Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 4, 2019
I am perplexed as to why the Lexus UX exists. Remember the CT hatchback and HS sedan? Yeah, those didn’t last very long did they? On the one hand, the UX is a perfectly sized, small, luxury subcompact SUV that caters towards a growing demand. On the other, the UX’s tiny footprint, lacklustre powertrain, sparse rear accommodations, and unjustifiable price tag, make it difficult to recommend over its more polished and complete rivals like the Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1. But that doesn’t make it a bad SUV.
The UX is the brand’s first foray into the subcompact luxury crossover segment, slotting below the NX. Lexus is marketing their smallest SUV as the automobile for urban explorers, and while it’s black body cladding and slightly raised ride height may convince buyers that this is an SUV, don’t kid yourself. The UX is really just a tall hatchback. Being a brand new 2019 model, it’s loaded up with Lexus’ latest infotainment system, Frankenstein-bolt scrolls on top of the instrument binnacle, and their new leather steering wheel. It’s all nice and dandy, and actually steals many of the same designs as the more expensive models in the stable like the ES, until you realize that the material quality is different and somewhat subpar.
Take the door handles for instance. The swoopy design debuted in the flagship LC 500 Coupe, and was heavy, expensive-feeling, and shined with metallic texture. In the UX, the door handle is the exact same shape, except it’s plastic and appears a dull gray. The same goes for the steering wheel buttons, which are gritted and textured in the ES but are again, flat and plastic in the UX. That goes for the HVAC switchgear too. At least the F Sport seats are the same, luscious, and supportive examples. The thicky padded F Sport steering wheel is exceptionally premium as well, and the new design is on point. The UX has even got that slidable LFA-inspired instrument cluster. The feature list is expansive too, more so than its direct rivals, with both heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats, 60/40 folding rear seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring system, and rear view camera.
For a subcompact SUV, spaciousness in the rear cabin is unsurprisingly lacking, and the UX’s low roofline, short wheelbase, and poor packaging do not help the cause. The trunk is diminutive as well but should be enough for daily errand runs and the occasional road trip. If you opt for the hybrid variant, the UX 250h, trunk space is even more sparse as the battery under the trunk floor takes up most of the real estate.
Don’t even get me started on the infotainment system. For some reason. Japanese automakers, and yes I’m looking at you too Acura, have a hard time designing a simple, intuitive, and fluid infotainment unit. I’m not saying it’s easy. Car engineers are car engineers. They don’t design Apple iPhones, but at least create something usable that both the young and aging population can learn and enjoy. Much like the new Acura RDX, the mousepad is atrociously difficult to use accurately, and is frustrating when you want to hit a button prompt, but the crosshairs constantly bounce around - not something you want to be dealing with when trying to focus on the road ahead. And before you criticize and tell us that we just haven’t spent enough time with the system, we have. There are only so many commands delegated to the steering wheel, and we just are not satisfied. At least there is Apple CarPlay, and the side-mounted volume and tuning dials on the center console wrist rest are neat, reminding us of our old MP3 players and Walkmans.
And then comes the driving experience. To say it’s lacklustre compared to the GLA, X1, and even the Range Rover Evoque would be a kind gesture. The UX 200 is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Without a turbocharger to kick it in the pants, the UX 200 produces a paltry 168 hp. Even compact sedans like the Mazda3 and Honda Civic accelerate quicker. The UX 200 maneuvers like an agile low-riding sedan but frankly does not inspire much confidence behind the wheel due to the lack of propulsive thrust, and forces quick overtaking maneuvers to become meticulously planned events. The buzzing Continuously Variable Transmission can be hard to put up with, as it relays a coarse, high-revving screech that only lets up once you have already reached peak acceleration, betraying an otherwise well-insulated interior. The UX 200 is front-wheel drive as well, and the only way you can drive all four wheels is to opt for the UX 250h hybrid that costs $2,600 more. For those who don’t want that, you’re sadly out of luck, and makes it difficult for the UX to triumph over the literal army of AWD competitors.
The UX isn’t a bad SUV, but it could be better. It’s a handsome Lexus with chic styling and a cozy cabin. I can live with the sparse trunk volume and relatively subpar materials, but given the horrid infotainment system, underwhelming base powertrain, and the fact that Lexus is asking $37,450 for this front-wheel drive model, I would rather opt for the equally spacious, similarly premium, and more enjoyable Volkswagen Golf GTI ($32,245) instead. Want all-wheel drive for a similar price? Check out the more powerful Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC for just a little more at $39,200. You wouldn’t be making a bad choice with the BMW X1 ($41,500), Volvo XC40 ($39,750), or Audi Q3 either. And as you can clearly see, even after spending a solid week with the UX, I’m still not sure why it exists.
Model: 2019 Lexus UX 200 F Sport
Paint Type: Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0
Base Price: $37,100
Price as Tested: $40,050
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,495 / 1,840 / 1,540
Curb weight (kg): 1,500
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower: 168 hp
Torque: 151 lb-ft
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 8.0 / 6.3 / 7.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.9