Excellent fuel economy
Spacious front seating
Distracting infotainment system
Small cargo area
2019 Lexus UX 250h
Bowing as an all-new model for 2019, the UX is the first Lexus to ride on Toyota’s new compact architecture, and shares those bones with Toyota’s subcompact C-HR crossover and compact Corolla hatchback. The UX is also a latecomer - entering a luxury class that’s already overrun with brand-name competitors that include the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, and Infinity QX30, although only the Lexus is available as a hybrid.
Sharing styling cues with its larger NX and RX stable-mates, the all-new 2019 Lexus UX is either bold or polarizing, depending on your point of view. Regardless, the compact crossover offers a distinctively modern design that exhibits theatrical, whimsical lines, offering an abundance of slits and creases.
The new look may not resonate with everyone, but the bold, brash design is enough to make passers-by look twice – a good thing in a class that values aesthetics and performance in nearly equal measure. The goodness starts at the front fascia with a spindle grille every bit as bold as any of its siblings. That block-shape mesh pattern trademark rests between narrow headlamp enclosures housing arrowhead-shaped LED daytime running lights, LED L-shaped signature lighting, and, on our tester, bi-LED headlights (3-projector LED units are optional). Lower down, a pair of assertive faux brake ducts contain small, round, LED fog lights.
Along the sides, a pair of sharp creases define the upper edges of the front and rear wheel well openings that contain dark chrome-finished 18-inch alloy wheels shod in Bridgestone Turanza EL 450 run-flat tires (rated at 50 mph for up to 100 miles since the UX carries no spare). An upper character line rises from behind the upper portion of front wheel, terminating at the trailing edge of the rear door just above the door handle, with deep sculpting on both lower door panels.
The rear fascia is equally interesting, where dimensional, finned tail lights extend out from the sheetmetal and span the entire width, and a wide, flat gray-finished lower valance carries on the L-theme of the headlights with chrome trim pieces that outline the lower, outboard reflectors.
All those crease, bulges and scoops are wrapped around an interior that, at least for those up front, offers a comparatively generous amount of head, shoulder, hip, and legroom, along with a nice mix of materials and soft-touch surfaces. Front seat occupants on F Sport models are treated to thickly bolstered sport seats - with F Sport-embossed headrests covered in a mix of sturdy cloth and stitched faux leather - that are supportive, but possibly a bit narrow for American tastes. The center console is surprisingly roomy – thanks in part to the swapping out of a traditional parking brake lever for an electronic parking brake - and features a soft covered storage bin, mouse-like controller and touchpad for the infotainment system, and a wireless charging pad and cupholders located ahead of the shift lever. The electronic gauge cluster is clear and easy to read, while the assorted buttons (there are no knobs) work smoothly and flawlessly.
The center dash features a large, upright display that appears capable of displaying a much larger image than the 7-inch one the UX is equipped with, with much of the remaining real estate devoted to a pair of reminder lights and an electronic display of an analog clock face. That display, along with the HVAC and CD slot, are angled slightly toward the driver for better visibility, with the buttons within easy reach and intuitive to operate, while the driver’s view out the front and sides is very good, thanks to fairly narrow A-pillars.
But there are issues. The view out the rear three-quarters is hindered by wide by wide B- and C-pillars, although that view is better than out back, where a narrow rear window and rear headrests mean you’ll be using your rearview mirrors and rearview camera whenever you back up. In addition, although there’s more than enough room for two adults in back, the rear door panels are a study in various hard plastics, while storage behind the rear seat is a paltry 17.1 cu ft if you load stuff to the ceiling.
The two biggest gripes we have, however, concern the infotainment control setup, and location of the front seat cupholders. Set where they are in front of the shifter, the cupholders – when holding anything larger than, say, a sippy cup – block access to the charging pad and the steering wheel and seat heat buttons. The infotainment controls - consisting of the much-maligned touchpad interface and a mouse-like pad with five side-mounted buttons plus a rotary tuning knob, are nothing less than a nightmare to operate when driving. Our advice: plug in your iPhone and use the Apple CarPlay interface.
