The 2019 Lexus UX is the smallest and cheapest Lexus you can buy, and the UX 250h hybrid model just barely misses out being the most fuel efficient. As an entry into the Lexus brand, this subcompact crossover is generally an impressive effort, embodying the design, quality, features and driving experience we've come to expect – albeit with understandable cutbacks made to achieve its lower price.
However, the UX faces stiff competition. It has one of the smallest cabins in a segment not known for its spaciousness, and its Remote Touch tech interface constantly frustrates. And while fuel economy is exceptional for the segment, its acceleration is underwhelming regardless of whether you get the UX 250h or gas-only UX 200. Worse still, you can only get the latter with front-wheel drive. In other words, this is a car with distinct highs and lows.
What's new for 2019?
The Lexus UX is an all-new model for 2019. It is mechanically based on the same platform that underpins most new Toyota models such as the Toyota C-HR and Toyota Corolla, as well as the Lexus ES sedan. It slots into the bottom of the Lexus SUV lineup below the NX.
What's the interior and in-car technology like?
From the comfortable and supportive driver seat, the UX looks and feels like a proper Lexus. The design is consistent with, but, refreshingly, not a copy of other models. There are common details like the drive mode setting selectors that sprout from the instrument panel and the F-Sport's sliding gauge cluster within, while the available 10.25 infotainment display is perched atop a low, flat dash. The materials covering the dash and front doors are appropriate for this luxury price point and consistent with the ES 350, if not higher-priced Lexus models. By contrast, the hard plastic door panels in the rear are disappointingly more consistent with a Toyota Corolla.
However, the UX features unique touches (we like the contrast-color dash and door trim available) and offers different controls than other Lexus models. The climate system is operated by unique toggle switches, while the air vents have little rotary controllers that look and feel better than those in a Lexus ES. Now, the UX has been afflicted by the same curse as its various siblings – the Remote Touch tech interface – and while it's still perpetually frustrating and distracting, there are some noteworthy advancements.
First, Apple CarPlay is standard and with fewer icons on the screen to select, Remote Touch might actually work better with Apple's interface than it does with its own. Second, the UX groups controls for volume and tuning, plus menu shortcuts for radio and media, in the wrist-rest aft of the Remote Touch control pad. This keeps these commonly used items closer at hand – much as BMW's iDrive or Audi's previous MMI interface do – which is an improvement over other Lexus that place them up on the dash. Basically, your hand and eyes are moving less, which is good.
The Lexus UX is among the smallest of the smallest SUV segment. Although its overall length is actually greater than rivals like the BMW X2 and Volvo XC40, its wheelbase and interior dimensions trail them greatly. It is considerably shorter in height than the XC40 and Cadillac XT4. Basically, the UX is a compact hatchback with a slight ground clearance increase – well, in theory, as Lexus hasn't published an official number.
You're going to notice the UX's pinchy dimensions in the back seat. Taller drivers will need to slide their seat forward in order for anyone to sit behind them, while the sloping roofline means heads will be pinched – or at least be closer to the roof than they might be in rival crossovers. Really, only the Mercedes GLA is less friendly to rear seat passengers.
The same can be said of cargo capacity. Lexus says the UX 200 has 21.7 cubic feet of space behind its back seat, which would be the same as the BMW X2. However, in our real-world testing (see video below), the UX didn't come close to the X2's luggage-carrying potential. The UX 250h has even less capacity due to a higher load floor. When we re-did the luggage test, the hybrid was incapable of fitting one of the mid-size, check-in suitcases that the UX 200 could.
Lexus hasn't published a maximum cargo capacity number, but we would estimate that it would be in the same ballpark as the GLA's 43.6 cubic-feet – again, about what you'd get in a compact hatchback. The UX also has a notably high lift-over height.
What's the performance and fuel economy?
Like everything in its segment, the UX 200 has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. However, it's missing one key ingredient: a turbocharger. As such, this engine that admittedly impresses in the 2020 Toyota Corolla is seriously outgunned in this company with 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Most competitors start in the 200s. The UX 200 is also exclusively paired with front-wheel drive and Toyota's new direct-shift CVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission that simulates 10 gears. Lexus estimates the UX 200 will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, which is glacial for the segment.
