It’s no secret that SUVs are king in today’s vehicle market. So, it should be no surprise automakers that were previously very car-centric are now doubling down on SUVs of every variety.
Lexus, which quite possibly pioneered the modern wave of “crossovers” with the launch of the original RX in 1999, is no exception. And even though it already has a vehicle competing in the compact SUV market, the automaker is introducing another one.
The UX, short for Urban Crossover (X-over), is all-new for the 2019 model year, and it is 5 inches shorter than its compact NX brother. With a low price point and plenty of standard technology, the UX is primed to capture the youngest, most diverse buyer in the Lexus lineup.
Base price for this littlest Lexus SUV will start at $33,025 (including destination) for the entry-level UX200 gasoline model. If you want to opt for the UX250h hybrid model, add $2,000. How about the F-Sport model? Add $2,000.
The folks at Lexus eschew the term “trim,” and instead use the word “packages.” So, when you are building your UX, you can start with either gasoline or hybrid model and then add the F-Sport, Premium and Luxury packages.
F-Sport has some appearance differences, such as sport seats, darkened chrome exterior accents and black mesh grille, as well as a stiffer sport suspension. Premium and Luxury, however, are more about adding features.
You can add the F-Sport package to any model, then you can add Premium or Luxury packages on top of that.
If you go all-in with F-Sport and Luxury packages, you’ll top out between $40K and $42K depending on whether you opt for the gasoline or hybrid.
One interesting thing to note here: If you opt for the gas-powered model, it is front-wheel-drive only, and if you opt for the hybrid, it is all-wheel-drive only.
With the introduction of the UX, Lexus also introduces a new family of 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engines.
The UX200 is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. The UX250h basically utilizes the same engine, but adds two electric motors and combined output is 181 horsepower.
As an urban trawler, UX is also designed for efficiency, and EPA estimates combined fuel economy to be 33 mpg and 39 mpg, respectively. The latter is best in class for a hybrid without a plug.
During the preview, I had the opportunity to test both gasoline and hybrid models, and while the hybrid has more punch because of the instantaneous torque from the electric motors, the gasoline model does really well with off-the-line starts and quick city merges.
I thought both models were well powered as well as quiet, but I’d likely spend the extra $2K and go for the hybrid model not only for the extra power but also the excellent fuel economy. I mean, let’s face it, if you live in a city, you’re likely to spend a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic or at stop lights – and that’s where this vehicle really shines.
I thought the changes in the F-Sport model were fairly negligible. Yes the suspension was a bit more firm, and yes, the seats were certainly more bolstered. But that wouldn’t be worth the extra cash for me. If you’re buying the F-Sport package, it’s because you like the design changes, not because the ride and handling are sportier.
One of the huge selling points for the UX, unlike its German competitors, is it comes with a lot of standard content. Apple CarPlay, Alexa connectivity and four USB ports all come with the base UX200.
Plus, the Lexus Safety System + 2.0 is also standard. This includes things such as automatic emergency braking, lane trace assist, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist and intelligent automatic high beams. One thing that’s not included: blind spot monitoring. It is only available as an option.
Lexus is continually experimenting its user interface in vehicles. And while I’d give a huge thumbs up for the available 10.25-inch display screen, there is one new feature introduced on the UX that is highly questionable. Lexus took the audio controls off the center stack and moved them to the tip of the armrest, where it assumes your hand will naturally rest.
For the average-sized adult, this probably works fairly well once you get over the new location. However, this is not ideal for a petite driver. I found myself awkwardly trying to reach backward to test the controls because of my far-forward driving position. Thankfully, there are redundant steering wheel controls.
Overall, I found the UX to be light on its feet and very maneuverable in tight situations. It does incredibly well on city streets, and it gets the job done while passing on the highway as well. It’s well-powered, well-mannered and comfortable all at the same time – just like pretty much every other Lexus I’ve driven.
Basically if you’re a fan of Lexus and you’re looking for a compact crossover, you’ll probably love the all-new UX.
The Bottom Line:
Lexus has done a bang-up job with this petite new SUV. It has great visibility out all windows, super comfy seats and really nice interior appointments. Plus, with a turning radius of 34.2 inches, it is incredibly nimble for those tight urban spaces.
UX will compete with the likes of BMW X2 ($36,400), Audi Q3($32,900), Mercedes-Benz GLA ($33,950) and Volvo XC40($33,700). With a low price point and a lot of standard amenities, I think it has fighting chance for a couple of knockouts. It isn’t as sporty as the German three, but it has better interior fit and finish as well as more comfortable seats.
The true competitor in my book will be the XC40, as both are more on the luxury/comfort side of the spectrum. XC40 has some kitschy color combinations (think bright orange interior) and an excellent turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. But the UX has an incredibly smooth ride and phenomenal Lexus reliability in its corner.
The UX will start hitting the streets at the end of 2019, and it will be interesting to see five great vehicles duke it out in the ring.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Lexus covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.