Under the hood
The hybrid’s drivetrain consists of a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine, and a pair of electric motor/generators. The first motor acts as a generator, engine starter, and controls engine speed. The second offers regenerative braking and powers the rear wheels in all-electric mode when the AWD system kicks in (Lexus notes that the hybrid system can shut off the gasoline engine at up to 71mph “when driving on long downward slopes”).
As you might expect, fuel economy is one of the 250h's strong suits, and particularly impressive when you consider - despite a composite tailgate and the use of aluminum for the hood, fenders and door skins - its 3,605 lb curb weight. For 2019, the UX 250hs earn an EPA-estimated 41 miles per gallon in the city, 38 on the highway, and 39 combined. Our own observed, vehicle-measured fuel economy was an outstanding 37.8 miles per gallon in a vain attempt at spirited city driving.
On the road
Despite a short wheelbase, the combination of a front strut and rear multi-link suspension offers a smooth, well-controlled ride that can be entertaining in urban driving, the run-flat tires moving – rather than crashing – through bumps and road irregularities courtesy of a suspension that even on the sportier and stiffer F Sport is calibrated towards softness.
Around town, the combination of gasoline and electricity steps off adequately – if not urgently – off the line. When acceleration is executed with moderation, you’ll find that, like every other Lexus, very little in the way of engine, road, tire, or wind noise enters the cabin. Braking is also a non-event, as Toyota/Lexus engineers have turned what used to be a jarring experience into a seamless, nearly invisible, transition from regenerative to normal braking and back again, and a decent amount of feedback through the brake pedal lets you know what’s going on.
On the highway, the UX is unaffected by crosswinds, while the engine offers sufficient power for merging and passing without difficulty.
At the same time, the hybrid doesn’t feel all that precise, as the electric power steering system offers very little feedback through the steering wheel, while the limitations of the AWD system mean it’s really only effective in urban settings. In addition, the Normal, Sport, and Eco drive modes do nothing more than alter throttle mapping and steering weight. Of particular annoyance is Sport mode. Intended to filter additional engine noise through the cabin for a sportier ambience, the experience in the hybrid is, to quote the Bard, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
2019 Lexus UX 250h prices
2019 Lexus UX 250h pricing, including a $1,025 destination charge, starts at $35,025 for the base trim, and tops out just shy of $41,000 for one in Luxury trim finished in Cadmium Orange – one of two extra-cost colors.
Of note, even the base trim is well-equipped with the usual luxury power features (windows, locks, mirrors), as well as 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminum roof rails, bi-LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, smart key keyless push-button start, cruise control, a 7-inch color infotainment screen with Bluetooth phone and audio, Siri Eyes Free, Google Voice Control, wi-fi hotspot, Lexus Enform with Amazon Alexa capability, and satellite radio, an electronic parking brake, power front seats (10-way driver, 8-way passenger, and a rear cargo cover.
Standard active safety features include a rearview camera, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane trace assist, lane departure warning with steering assist, and automatic headlights with high-beam assist.
F Sport trims like our tester add F Sport wheels, F Sport grill along with unique front and rear bumpers, LED fog lights, F Sport seats, F Sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, F Sport shift knob, aluminum front door sill plates, aluminum pedals, an 8-inch instrument multi-information display, and active sound control.
In addition to those bits, the Ultrasonic Blue Mica F Sport tester, with a base price of $36,000, was equipped with yet more options that included a Blind Spot Monitor ($500), Wireless Charger ($75), Windshield Deicer ($100), Auto-dimming Inside Mirror with Compass ($325), Park Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert with Automatic Braking (($565), Power Rear Door with Kick Sensor (($600), Premium Paint ($595), F Sport Premium Package ($975, moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats), and a Heated F Sport Steering Wheel with Paddle Shifters ($150).
With all that, the MSRP, including a $1,025 destination charge, came to $40,910 – a price, it should be noted, that nudges the lower range of the larger NX 300h.
The Bottom Line
The 2019 Lexus UX 250h disappoints due to a limiting AWD system, somewhat sluggish acceleration, an infotainment interface that's needlessly distracting, and a Sport mode more annoying than sporty.
At the same time, we're drawn to its adventurous styling wide range of advanced safety features, and - versus rivals - a relatively spacious interior. Not only is this subcompact a much-needed entry point to the Lexus brand, the right buyer looking for an affordable luxury crossover with exceptional fuel economy should put the UX should be on their short list.