Unlike anything else in the segment, however, the UX 250h is a hybrid that pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with either two electric motors (front-wheel drive) or three (all-wheel drive). Overall output is 181 hp, which helps shave a few ticks off the 0-60 time (8.6 seconds FWD, 8.7 seconds AWD).
EPA-estimated fuel economy is exceptional for the segment, regardless of powertrain. The UX 200 achieves 29 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined. The UX 250h hybrid gets 43/41/42 with FWD and 41/38/39 with AWD. In our week of testing, we achieved 38.1 mpg in the UX 250h.
What's it like to drive?
The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and Toyota's clever new continuously variable transmission is an impressive powertrain ... in the new Toyota Corolla. In the UX 200, it feels every bit as weak-kneed when accelerating as you'd expect in comparison to turbocharged competitors. Worse still, the CVT may simulate gears and features a literal first gear to improve fuel economy and drivability (see our Corolla Hatchback First Drive), but the resulting power delivery feels odd. Sometimes it seems like a dual-clutch automated manual, sometimes it feels like a CVT, but it never feels normal. Or rather, it doesn't feel refined enough for a luxury-branded vehicle.
This is a shame, because like other recently introduced Lexus models, the UX demonstrates impeccably poised handling without sacrificing ride quality. This is a nicely tuned chassis. The well-calibrated steering actually encourages you to drive, with effort that remains linear and consistent regardless of whether you're in Normal or Sport. The latter adds just the right amount of extra resistance and response when you want to have some fun, but Normal isn't so loosey-goosey that we automatically reached for the drive mode select knob after turning the car on.
As for the UX 250h, the extra torque and silent, smooth operation of its added electric motor ultimately improve the driving experience. It makes the UX seem quicker and more refined, in addition to the obvious fuel economy benefits. That said, the battery's added weight seems to negate some the UX 200's agility through corners. It just doesn't seem as fun and playful. That, in addition to the reduced cargo capacity, would give us pause, but in total, the hybrid seems like the better choice.
Can I read more about the Lexus UX?
What features are available and what's the price?
The base 2019 Lexus UX 200 starts at $34,025, including the $1,025 destination charge. The UX 250h hybrid starts at $35,025.
Their standard equipment is basically equal, including 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, proximity entry and push-button start, adaptive cruise control, a variety of accident avoidance tech (see safety section below), dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a 60/40-split folding back seat, "NuLuxe" simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the Remote Touch tech interface (7-inch display, touchpad controller), four USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa integration, in-car WiFi, satellite radio and a six-speaker sound system.
The Premium package adds a sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and automatic wipers.
There are two optional packages/trim levels: Luxury and F Sport.
The Luxury ($38,225 UX 200; $40,225 UX 250h) includes the Premium items plus auto-dimming mirrors, a hands-free power liftgate, blind-spot warning, driver memory settings, integrated navigation, a 10.25-inch Remote Touch display, and an eight-speaker sounds system.
The F Sport ($35,025 UX 200; $37,025 UX 250h), which creates a more performance-oriented appearance and driving experience. It adds special 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, special styling, sport seats, steering wheel paddle shifters, an upgraded digital instrument panel, and a system that makes the engine sound a bit racier. The Luxury's extra items are available on the F Sport as options.
Other options include upgraded headlights, wireless smartphone charging, a head-up display, and parking sensors.
What's its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Beyond the usual airbag and stability aides, every UX comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and Lexus Safety Connect emergency services. Blind-spot warning is optional.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the UX a Top Safety Pick for its best-possible performance in all crash tests plus a rating of "Superior" for its forward collision prevention system. It also got a Good+ rating for LATCH child seat anchor ease of use. Subpar "Acceptable" and "Poor" headlight ratings kept it from achieving the best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
How does it compare to other subcompact luxury crossovers?
In the below chart, we compare the dimensions and engine specs of the Lexus UX vs the BMW X2, Volvo XC40, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. You can also create your own comparison with the Autoblog Compare Cars feature.