Ever been around a Pug, the little dog with the odd face but great personality? That’s what this little CUV reminds me of and that’s all good. I love Pugs, they look a little different than the norm, especially up front; but they are vivacious, interesting to get to know, slightly quirky, not at all boring, and have a way of worming themselves into your heart. And are on the small side.
Here we have something similar but from Lexus – A small CUV with a somewhat controversial front face, shaped a little differently overall but lots of facets to get to know, definitely quirky inside and out, but in the end a lovely little companion that’s right there by your side.
They don’t seem to sell all that many of the UX, at least I don’t see many at all; certainly not as compared to the ever-popular RX (Highlander-sized) and the slightly less common NX (RAV4-sized). The UX is nominally based on the C-HR although that one isn’t available over here in either hybrid or AWD form, both of which are featured on this particular one that Lexus sent me this week. But that’s alright, we here at CC seem to celebrate the slightly different vehicles and champion the outliers which this certainly qualifies as.
I can’t really think exactly what this would compete with or who the target buyer might be once its intricacies are explored, but to give you an idea of its size it’s very similar to both the Audi Q3 as well as the Subaru Crosstrek, although it’s about 2″ lower (ground to roof) than either. In actual execution it certainly occupies a different part of the market than those others.
Notwithstanding the front end, which like in the RX sort of helps to define the rest of the exterior form and at least makes the brand instantly recognizable nowadays, the overall shape has various quite interesting angles that are likely to be just as attractive to some as repellent to others, but if one has at least a slightly non-conformist bent then this Lexus should scratch that itch. From the somewhat oddly (or is that interestingly?) shaped wheelwells, especially the rear of them, to the tail lights that stand proud of the bodywork and create their own separate design-scape, there are numerous aspects to ponder, debate, and/or opine on.
Gandini’s wheelwell designs (or is there really just one design?) have their proponents as well, perhaps the design of these here will too. I, for one, don’t dislike it, it speaks to me in a modern art sort of way although I generally prefer more subdued design (that then gets called boring and conformist, of course). According to Lexus a lot of it (and specifically the items I used as examples) actually has to do with airflow, and not just being different for its own sake.
The interior, at least the dashboard, is just as interesting as the exterior, and really brings the Japanese ethos to the fore. Eminently usable but utterly unconventional is probably the best way to describe it all with various shapes, angles, materials, and necessary motions to operate it all. Even though a CUV in style, one sits low in superbly shaped leather seats in this F Sport model and as a result is really no higher than an average sedan in traffic which may or may not be a positive.
Occupant space, in the front at least, is surprisingly good, even headroom for me at 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam was perfectly adequate with the seat lowered to the bottom of its travel and this car having a large sunroof.
Facing the driver is a pod-type instrument binnacle with a couple of knob-like appendages on either side to control a few functions and ahead of that a wheel that is attractive, comfortable to hold, and very pleasing to use. The instrument panel is based around one center circular display that presents a plethora of information and can be changed to suit one’s mood in conjunction with using the upper right hand binnacle knob to twist between Sport and Eco modes or press the edge in for Normal mode, which all serve to change the display as well as various performance parameters.
In the center console is Lexus’ not-quite-as-immediately-usable-as-it-perhaps-could-be pad-like cursor device that once mastered does work well. What is different here (and excellent) is that the area that is used as the place to rest one’s wrist just aft of it also contains a set of radio controls. So with your arm draped along the padded surface, your fingers can use little wheels that are recessed back into the surface to control both channel and volume, which feels both natural and quite different at the same time. Toggles control other aspects. It’s a wonderfully tactile (and very personal) way of doing this and better than just a knob or two that stand proud of the surface along with a few buttons as in some other cars.
Ahead of this in front of everything is a small shelf that includes a wireless charging pad for mobile phones. I noted that there was no detent or barrier to stop the phone from sliding to the right when turning left until I realized I could open the rear hinged 12V port which then formed a natural barrier (visible in the open position in the interior panorama a few pictures above here). It’s a little odd to need to drive around with that port open but that’s the only way to keep the phone in place and there’s enough going on visually already for it to be almost unnoticed.
And ahead of the gear shifter is a portion of dashboard that protrudes with toggle switches for the HVAC system. While a fully automatic dual zone system, I found it great to just set the temperature at a particular setting and then idly adjust the fan speed with a finger that I slightly raised from its resting position on the gear shifter if it wasn’t playing with the radio controls. All of this arm resting I refer to is in stop and go traffic, mind you, not when holding the wheel with both hands at higher speeds.
Flick the toggle up or down a bit to adjust the intensity of the fan for the desired comfort level, the sun beating in would add heat and then the speed at which the cold air would flow from the vents would adjust the ambient temperature. Not everyone would use the system in such a way but I enjoyed doing so.
