City-sized, packed with compromise
During my time with the 2019 Lexus UX, I lost count of the number of times people called it a hatchback masquerading as a crossover. They’re right: The UX’s tidy proportions and low seating position scream hatchback, muddling the definition of a crossover. Whatever you call it, the 2019 Lexus UX aims to lure millennials searching for something city-friendly, tech forward, and bold. It’s got the looks covered—but what about the rest of the experience?
In public, the 2019 Lexus UX stands out, especially in F Sport guise with its blacked-out grille and large faux air intakes in the lower front fascia. Taillights with integrated fins create a distinctive look, especially with the full-width LED light strip. The available triple-beam LED headlights provide the full predator effect. Unfortunately, though, eccentric style comes at the cost of visibility; the thick pillars and small rear window means the UX has substantial blind spots.
At least the powertrains are more conventional. The 169-hp 2.0-liter I-4 in the UX 200 gets winded hauling four passengers; you’ll need to plan ahead to pass on the highway or climb a grade. The CVT works hard, eking as much as it can out of the engine. In Eco and Normal modes, however, the transmission operates like a rubber band, attempting to give you power and stay economical all at once. At the track, the UX 200 hit 60 mph in 8.7 seconds before finishing the quarter mile in 16.6 seconds at 86 mph (138 km/h). Road test editor Chris Walton noted the engine lacks the power to spin its wheels despite screaming at 6,000 rpm during acceleration runs.
The all-wheel-drive UX 250h pairs the same 2.0-liter I-4 with three electric motors. With 181 hp combined, the UX 250h accelerates more assertively, hitting 60 mph 0.6 seconds quicker than the UX 200 before completing the quarter mile in 16.2 seconds at 86.9 mph (139.8 km/h). However, it transitions between regenerative and mechanical braking abruptly, jerking occupants around. The heavier UX 250h stopped from 60 mph in 117 feet, a foot shorter than the front-drive UX 200. Walton found good fade resistance and bite and suspects brake energy regeneration helped the UX 250h’s stopping performance. Our UX 200 tester exhibited less bite, and the brakes faded quicker in our tests.
Both UX variants ride comfortably over broken surfaces, but their handling gets erratic when pushed hard. “The steering path is very uncertain,” testing director Kim Reynolds said of both cars. Excessive understeer and stability control intervention gave the UX unpredictable road manners, especially with its irregular steering path. The UX 200 finished the figure eight course in 27.9 seconds at 0.60 g average and 0.83 g of lateral acceleration. Although the UX 250h finished the figure eight 0.2 seconds quicker, it had less grip with a 0.62 g average and 0.80 g of lateral acceleration despite being an F Sport model with a slightly stiffer suspension. The UX 200 rolls more, and big bumps cause plenty of vertical movement. With its lower center of gravity, the UX 250h wobbles less and has better body control.
Get inside, and you’ll find a slick, minimalistic cabin. Most materials and surfaces feel expensive; however, some of the plastic bits in the rear definitely came from the Toyota parts bin. Even so, the cool washi trim pays homage to Lexus’ Japanese roots and is more distinctive than the usual wood and metal. Plenty of sound deadening keeps the 2019 Lexus UX’s cabin quiet save for some wind noise at highway speeds.
Lexus’ Remote Touch interface remains one of the most frustrating multimedia systems on the market—even when using Apple CarPlay—because of its needlessly complicated and overly sensitive touchpad. To activate the dual-zone climate control, for instance, you need to go into two submenus because there’s no dash button for it. The eight-speaker audio system’s lack of clarity is disappointing—too bad the Mark Levinson audio system isn’t offered on the U.S.-spec UX. Grainy, outdated graphics expose the age of the interface, which looks at least a generation behind the Volvo XC40’s more modern Sensus system.
Like TNGA-C platform mates Toyota C-HR and Corolla hatchback, the confining cabin limits the 2019 Lexus UX’s usability. Rear-seat accommodations are claustrophobic; forget putting humans back there if someone tall is sitting up front. Even with the rear seats folded, the cargo space is abysmal; it’s impractical for anything but the week’s groceries. You can’t even place large items vertically into the rear cargo area because the rear window cuts into the cabin.
Although Lexus piles on the safety tech by making Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 standard in all UX models, the way it operates needs improvement. Adaptive cruise control takes too long to get up to speed and leaves too much room for reckless drivers to cut in front of you even in its closest setting. Lane keeping assist ping-pongs you between the lines, and the centering function struggles through gentle turns. The front and rear collision mitigation systems emit warnings too frequently regardless of the sensitivity level.
With both of our testers checking in at just over $40,000 USD, you have to be completely sold on the Lexus’ curb appeal, unique interior design, or the hybrid’s superior fuel economy to get a UX. Young, tech-savvy consumers who expect everything to seamlessly integrate with their lives will find it hard to overlook the UX’s poor packaging, frustrating driver assists, and complicated infotainment system. If you must have a luxury badge, the well-rounded and comparison-winning Volvo XC40 has your name all over it. Otherwise, consider a front-drive NX 300 for not much more or get a loaded crossover with a mainstream badge instead.
|2019 Lexus UX 200||2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,450||$42,535|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/169-hp/151-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 107-hp front, and 7-hp/40-lb-ft rear electric motors; 181-hp combined|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,317 lb (60/40%)||3,606 lb (57/43%)|
|WHEELBASE||103.9 in||103.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.0 x 72.4 x 59.8 in||177.0 x 72.4 x 59.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.7 sec||8.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.6 sec @ 86.0 mph||16.2 sec @ 86.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft||117 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)||27.7 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||29/37/33 mpg||41/38/39 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||116/91 kW-hrs/100 miles||82/89 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.60 lb/mile||0.49 lb/mile|