The tiny new Lexus crossover isn’t for everybody, but it’s perfect for some.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Well, you can’t blame the UX for blending in. Its chunky styling put me off at first, and I wasn’t a fan.
You’ll find the corporate spindle grill out front, flanked by the sideways-L-hook signature lights. But it’s the LED headlights I want to call out. They are incredibly bright and effective for night driving.
Those dramatically-flared fenders with squared-off plastic cladding over the wheel wells (which carries on over the lower parts of the vehicle) add to the aggressive presence and the sloping hatchback rear makes for a very sporty profile. I found the LED tail light bar to be stunning and the whole package is completed by 225/50-sized rubber on great-looking 18-inch rims.
I will be the first to admit the styling actually grew on me over the week we had it.
Stepping into the UX makes it obvious that it definitely has a compact cabin. But it’s luxuriously crafted out of nice materials ranging from textured soft plastics to handsomely stitched panels on the dash. The whole bit looks decidedly sporty thanks to the two-tone Circuit Red and black interior and some fresh new lines.
Ahead of you is a really well laid-out and good-looking digital dash that offers quite a bit of flexibility for the driver. The seats are very comfortable and well-bolstered.
That gorgeous 10.3″ widescreen jutting out of the dash is tragically saddled with Lexus’ awful haptic Remote Touch interface which isn’t getting any better with age. You have to use the touchpad to move around the screen and get things done. In a happy twist, the wrist rest gets a few hard buttons and a volume dial which, once you get used to them, certainly help in some of the eyes-on-the-road top-level navigation around the system. The sound system does a bang-up job in my opinion and Apple CarPlay is part of the deal.
Below the screen are two rows of hard buttons related to the automatic dual-zone climate control system, as well as buttons for the seat heating and ventilation and the heated steering wheel.
There is a standard sunroof overhead and no shortage of driver assistance technology. You get a back-up camera, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane tracing assist and parking assist.
The compact theme continues in the back. Sitting behind my own driving position, I had about an inch of head room and I was using all the leg room – I’m 5’10”. So it’s not a roomy back seat, to be sure, but the outboard seats are comfortable enough. Rear passengers get adjustable air vents and two USB charging ports.
It gets a tad claustrophobic back there because the rear side window has to deal with the convergence of the dropping roof line and a belt line that is quite high and slopes up toward the back. Another downside to all of this is that the opening is somewhat tight to get in and out of the UX, and taller passengers will need to watch that they don’t whack their head.
At the front of the console is a wireless phone charging mat along with a 12V plug. You’ll find a bit of space under the armrest lid and the cupholders at the front of the console worked as useful little storage bins too.
Once I opened the power lift gate, I was surprised at how small the trunk was at 487L. In addition, the load floor is very high. This capacity was tested when I drove my parents to the airport – we struggled to get anything beyond one large and one medium suitcase into the trunk. You can add to the cargo space by folding the 60/40 split rear seats down. They don’t fold flat – in fact, they fold down lower than the trunk floor.
Under the Hood
Motivating the hybrid UX is a 2L 4-cylinder joined by an electric motor, which put out a combined 181 HP. The transmission is continuously-variable and power is distributed to all four corners via an electric all-wheel drive system – the electric motor is at the rear axle.
Fuel economy is definitely the UX’s forte, and the hybrid is rated at 5.7/6.2 L/100 km (city/highway). A happy surprise – without any attempt to maximize fuel economy, I averaged 5.3 L/100 km during the week we drove it. Impressive.
You can choose from three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Sport. They impact the vehicle’s responsiveness and relative sportiness.
Power is fine, particularly if you are in Sport mode. It definitely perks things up, but it’s still a smooth operator.
What I found hilarious was that as you step up from Eco to Normal drive mode, you’ll hear a few little things from under the hood – although the sounds are fake. Lexus calls it Active Sound Control. But put it into Sport, and you’ll hear the vehicle going through a whole range of revs and shifting through its gears – none of which is happening in real life. Even if the CVT is hanging on to a certain range of revs, it will sound like it’s revving up through a bunch of gears. Reality is certainly suspended, but if nothing else, it actually sounds pretty awesome.
The continuously variable transmission is obviously very smooth and has a Sport mode, which will let the revs hang a bit longer to feel more responsive. You can also “shift” it using the paddles or the gear selector.
The ride is firm but very quiet and very well-damped. What threw me off was how surprisingly sporty and agile the handling was – I actually found the UX to be quite fun to drive.
Overall operation of the UX is incredibly quiet. Visibility is not the greatest. The view ahead is fine, but the rest is, at best, a bit of a mixed bag. The A- and B-pillars are absolutely massive and they really have a notable impact on your outward visibility. Such that the B-pillar makes for great difficulty when trying to shoulder check. Add to that the rear headrests and the short rear window and you’ll be thankful for all the electronic aids that help you “see” things around you.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was middling. She wasn’t sold on the styling, but said it felt very luxurious inside and drove beautifully.
While the UX is different from what one may expect from a Lexus, it still presents a very Lexus experience. It’s a new look and a new way of doing some things, but at its core, it’s a Lexus all the way. Just a contemporary one.
I liked much about the UX, to be honest, and I can see the appeal if rear passenger and cargo space aren’t priorities. It’s fun to drive, efficient and modern.
Of note, the UX is also available in non-hybrid, and the gas-powered UX has significantly increased (30% bigger) cargo capacity if the small trunk is a deal-breaker.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Lexus Canada.
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Pricing: 2019 Lexus UX 250H
Base price (250H AWD trim): $39,700
Options: $8,800 F Sport 2 package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $50,675