2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Review by David Colman +VIDEO
A curious amalgamation worth consideration
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
In 2019, Lexus upped the ante in the mini crossover market when it replaced the unlamented CT 200h with their new entry level luxury SUV, the UX 250. Whereas the CT 200 was only available in hybrid form, the UT model range covers all the bases, from the base issue UX 200 ($32,300) to the sporty handling UX 200 F Sport ($34,300). At the top of the pecking order sit a pair of hybrid versions based on the Toyota Prius drivetrain. Pricing of the UX 250h F Sport starts at $36,500, while the model we drove, the UX 250h Luxury is priced at $39,550. After the addition of 7 options totaling $4,125, the bottom line on our test Lexus read $44,700. That's a substantial investment for an SUV that is so small it won't carry a bicycle inside the cabin. It's also a lot to spend for an engine that makes just 181hp and drives through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Despite those shortcomings, the UX 250h has a number of positives that make it appealing to luxury SUV shoppers looking for a super compact model. Topping the list is All Wheel Drive. Along with the 250h F Sport, the UX 250h is the only UX variant available with all wheel drive. Standard issue, less expensive UX 200 models make do with a 2.0 liter 4 producing 169hp. AWD models couple a 2.5 liter 4 to a rear mounted electric motor. This hybrid combination increases total system output to 181hp. The electric motor operates part time, mainly at road speeds under 40mph. Above that threshold, the electric power shuts down and the AWD system reverts to FWD. The CVT transmission offers 10 steps or stages to manage engine performance, with a manually manipulated gear shift stick on offer. No steering wheel paddles are provided.
According to Lexus, the UX 250h will reach 60mph from a standstill in 8.9 seconds and record a top speed of 118mph. But despite those promising numbers, at no time does the UX feel like it has enough punch to satisfy your acceleration needs. We spent a lot of time priming the pump by downshifting the "Direct Shift" transmission to little avail. Simply put, there's not enough power available in any gear to compensate for the UX' 3307lb curb weight. But the upside of the Prius-derived drivetrain becomes apparent when you refill the gas engine's mini-sized 10.6 gallon gas tank. At that point, you realize that the hybrid UX is one of the most economical SUXs to operate today, traveling 41 miles for each gallon of gas used in city driving, and posting 38MPG on the highway. For that reason alone, the US DOT rates the UX hybrid at 9 on a scale of 10 for Fuel Economy, and states you will save $2,250 over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle.
Inside, the UX Luxury model offers a stark contrast between the front and rear seat experience. Up front, the seats are cosseting and well provisioned. The driver's seat offers 10 adjustment modes plus 2 stages of lumbar support, while the passenger seat is 8-way adjustable. Both fronts are heated and ventilated, and the steering wheel is heated for an up-charge of $150. That wheel is really well designed, with a cushy and compliant rim and 14 different controls embedded within its horizontal spokes. The dash top is well manicured, with a nicely inset 7" color panel providing all the information you could ever need about your infotainment system. To control all other important HVAC functions, Lexus has provided a double row of rocker-type switches that are a welcome advance over distracting menu-based offerings that are all the rage these days. We especially liked the way Lexus matched the height of the display panel to the height of the instrument binnacle. This clever integration of surfaces avoids the "drive-in movie screen" look so common to most contemporary dashboards Unfortunately, all that good planning doesn't extend to the back seat, which proved tight, confining and uncomfortable.
Handling of this short wheelbase (104") SUV was satisfyingly direct, thanks to its best-in-class turning radius of 17.1 ft. 18 inch, 5 spoke alloy rims rims at each corner, shod with run-flat Bridgestone Turanza EL 430 rubber (225/50RF18) provided predictable grip and obviated the need for a spare tire or air pump. That space gain is beneficial because interior cargo room is at a premium due to the battery and electric motor installation over the rear axle. While we were impressed with what Lexus calls the "provocative details" that decorate the dashboard and door panels with deviated color stitching, we were not so taken with the limp rear cargo screen which proved too flimsy for use.
The smallest Lexus of all is a curious amalgamation, with highs (front seats, AWD, great controls) undercut by an underpowered engine, and a tight rear seat. But if you value operational economy over other considerations, the UX 250h Luxury is still worth your consideration.
2020 LEXUS UX 250h LUXURY
ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline 4, plus rear electric motor
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 41MPG City/38MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $44,700
HYPES: Small and Nimble City SUV
GRIPES: Tight Interior, Down on Power
STAR RATING: 8 Stars out of 10