Road Test: The 2019 Lexus UX 250h Is Your Mom’s New (Small) Luxury Grocery-Getter
Crossovers and SUVs of all sizes have taken over the automotive world, accounting for 60 percent of total tales at the end of 2018. What may be surprising for some is the number of subcompact crossovers, especially in the luxury class.
Lexus admittedly is late to the subcompact crossover segment, but it hopes to make up ground in the smallest niche of crossover SUVs with the 2019 UX by offering an intriguing combination of hybrid technology and flashy design. It’s betting that the UX 250h and gasoline-powered UX 250 can effectively take on rivals Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
If luxury subcompact crossovers have caught your eye, here are 5 things I learned when I drove the Lexus UX 250h hybrid.
Smallest, Least-Expensive Lexus
Riding on a 103.9-inch wheelbase, at 177.0 inches from head-to-toe, the 2019 UX is longer than any premium subcompact SUV rival. That equates to generous, for a subcompact, front seat head- and leg room, as well as fairly comfortable seating for two six-footers in the rear.
It also sits slightly lower than the others, giving the driver a feeling that is more car-like than a small crossover.
Slotting below the Lexus NX 300 compact crossovers, the 2019 UX 250 is now the most affordable Lexus model available. Like the larger NX, the UX comes in two configurations. The $35,025 Lexus UX 250h hybrid has all-wheel drive, and the $33,025 Lexus UX 200 gas-powered version has front-wheel drive. Each version comes in three trim levels: Premium, Luxury, and F Sport.
All 2019 Lexus UX crossover SUVs get run flat tires, power features, cruise control, air conditioning, power front seats, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, LED headlights, keyless ignition and a 7.0-inch wide display screen.
Premium models have a power sunroof, a washi textured dash, synthetic leather seats with heating and cooling. No Lexus UX can be ordered with leather upholstery. Luxury versions add to that a power tilt/telescope steering, blind-spot monitors, and a hands-free tailgate.
F Sport models are distinguished by a mesh version of the front spindle grille, an exclusive rear bumper, 18-inch alloy wheels and jet-black trim on the front and rear moldings. F Sport models also receive interior and performance upgrades.
All-New “Dynamic Force” Engine
A fourth-generation Lexus hybrid system has found its way into the 2019 UX 250h. It starts with an all-new Atkinson lean-burn cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine has a thermal efficiency of around 40 percent, meaning it has one of the most efficient small luxury powerplants available.
The engine teams with two electric motors to produce a combined 175 horsepower channeled through a complex electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). The hybrid offers electric all-wheel drive with a dedicated electric motor generator integrated into the rear differential. The rear motor provides all-wheel-drive traction at speeds of up to 44 mph, where it ceases power delivery and the UX 250h then begins to operate in front-drive mode.
Lexus pegs the UX hybrid’s 0-60 mph times at 8.6 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 110 mph.
The UX 250h has a 180-cell, 24 kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery, which is located under the rear seats along with its cooling system so the car’s center of gravity is lowered and doesn’t take up cargo space.
The UX gets Drive Mode Select, a twistable knob unusually situated on the side of the driver display cowl but easy to access, offering three settings. Beyond “middle-ground” Normal, Eco tempers throttle responses, while EV allows driving short distances on battery-power only.
Fuel economy for the 2019 Lexus UX 250h is EPA rated at 41 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. Depending where you drive you could achieve a bit more fuel economy since the UX is now able to coast in EV mode up to 71 mph downhill for short stretches.
A new system Lexus calls Predictive Efficient Drive analyzes driving habits and road and traffic conditions to optimize battery charge and discharge on the UX 250h. The system gathers more data the longer you’re on the road to help you drive more efficiently. In addition, Predictive Deceleration Support uses the information gathered to anticipate the places where you’re likely to slow down or stop and increases regenerative braking to improve energy recovery and battery recharging.
Design Is Recognizably Lexus
The 2019 UX 250h’s catchy sheet metal exterior design employs so many cuts, creases and shiny chrome details that it cannot help but stand out from the crowd. Its dramatic styling still forces bystanders to choose sides. Given how well the similarly designed NX and RX SUVs sell, it seems likely that plenty of Lexus loyalists will.
