SMALL CROSSOVER IMPRESSES
Lexus came to the party late with its new UX sub-compact crossover. Established crossovers, like the BMW X1, the Mercedes CLA and the Volvo XC40 have gotten a head start in this hot market. But don’t count the UX out. It’s distinct enough to get its share of the action.
To start with, the UX looks substantially more aggressive than its competition. The spindle-shaped grille, a signature element of Lexus design, along with the sharp angles of the front facia give the UX the look of a pint-sized street fighter. Altogether, It’s an “in your face” design, although to some, it might be a bit too much.
The interior, is more restrained. Instruments that are canted toward the driver and a thick, meaty steering wheel suggests that this might be a driver’s car. Padding on the dash, color-keyed to the upholstery, adds a luxury touch. However, hard plastic door panels suggest that the bean-counters had their say with some of the materials.
The Infotainment system sports a 7-inch screen (10.3 inches with optional navigation) and is controlled by the Lexus Remote Touch interface. Remote Touch operates like the touch pad on your laptop or smartphone. Although it’s very sophisticated, it’s hard to use without taking your eyes off the road. Fortunately, there are satellite radio controls on the console. Features, like Apple CarPlay, onboard Wi-Fi, Lexus Enform (smartphone linkage) and Amazon Alexa are standard.
The UX seats four, five in a pinch. Front seats have eight-way power adjusters, and are well- contoured. The seats in the back provide adequate head-and legroom, but feel confining. Storage capacity behind the seats is good at 21.5 cu-ft. on front-wheel drive cars, and 17.5 cu-ft. on AWD models.
Lexus offers the UX in two versions, a front-wheel drive UX200, with a 2.0-liter engine that delivers a modest 168 horsepower, and an all-wheel drive hybrid UX250h, which uses the same engine and two electric motors. It generates 175 hp. The power is not great, but it’s acceptable. However, gas mileage is impressive. The UX200 gets 33 mpg—the UX250h delivers an even better 38.
Both these engines are hooked up to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The CVT is unusual in that it utilizes a mechanical first gear. The idea is to generate a quicker, more natural-feeling launch from stop. Once underway, the transmission switches to the variable gearing of the CVT. The transition is seamless, and the feel of this CVT is more like a traditional automatic.
The UX comes in three levels of trim, Premium, F-Sport and Luxury. The Premium is equipped with a standard six-speaker audio system, leatherette seats with heating and cooling up front, and a power moonroof. F-Sport models get a stiffer suspension, distinctive trim and a sportier exhaust note. Luxury versions add a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, blind-spot monitors and a hands-free tailgate.
The UX outdoes its competition with standard safety equipment. Frontal-collision warning/intervention with pedestrian detection comes with no additional charge. So does adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane-departure correction. This last feature keep the UX centered in its lane with minor steering adjustments.
On the road, the UX is a pleasant surprise. It both handles and rides much better than might be expected. The steering is taut and precise, and delivers good feedback to the driver. The suspension keeps the wheels well-planted on twists and turns, and at the same time, delivers a compliant ride. Bumps in the pavement do not upset this car’s composure. The UX has the solid feel of a larger car.
Pricing for the UX200 models starts at $33,025 for the Premium, which is a bargain in this class. The F-Sport jumps up to $35,025. And the Luxury goes for $39,225. The UX250h hybrid versions add $2,000 to the bottom line.