
Power: 181 hp
Fuel Economy: 41 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Lexus provided this product for review.
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