Dramatic styling starts with an hourglass-shaped spindle grill with an appealing texture. It pairs with a hood that gives more illusion of length than is really there. The lightning-bolt LED headlights stand out, but it’s the tail end that garners the strongest reactions. Its LED light bar runs the width of the tailgate and culminates in either end with delicate fins.
A Look Inside
Interior space is a notable step up from the likes of the Mercedes GLA-Class and Infiniti QX30. Front passengers get eight-way power front seats on all models. The base seats wear cloth upholstery, and some versions can sport a pretty two-tone blue-and-grey interior with a grippy texture pressed into the material. A decently roomy center console splits the front seats. A smartphone tray with wireless charging sits ahead of the shift lever.
There is a whole swath of thumb buttons on the steering wheel that might be confusing for some and another host of buttons on the dash. The infotainment system is controlled by the touch sensitive pad to the right of the gear shifter while most other functions are controlled by the aforementioned array of buttons.
Standard and available features include navigation, premium audio, Apple CarPlay compatibility, a sunroof and in-car Alexa service that brings driving and shopping together under one sheet-metal roof.
In the second row tall passengers get treated to very good leg- and head-room for adults. Lexus claims 33.1 inches of rear leg-room; in real-world terms, it puts the UX crossover a good margin ahead of competitors in physical space and people-carrying utility. Lexus even fits a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and puts two USB ports in back, so everyone can rest and recharge.
Cargo room of 17.1 cubic feet is on the smaller end of useful. But the fold-down rear seats telegraph the UX’s intent: it’s likely to be a two-seater most of the time, with the storage area crammed with weekend finds or weekend bags.
Not seen is the arm’s length of standard safety gear, much of which is optional on rivals. Lexus Safety System+ suite comes standard on the 2019 UX lineup. This suite bundles together forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection that also works at night, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning.
Should you want more driver assist features, the 2019 UX is available with the Lexus Co Drive option, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane tracing assist, adaptive high beams and road sign assist.
Driving the 2019 Lexus UX 250h
Driving the 2019 Lexus UX hybrid was a pleasant surprise compared to others in its size class. The compliant suspension hid all but the very worst lumps and bumps in the road and the hybrid powertrain remained hushed even at high speeds. The CVT gearbox did send the revs soaring when I floored the throttle, but took things more gently when driven normally.
In town driving is where I began appreciating the UX’s small size. It effortlessly moved through city traffic and easily slipped between cars when changing lanes. The 34-foot turning circle became apparent when sliding into tight parking spaces.
I must say that the button-heavy steering wheel took some getting used to, although it was all intuitive enough once I became familiar with it.
Power output of 176 horsepower doesn’t sound like much for a vehicle that weighs in at 3,605 pounds. But with the instant torque of the electric motors combined with gas engine, merging into fast moving freeway traffic was anxiety free. Once mixed in with traffic, the UX 250h never struggled to keep up with the traffic speeds of 75-80 mph.
With electric power steering, front struts and a compact multi-link rear suspension design, the Lexus UX didn’t overpromise on alluring handling, though it delivered a very smooth ride for such a small car. There was a surprising agility on twisty roads, improved further by Active Cornering Assist, which monitors the trajectory through curves and applies the appropriate braking on the inside wheels to suppress understeer.
I was impressed with the run flat tires. The UX didn’t suffer from a harsh, stinging ride, but moved through bumps, rather than crashing through them. I credited a more relaxed set of run-flat sidewalls, and less stiff coils in the UX’s suspension, for the absorbent ride.
While there were several surprises with the 2019 Lexus UX 250h, fuel economy was not one of them. After 256 miles of mixed city, freeway and two lane country roads, we averaged 40.2 mpg.
If you want a hassle-free, cheap-to-run and good-to-drive luxury subcompact crossover with a beautifully built interior and a punchy hybrid powertrain, the 2019 Lexus UX 250h should be at or near the top of your list for consideration.
Beyond that is the Lexus dealer experience, it is unmatched when it comes to buying a vehicle or taking it in for service.
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