Of course at the top of the dash is the ubiquitous screen, in this case yet again with a subtle but clever surprise, that being the analog clock that isn’t actually mounted externally, rather it and its subtle checkerboard face pattern are embedded BENEATH the glass surface of the screen making for an almost floating holographic effect.
Not all of the screen is actually used to display information digitally, just the central portion which is perfectly fine, but as a result it looks more integrated than it would otherwise amid the different angles and shapes; while initially appearing to not be in harmony all comes together to create a complex but interesting environment, perhaps like nature itself, not matching but somehow working together.
The screen resolution itself though, while adequate, is not among the sharpest out there anymore, something that is likely more noticeable for those that find themselves in a large variety of vehicles. On a consistent daily basis it was perfectly fine.
The rear seat is less spacious than the front which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, when the front was adjusted for myself I fit, but it was snug while at the limit of comfort; i.e. I’d be happy to do a trip across town but not across the state. My knees and head were barely or about to touch the surfaces closest to them. The UX is billed as a five passenger vehicle, while perhaps possible, that’s a bit of a stretch unless the passengers are limited to being on the smaller side; I’d not be pleased to be in the middle rear position.
So in effect it’s a very “personal” CUV, not great for families, but excellent for one or two persons at a time, much like a smaller sports car or coupe in times past but with some extra utility. (Please note that the passenger seat in the picture above is all the way back, I should have moved it up, the driver’s seat is adjusted for myself so the back is better than this picture indicates, my apologies.)
About that utility, the rear hatch has a rather high load floor due to some of the hybrid components and battery housed beneath, this vehicle is of course also available in non-hybrid form with more space due to not needing the additional propulsion components. Still, it makes for a good height to load items without any need to bend over and was perfectly adequate for grocery shopping and lots of other errands that involved day to day cargo, if not the best way to get a 60″ flat screen TV home from the big box store.
Motive power is provided by a development of parent Toyota’s hybrid system, where a 2.0L inline four cylinder engine is paired with electric motors and a battery to power the car. Coupled with a CVT system, the combined power output of electric motor and gasoline powered engine is 181hp. At very low speeds or throttle input the car can move purely on electric power but the engine kicks in when virtually any throttle is applied. It does turn off when coasting and can at extremely light throttle at higher speeds as well. A portion of the center screen has a continuous graphic showing the power flow between road, engine, and battery depending on acceleration, braking, and coasting or almost idle throttle application.
Surprisingly (or not, depending on your viewpoint and experiences), that graphic is the best way to figure out how the car is being powered, the difference between the engine being on or off is imperceptible and transitions between are the same, i.e. you cannot feel them. The car obviously employs a stop/start system and while it’s just barely noticeable when it stops or starts at rest, once underway you have no idea and again, the actual stop/start actions are almost unnoticeable.
In other words, the engine is silky-smooth, one of the smoothest inline-4’s as far as I can recall in recent memory, and not noticeable at all under about 2500rpm, only during heavier throttle applications does it zoom up over 4000rpm and return a bit of that CVT drone, although even that is extremely well controlled and not nearly as loudly obnoxious as in older systems of its type.
Do not assume that all CVT combos perform or sound the same, they don’t, and this is one of the better ones. It just becomes part of the character of the car, while not objectively “fast”, it’s quick enough and when more power is called for, it jumps into action and gives what it needs. I drove this on my typical southeastern Wyoming loop, taking it from my home 5000 foot level to Laramie at 7200 feet and then returning via I-80 over the 8640 foot pass at which it happily kept up with the 75-80mph flow of traffic and was not an impediment to other traffic at any time, and from there on down to Cheyenne and then I-25 for the stretch back home.
The AWD system is comprised of a small 7hp motor-generator housed within the rear differential to provide power to the rear wheels. Curiously it is only operational up to 43mph after which everything just becomes FWD. This is a little odd, perhaps the idea was that since the vehicle is a little on the low side it’s unlikely to be breaking trail at higher speeds anyway or that its target was more urban areas with lower speed limits in general instead of crossing Wyoming for example in the dead of winter at 90mph.
I pretty much exclusively use winter tires in the winter on all of my own vehicles, even the AWD ones, and appreciate the double dose of grip this provides, but the pragmatist in me could understand this limitation regarding the AWD at speed not being a real issue for a large portion of the population that might be interested in this vehicle. Still, few will likely disagree that it would be far better to have it work at higher speeds as well.
Of course pretty much all of the popular electronic safety items are standard here as part of Lexus’ Safety System+ 2.0, similar to that of many other makers these days. Radar Cruise Control, PreCollision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert/Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beams, Road Sign Assist and more are all included but curiously not Blind Spot Monitoring, that’s part of the option packages.
