2019 Lexus UX Review

2019 Lexus UX - Smallest Lexus is also the most affordable.


Lexus has an all-new starter model for 2019 called the UX. It's a 4-door, subcompact crossover wagon that's offered with front- or all-wheel drive. Sharing underpinnings with the Toyota C-HR, the UX seats five and comes with a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine or a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. Competitors include the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo XC40 and Lexus' own larger NX.

Two models are offered, the UX 200 and UX 250h. The 200 is powered by a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 168 horsepower. The UX 250h hybrid pairs an Atkinson-cycle version of that engine with a hybrid system for 176 total horsepower. While the UX 200 is a front-drive crossover, the UX 250h uses its hybrid all-wheel-drive system (an electric motor on the rear axle) for what Lexus calls eAWD. Both engines mate to a CVT automatic transmission. However, the UX 200 gets a special version with a mechanical first gear that is designed to provide better feel off the line.

Prices start at $32,000 on the UX 200 and $34,000 on the UX 250h. Both models offer a $5000 luxury package that adds power rear hatch with kick sensor, Lexus memory system, blind-spot monitor, navigation system, heated and ventilated front seats, power moonroof and rain-sensing wipers. Also offered on both is the F Sport package, which adds revised springs and stabilizer bars, 18-inch alloy wheels, exclusive grille design, LED fog lamp bezels, revised rear bumper, front sports seats, perforated leather-trimmed F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, leather-trimmed perforated shift knob, aluminum pedals and aluminum door scuff plates.

Despite its overtly sporty styling, the Lexus UX isn't going to win any stoplight grand prix. In fact, with a 0-60 MPH time of about 9 seconds, the UX one of the slowest vehicles in the class. In addition, neither engine sounds refined as it's pushed toward redline, with the hybrid four being particularly coarse at high rpm. Still, there's enough motivation with either engine for routine around town cruising.

On the flip side, fuel economy is great. The base four nets EPA numbers of 29 MPG city and 37 MPG highway. The hybrid is even more impressive with 41 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. All competitors fall significantly short of both marks and they require premium-grade fuel while the UX runs fine on regular-grade fuel. In routine suburban commuting expect to average about 38 MPG overall with the hybrid, perhaps a touch more if you hyper-mile on your commute.

The all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. It's only available with the hybrid powertrain as well. Towing is not recommended.

While the UX might not offer much driving excitement under the hood, dynamically, it can more than hold its own when the road gets twisty. Even with the basic suspension setup in the UX 200, there's a nimble feel to the chassis that encourages spirited driving. Step up to the larger wheels and tires and sport suspension on the F SPORT and the UX feels downright nimble -- thanks in part to its compact packaging and short overhangs. Regardless of model, the suspension does a good job of filtering out road imperfections and softening big blows. At times, the ride can grow busy if the road is really rough.

The steering boasts progressive feedback and is nicely tuned for highway driving. Brakes on the hybrid have that numb pedal feel that makes it almost impossible to come to smooth stops. Thankfully, it's not as bad as in some other hybrids, but you can certainly feel the transition from motor-assisted regenerative braking to full-on friction braking. Body lean is minimal and there's little dive or squat when transitioning on and off the power.

Interior noise levels are appropriately low for the type of vehicle. However, it's likely this might be the nosiest volume-produced Lexus in the lineup. The main culprit is a droning engine in acceleration, but at times, there's a fair amount of tire noise as well.

Inside, the Lexus UX tries to cater to younger buyers with a modern and somewhat busy interior that awash in buttons and knobs. Materials seem price appropriate, but plastic rules the day where as some competitors offer wood and metal trim.

The instrument cluster is a somewhat confusing blend of analog and digital, but for vehicle that only comes with a CVT automatic, all you really need is an easy-to-read speedometer. There's a nice color head-up display that's available as well. The center stack boasts a very large display screen and an integrated wireless charging tray. There are two rows of climate-control buttons between the screen and charging tray. Unfortunately, the center screen is controled by a console-mounted touchpad and the radio volume is adjusted by a recessed thumbwheel on the armrest. While Apple Car Play is supported, Lexus ignores more than 50-percent of the smartphone market and does not offer support for Android Auto.

The front seats are firmly padded and offer generous lateral support. Head and leg room are acceptable for adults, though large adults may want a trifle more of both. Getting in and out is easy thanks to a low step in and large door openings. Visibility is good to all directions thanks to thin pillars and an open-feeling greenhouse. The rear seats are adult friendly if you push the front seats well forward. Otherwise, large adults may find that knee space is limited.

Cargo capacity on gas models is listed at 22 cubic feet, while hybrids have a scant 17 cubic feet. Those are better numbers than a typical subcompact car, but certainly near the bottom of the class of subcompact crossovers. Interior storage is tight with just a few open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line -- in replacing the unloved Lexus CT, the UX succeeds at providing a more modern and luxurious compact crossover. At the same time. those wanting more room or power can easily step up to the Lexus NX. Which really explains a lot. Lexus was carving out a very small space for the UX, and pricing is key. It's the most affordable Lexus by a long shot, and still provides a taste of what the brand can offer from a safety and technology standpoint. Drawbacks include uninspired engine performance and the wonky touch-pad-controlled infotainment system. Pluses include fine driving manners, exceptional fuel economy and a solid value for the money.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.