Lexus UX — Luxury in a small package

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Small is now big in the ever-growing crossover game and that's just fine with us. We have always been drawn to small, maneuverable vehicles so it’s not surprising we are attracted to Lexus' new sub-compact entry into the luxury crossover segment — the UX. UX standing for "urban crossover."

The UX is the fifth and smallest member of the Lexus crossover lineup, a subcompact slotting slightly below the also subcompact NX in price and size. It may be small, but its outsize, angular styling will be a key weapon in its fight for market share.

The UX comes in two forms —the UX 200 with a gas engine and the UX 250h hybrid with the same 2.0-liter engine and two electric motors. An F Sport performance package is optional for both. While the F Sport adds nothing to engine performance it comes with unique wheels and interior and exterior cosmetic accents as well as a sport-tuned suspension. All-wheel drive is only available on the hybrid model.

The UX was introduced in December with prices starting at $33,025 for the base model and rising through the trim levels to $38,225 for the Luxury edition. The hybrid model generally runs about $1,000 more per trim level.

The UX is constructed on Toyota's new Global Architecture Compact (GA-C) platform, giving it a solid, well-planted feeling — a fun car to drive. It has the same wheelbase as the Toyota C-HR, and it uses the same strut front and multilink rear suspension setups as that model and numerous other Toyota products that employ this architecture.

The UX carries off the current funky Lexus design theme including the polarizing signature grille. The UX features a new block-shape mesh pattern with individual elements that, Lexus says, gradually change in shape as they radiate out from the central Lexus emblem.

Toyota is known for putting "just right" engines — never a pony more than absolutely necessary — in its vehicles and so it is with the UX, which is powered by a 168-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder. It produces 151 pound-feet of torque routed through a continuously variable transmission that comes equipped with a mechanical first gear to generate quicker and more natural-feeling acceleration from a stop.

Lexus has advertised the UX as a city car. Its campaign embodies the notion that cities are the new frontier of American culture and perhaps that's a good thing because the UX is just north of being underpowered. Performance has been measured at about 8.5 seconds from 0-to-60 with a quarter mile time of around 16.5 seconds, which shows that the UX can successfully merge and pass when necessary, but perhaps with the pedal to the metal at times. The problem for the UX is that competitors such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA have more horsepower and better performance.

The UX cradles its passengers in a well-crafted interior that includes considerable technology including a digital dash cluster and an optional 10.3-inch infotainment display that we recommend. The UX carries the Lexus touchpad controller, which we have found distracting since the first time we encountered it years ago. Apparently Lexus thinks it's the best way of going about accessing infotainment screen information. We did like the rather unique tuning and volume controls placed on the center console.

The UX makes the driver feel more in touch with the road thanks to a “seat-in-control” concept. Critical vehicle functions are grouped around the driver’s side of the cabin. The UX offers 8-way power adjustable front seats, with adjustable lumbar support for the driver as well as manual forward/backward adjustment for the headrests. Front seat cushions use springs and foam specially designed to gently envelop occupants. And we did find them comfortable.

One caveat, the rear door openings are very narrow making it difficult to enter and exit especially for people without the dexterity of the young. Once inside, however, legroom is decent.

Despite being the entry-level crossover, the UX, features a good range of the advanced safety technology. All UX models are equipped with a pre-collision system pedestrian detection, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and lane-departure alert with steering assist,†lane-tracing assist, road sign assist, and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

Our well-equipped front-wheel drive Luxury trim level UX carried a bottom line of $38,225. Included in our test car but unavailable as standard equipment on other models was blind spot monitoring as well as the upgraded audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. All models carry a six-year/70,000-mile drivetrain warranty in addition to the four year/50,000-mile basic warranty.

Base price: $33,025; as driven, $38,225
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 169 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 151 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 177.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,307 pounds
Turning circle: 34.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 21.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: NA
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 city, 37 highway, 33 combined
0-60: 8.9 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: BMW X1, Audi Q3

The Good
• Excellent gas mileage
• Maneuverable in city driving
• Stylish interior

The Bad
• Tight rear door openings

The Ugly
• Underpowered compared to competition