Lexus UX 250h — Luxury and fuel economy for urban-focused drivers

By Jim Prueter

(September 24, 2019) The sub-compact luxury crossover utility vehicle market is extremely popular right now, and extremely competitive, with numerous choices for consumers. But a lot of these vehicles – like offerings from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and others – are very much alike, so styling becomes an imperative market differentiator.

Lexus has just introduced its new entry-level luxury SUV, the diminutive UX, which stands for Urban Explorer and is the company’s smallest and least expensive SUV. It stands out from competitors with two models offered: a base front-wheel drive UX 200, and the UX all-wheel drive 250h tested here and the only hybrid in its class.

The UX, a replacement for the discontinued Lexus CTh hybrid. Lexus calls it a SUV, thanks to all the lower body cladding about the lower portions of the vehicle, but its exterior proportions give the UX much more of a hatchback look and feel, rather than an upright and boxy look seen in competitor vehicles.

The UX 250h is offered in two trim levels — Luxury and F SPORT — and is powered by a 2.0-liter 181-horsepower four-cylinder engine, paired with a seven-horsepower electric motor. All UX models come with a CVT automatic transmission.

The exterior styling of the UX, which is considerably longer than its German competitors, is most noticeably Lexus, with its preponderate and polarizing in-your-face spindle grille. Our F Sport equipped UX  includes an exclusive grille design featuring a mesh-pattern created by individual L-shaped pieces. The exclusive F SPORT front bumper features large LED fog lamp bezels with L-shaped chrome moldings, cornering lamps and the same mesh pattern as the grille. A revised rear bumper and jet-black trim on the front and rear moldings complete the F SPORT look.

There’s no shortage of sharp sculptured lines and creases along its body side and is finished off with a strong bar of both LED and incandescent taillamps that completely cross the rear liftgate.

Inside, high quality materials and workmanship are upscale and pure Lexus. A long list of standard features include dual-zone climate control, power front seats, Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto infotainment capability, and a 4G LTE mobile hotspot. Once a compatible iPhone is connected through a USB cable, drivers can access Apple Music, Google maps, Waze, plus make phone calls and send and receive messages all through the multimedia display or with voice control through Siri.

The UX can be enhanced with numerous options that include a larger 10.3-inch center screen with navigation, head-up display, heated steering wheel, wireless charging, parking assist, premium paint choices and more.

Lexus uses a touch pad located on the center console to operate the infotainment system that’s fussy and complicated to use. Fortunately, there’s a small pod on the console between the touch pad and center armrest with manual dials and buttons that a much easier control for the system.

The climate is controlled with hard buttons on the lower center dash, however, you still have to go into the infotainment touchscreen system for some functions, like adjusting the temperature or just turning off the A/C. We thought the illuminated control knobs on the air vents were a nice touch.

F SPORT-exclusive interior features include front sports seats made with a highly supportive integrated-foaming technique. A perforated leather-trimmed F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, leather-trimmed perforated shift knob, 8-inch TFT color display, aluminum pedals, aluminum door scuff plates and footrest are also part of the package.

The UX is available in a wide choice of interior color combinations, offering a choice of four colors, including Black, Glazed Caramel, Birch, and Birch with Lapis. In addition to Black, the F SPORT also offers exclusive Circuit Red seat colors.

The rear seat is especially tight for adults, with limited knee, foot and shoulder room. The cargo area behind the rear seats is small but can be expanded by folding the seats down.

Driving the UX feels more car-like than utility vehicle given its low stance, 18-inch run-flat tires and the standard Drive Mode Select that allows the driver to tailor the driving experience to Normal, ECO or Sport Mode with a twist of the center-console-mounted knob. While overall the ride is pleasant, handling and maneuverability are nothing special. 

Don’t expect a sports sedan driving experience, even when selecting the optional F SPORT Luxury Package. This extra trim package includes a moonroof, heated and ventilated seats, seat memory adjustment, blind-spot monitoring and other features, but nothing under the hood. There are some suspension modifications to enhance a sporty driving feel that includes revised springs and stabilizer bars for a tighter ride. The 18-inch, five twin-spoke aluminum alloy wheels unique to the F SPORT are even more rigid than standard UX wheels, contributing to responsiveness and handling agility.

Also know, even with all-wheel drive, the UX is not about off-road capability. However, it will deliver a more solid feel and traction on slippery road surfaces.

For normal, everyday commutes, we found the little hybrid worked just fine. While the cabin is generally quiet, the engine gets noisy under hard acceleration especially when getting up to highway speeds when entering the interstate. But know that the emphasis of the UX is on economy rather than acceleration and sporty handling.

What helps the UX standout from the competition is that Lexus is including all of its active safety systems as standard equipment on the vehicle, including pre-collision warning, autonomous braking, lane keeping assistance, lane tracking assist, and additional features that are usually optional on class competitor vehicles.

While the UX is one of the last vehicles to arrive in the sub-compact luxury utility vehicle class, we suspect it will find an audience who feels the quality and reliability of the Lexus reputation, along with its excellent bang-for-the buck equation and, for now offers exclusive hybrid availability. That competitive edge won’t last for long as others are quickly readying their hybrids as well.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $39,025
Price as Tested: $43,450
Engine: 2.0-liter 181-horsepower four-cylinder/electric motor hybrid with a CVT automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 41-MPG City – 38-MPG Highway – 39-MPG Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: The UX was awarded a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and highest possible 5-star rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Where Built: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

Competes With:
Audi Q3
Cadillac XT4
Infiniti QX30
Jaguar E-Pace
Mercedes-Benz GLA
Range Rover Evoque
Volvo XC40

Fab Features:
Available hybrid engine
Stylish, upscale interior
Smooth, easygoing driving and riding