by Frank A. Aukofer

Not inclined to be a cowboy trailing the fast-moving herd of small luxury crossover SUVs, Lexus introduces its 2019 UX with a choice of conventional or hybrid power trains.

This is not its first rodeo. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, marketed the CT200h, a compact hybrid hatchback with the same powertrain as the popular Toyota Prius, from 2011 to 2017.

D55_5157Now it rides into the fray with the UX against subcompact crossovers like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1. The entry-level UX slots below the compact NX and gives Lexus a full array of crossovers and SUVs. Unlike SUVs, constructed like trucks with bodies on frames, crossovers are built with unit bodies like automobiles.

Lexus crossovers now include the UX, NX and the midsize RX. At the top of the lineup are the GX and LX, both truck-based SUVs.

Lexus identifies the UX as an urban crossover, which suggests that it is not intended as a long-distance traveler. But that could be said about many small vehicles that owners customarily drive across country. The UX can certainly do the same.

DSC_0497But its personality, as Lexus describes it, is that of a “creative urban explorer,” a runabout aimed to tantalize younger buyers more attuned to cityscapes than suburban/rural areas. Like others of its ilk, the UX has four doors, carries four passengers and a fifth uncomfortably center-rear, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat.

There are two versions: the front-wheel drive UX 200, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer estimates a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds with a top speed of 118 mph. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 29/37/33 mpg on regular fuel. Starting price is $33,025, including the destination charge.

DSC_0197The other, the focus here, is the hybrid UX 250h, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working with twin electric motor generators. The system delivers 181 hp on regular gasoline. All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential.

An unusual apparent shortcoming: Lexus says the UX 250h’s all-wheel drive operates only up to 43 mph, after which it becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle.

According to Lexus, that’s because the UX all-wheel drive system is electronic instead of mechanical. It operates in all-wheel drive at lower speeds when needed and front-drive at higher speeds for optimal efficiency and fuel economy. But road conditions mitigated by all-wheel drive can get nasty at more than 43 mph.

DSC_0128The zero-to-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds is slightly better than the UX 200’s, with the top speed of 110 less than the UX 200. But the hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 41/38/39 and its starting price is $35,025, or $2,000 more than the UX 200’s.

The tested UX 250h came with options that included a navigation system, soft-touch interior trim called Washi, blind spot monitoring, a motorized sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, garage-door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror. The options brought the as-tested price up to $38,900, and a spokesperson said a fully loaded UX250h could reach $41,000.

Both the UX 200 and the hybrid UX 250h are frisky around-town performers with acceleration that feels quicker than the numbers would indicate. They get the power to the pavement through continuously variable automatic transmissions, which sometimes can feel as if they are high-revving and slipping.

DSC_0170These do not. In the 200, the CVT uses a mechanical gear to get an initial boost off the line; in the 250h the boost comes from the electric motors. It can mimic the shift feel of a stepped 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. There is a noticeable loud growl under hard acceleration with the 200. The 250h hybrid is quieter and feels stronger, tighter and more planted overall.

Both UX models come standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, adaptive radar cruse control and lane departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning is optional.

There are three trim packages: Premium, Luxury and F-Sport. The last, available on both the 200 and 250h, comes with suspension modifications and special 18-inch alloy wheels to enhance handling. The tradeoff is a stiffer though not punishing ride.

DSC_1306Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus UX 250h four-door crossover SUV.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with two electric motor-generators; 181 system hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT).
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 86/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,605 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 41/38/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,025.
  • Price as tested: $37,875.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

D55_4132Photos (c) Lexus