Fuel economy is rated at 41City, 38Highway, and 39Average, which these days is not particularly astounding even for the 3605 pounds that this little chunk apparently weighs. Over my week and 310 miles (so almost half in the city) it returned 37mpg from its ten gallon and change tank which is likely alright for the altitude and speeds it was asked to work at, although that’s still significantly better than the similarly sized Audi and Subaru referenced above. And a lot better than our old friend Jenny’s Jeep pickup at the opposite pump although she can carry more gardening tools than this Lexus can!
Handling and roadholding is quite good for a CUV, although this one is obviously smaller and lower than most and the weight of the battery likely helps as well along with the occupants sitting low, but much credit likely also goes to the F Sport package’s suspension tuning and 225/50-18 Bridgestone Turanza EL450 RunFlat tires. As with the last car I drove with runflats, the tires were surprisingly supple and not harsh over bumps and expansion joints; runflat tires seem to have come a long way in the last few years in that regard.
Steering is quick and fairly immediate with a tightly controlled on-center feel, enabling confident turn-in although absolute under-tire feel is fairly masked. It’s not a racer, but it is a good riding sort-of-sporty CUV that isn’t wallowy and floppy at all.
Braking is a little odd in that it’s partly regenerative and partly normal pads and discs but as you actually try stop the technologies hand off to each other and sometimes it doesn’t gel exactly right, so for example when driving normally and just slowing for a corner it all feels perfectly normal. However when coming to a complete stop for a red light for example sometimes the braking force changes even when the pressure placed on the pedal remains perfectly constant, forcing a minor adjustment towards the end of either more or less pressure to get to the actual stopping point as desired. It’s not horrendous but is noticeable at times, however it also isn’t uncommon in hybrid vehicles and more noticeable both at first and if jumping back and forth between hybrid and non-hybrid vehicles.
Everything feels solid and of course being a Lexus built in Japan (at Miyawaka in Fukuoka) includes that fanatical devotion to fit and finish with everything just so precise and perfect. While based on a relatively basic platform, it exudes a quality feel and more solidity than one might assume, in other words it is well worthy of the stylized “L” badge.
Priced at $36,350 to start including the F Sport package, this particular UX250h was fairly comprehensively equipped including Apple CarPlay AND Android Auto (which are both finally making their way across the entire Toyota and Lexus universe), LED format for all of the exterior lighting including an absolutely delicious across-the-entire-rear light strip that my photo does not do justice to, Aluminum roof rails, Navigation system, most of the items I’ve mentioned earlier but also these items that comprise the F Sport package: The above-mentioned wheels and tires, different front and rear bumpers and grille insert, LED fog and cornering lamps, Sport seats, steering wheel with paddle shifters, and shift knob, Aluminum sill plates and pedals, an 8″ Multi-Information display, Active Sound Control and the suspension tuning.
In addition to the unavoidable $1,025 destination charge, this car also had a number of stand-along options, among them the Wireless Charger ($75), Windshield De-Icer ($100), Auto-Dimming mirror with HomeLink ($325), Head Up Display ($500), Parking Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert with Braking ($565), Power Rear Hatch with Kick Sensor ($600), and a $595 charge for the Premium Paint color (Ultrasonic Blue Mica) that is pretty much just as vibrant in real life as in the pictures.
But wait, there’s more! The F Sport Premium Package includes the Moonroof, Blind Spot Monitor (which should be standard), Heated Front Seats, Rain Sensing Wipers (all for $1,475), adding heat to the steering wheel ($150), Roof Rack Cross Bars ($400) and then sundry items such as door edge guards, winter floor liners, cargo mats, wheel locks for a combined $700 to round it all out to a grand total of $42,890.
A hefty sum to be sure but perhaps worthy. After all, this car is bound to be a faithful companion for years to come, through thick and thin, with likely few demands on its owner while obediently going through the daily routine without complaint. There’s value in that as well as the luxury component, I can embrace a less is more ethos and sometimes find that luxury on a small scale is far more powerful than something larger slathered in the same veneers; at some point luxury can perhaps turn to garishness unless very carefully curated.
Yet again, I was surprised by a vehicle that I was basically unfamiliar with beyond having looked at one at an auto show a couple of years ago. Lexus has an interestingly large variety of models that while at an extremely casual glance seem similar but really aren’t, and are much more individual in practice than the identically colored ones in the model shoots would have one think.
It’s definitely not the right car for everyone, or likely even most people and with some of its limitations further affecting its appeal, but it is a very interesting individualistic option for those that demand something different from the superficial norm. In short, it’s funky, and frankly all the better for it.
Thank you to Lexus for graciously loaning us this vehicle to test along with a tank of fuel.