Vehicles: 2021 Lexus UX 200 + 2021 UX 250h
MSRPs as tested: $38,330 / $45,400 (w/ luxury package)
Specs: 2.0L 4-Cylinder / 2.0L 4-Cylinder w/ hybrid system
Power: 168 hp + 151 lb-ft (UX 200) / 181 hp + 221 lb-ft (UX 250h)
0-100kmh as tested: 9.2s / 8.7s
Lexus's entry-level model isn't perfect, but it delivers an excellent 'city driving experience' along with a plush cabin, a composed ride + handling, great fuel economy, and sharp (if not a bit controversial) styling. But while it may shine in an urban environment, the anemic powertrain and limited cargo capacity make it less than ideal for highway cruising or family road trips. Even with these flaws, it’s hard to ignore the value proposition here. Starting at $38K CAD, UX is a great option for those who don't necessarily need the extra space or practicality of a true crossover, and are instead looking for a stylish luxury city commuter without breaking the bank.
Here’s the thing about the UX; it feels great to drive, so long as you don’t push it too hard. ’UX’ literally stands for “urban crossover”, so I guess it’s no surprise that this little Lexus feels right at home within the city, where owners will mostly be dealing with potholes and stop-and-go traffic, rather than twisty roads or highway cruising.
A small footprint and responsive steering make it easy to maneuver, and the extra electric torque from the hybrid model gives UX some very respectable passing power below 80km/h (anything past that and the electric torque dies off too early to really make a substantial difference). In fact, the combination of its instant torque, compact size, and sharp well-weighted steering make UX surprisingly fun to dart around town in. UX’s cabin is also impressively plush and well isolated from the road, giving its occupants a sense of calm even within the centre of a bustling city. Overall, the city driving experience is definitely on-par with what you’d expect from a Lexus product and is arguably more refined than rivals, in spite of being one of the least expensive vehicles in its class.
Highway Driving + Practicality
Things aren’t quite as rosy once you take the UX out of its comfort zone. The most noticeable deficiency is the lack of upper-end passing power, often forcing you to rev out that little 4-cylinder to its limits on the highway. While it’s true Lexus isn’t targeting enthusiasts with this subcompact crossover, there’s no getting around that 0-100km/h in 9 seconds simply isn’t befitting of a luxury vehicle. More importantly however, the small motor sounds and feels like it’s struggling when pushed (thanks in part to the droning CVT transmission), ruining an otherwise relaxing highway cruise.
UX also isn’t quite as practical as other compact crossovers. While the cabin is adequately spacious, the compact dimensions and stylish sloping roofline limits cargo capacity. Add to that the high trunk floor and the hybrid model’s trunk-mounted battery, and you’re looking at 17.1 cubic feet of trunk space (or around 22 cubic feet in the non-hybrid). For reference, the similarly-sized Audi Q3 and BMW X1 manage 23.7 and 27.1 cubic feet respectively.
We should also note that UX is exclusively FWD, unless you opt for the hybrid version which has its electric motors powering the rear wheels. Not that we had any issues in the snow either way, but if you’re looking for a versatile compact crossover that maximizes utility and can do it all, this might not be the car for you. UX excels as at being a practical luxury city car, and is best suited for those who mostly plan on using it as such.
Powertrains: Forget the base, get the hybrid
Lexus offers two powertrain choices with the UX and without a doubt the hybrid variant is the clear winner here. During our time with the UX 250h we managed an impressive 6.2L/100km in mixed driving (ironically it was more efficient in the city than on the highway), compared to the gas UX 200’s respectable 7.9L/100km. But efficiency alone is not what makes the hybrid model worth the extra $1800; rather, it was the substantially improved driving experience that won us over.
With electric power comes instant torque, giving UX 250h a more responsive throttle that helps it to feel a lot quicker than it actually is. It also gives UX a much needed power boost, raising horsepower and torque by 13hp and 70 lb-ft respectively, and cutting the uninspiring 0-100 run down by about 0.6 seconds. Lexus/Toyota has been mastering their hybrid systems for years now, and the engine is so well integrated here that you’ll barely ever notice the car switching over from electric to gas and vice versa.
The hybrid system also helps to negate the negative droning-effect from Lexus’s unique 2-speed CVT. In the gas version, the transmission offers one real upshift before resorting to awkwardly simulating gear shifts in an effort to try to feel more ‘normal’. In the hybrid it behaves more like a traditional CVT by holding RPMs steady, but thanks to the extra power from the electric motors it has to work a lot less, and rarely ever results in any droning engine noises unless pushed all the way. This results in silent and smooth uninterrupted power delivery at anything less than 50% throttle, making it feel more akin to an electric car than even some plug-in hybrids.
Interior: As plush as any other Lexus
Lexus pulled no punches when designing this interior. Lined with thick (faux) leather and plush materials throughout, it hardly feels like an 'entry-level' luxury product, and is even arguably sleeker and more modern-looking than its larger NX and RX brothers. Build quality is rock solid as usual, the seats are supremely comfortable, and you'll be hard pressed to find any cheap materials in here; even when specced with zero options.
Up front, UX adopts a customizable semi-digital instrument cluster, accompanied by a large 10.3 inch infotainment system. While the infotainment UI itself is still quite clunky, luckily Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, working surprisingly well with Lexus's long horizontal screen and touchpad input system. Positioning the drive-mode selector knob above the instrument panel is a bit of an unusual design choice, and the wireless charging pad (underneath the centre console) is positioned in a way that makes it hard to reach for your phone, but beyond this it's hard to find much to complain about, ergonomic wise. The centre console stack is also angled towards the driver making everything else easily accessible.
Little attention to detail, like the 3D-lights on the air vent knobs that light up at night or windows that retract noticeably quieter than most cars, really help to give the UX that premium feel. I do wish Lexus incorporated more ambient lighting on the inside though, especially with competitors like the 2021 Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3 adopting fancier lighting packages.