It’s no secret that Lexus practically invented the luxury SUV category when it first debuted the RX a few decades ago. The RX was a hit and it rode a proverbial sales rocket towards the top of the segment. Despite some recent challenges by a few rivals, Lexus is clearly trying to replicate the success of that model. It’s doing so by introducing a diverse range of smaller crossover models but can models like the 2020 UX 250h hybrid bring some much needed to the lineup? Or is it a noteworthy dead end?
Controversial styling reigns supreme on UX
The 2020 Lexus UX continues to draw its fair share of controversy when it comes to its exterior design. On the one hand the UX s a very good representation of current Lexus design themes. The front fascia is still very aggressive looking with the front spindle grille being meshed with sleek looking headlights. The UX is actually the smallest Lexus offering available and as such it actually does look like a lifted hatchback from some angles.
Lexus reps revealed to us that this small size was intentional with the UX designed to appeal to urban city dwellers that need to navigate narrow alleys and city streets. The side profile of our green hued tester continues the athletic motif which then leads the eye to the rear and here is where perhaps the biggest debate rages. Some folks will say that the styling back there looks like it was slapped together at the last minute by a committee fueled only by Red Bull and Devo albums while others will say its too futuristic for its own good. Regardless of which camp you ultimately reside in the rear hatch is arguably the most expressive part of the UX with a rear lightbar unifying the taillights while a tidy rear roof spoiler helps add some sportiness to the design.
UX models are available in three distinct flavors (Base, F-Sport, and Luxury) with our range topping Luxury model bringing extra chrome trim and other minor changes to help it stand out better from its lesser siblings. As a whole, the exterior styling can still hold its own against rivals, but with more of them being updated or tweaked to better suit the styling tastes of customers, the UX does have the risk of looking dated especially over the next few years.
Compact size hides big car luxury
While the 2020 Lexus UX 250h might not look like an all in luxury car entry at first glance from the outside, slip inside and you are immediately reminded of just how luxurious it is. As mentioned, our tester arrived in Luxury guise, and that trim brings posh materials and a very attractive layout to consumers. It even came equipped with heated and cooled leather seats as well as a heated steering wheel which is a combination that’s still not seen too often in this segment. However, look past all of this and some of the UX’s finer flaws do make themselves apparent. For instance, the compact size as well as the sloping roofline do eat into rear passenger headroom while the cargo space is also smaller than some entries.
Speaking of the cargo area, we had the chance to put it to a small test when we tasked the pint sized Lexus with hauling a Serta Hybrid Mattress to the office. While we we’re initially concerned about how the mattress would fit inside our tester, it managed to squeeze inside after folding down one of the seats. While we suspect larger items will most likely not fit (based on how close the mattress box was to the roof liner,) the UX should still be a good grocery hauler.
Another prominent offender is the infotainment system (a constant complaint we have had with many other Lexus products over the years.) Using it is still very frustrating and it is a prominent distraction when out on the move. The trackpad is very sensitive and when paired with other illogical controls it does little to provide a user friendly experience. That’s a shame too since the system does come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Capability along with Amazon Alexa. Other goodies include a WiFi hotspot as well four USB ports with UX buyers having the option to add wireless charging a large 10.23 inch screen and more. However while all of these extras are nice, they do little to hide some of the more concrete flaws that exist in the infotainment system.
Fuel sipping engine delivers little driving excitement to UX owners
Before we go further, we might as well reveal that our tester delivered a solid showing in city driving, with the 2.0 liter four cylinder and its accompanying electric motor producing a combined 181 horsepower. That’s enough to help give the Lexus plenty of urban poise with some of the curvier roads in town allowing the tiny CUV to have good amounts of handling prowess. The hybrid system is also very poised and continues to maintain the stellar reputation of the brand’s other green models
The problems start when you take the UX out on the freeway where its façade comes crashing down. The engine makes 12 more horsepower than a standard UX, but the hybrid components and the battery pack add excess weight and that extra flab helps slow the UX down with our tester needing a lethargic 8.5 seconds to make the sprint to 60 mph. Our tester showed examples of this with the 2.0 liter being very gutless at the upper reaches of the rev band which helped it have considerable trouble when it came to passing other vehicles or even merging into lanes.
The rest of the blame also lies with the CVT which has a tuning map that’s focused mainly on fuel economy. As a result, low end punch at higher speeds is not available, and the CVT sometimes can’t figure out which ratio to go to on the fly which blunts acceleration further. This effect is especially noticeable when you compare the UX to rivals like the Volvo XC40, Mercedes GLA and the BMW X1 which offer better acceleration and a more balanced driving experience in the city and on the freeway.
Pricing for the 2020 Lexus UX 250h starts at $35,100 for a base model. Like other Lexus models, the trim lineup is split between the sporty $37,100 F-Sport and the $39,800 range topping Luxury model. Our Luxury grade model came equipped with some options which helped push the final sticker to just over $42,000. This pricing is on target with rivals and the 39 mpg combined rating helps give the hybrid a tremendous advantage in fuel efficiency especially since neither the BMW X1 or the Audi Q3 offer a hybrid option.
However, the UX is handicapped by its lackluster performance and infotainment equipment which causes it to lose valuable ground in the segment. The small cargo area is also another chink in the UX’s armor but we suspect that some savvy buyers will find ways to make full use of the space available which helps make it not as prominent of a handicap as some of the other ones mentioned.
Overall the 2020 Lexus UX 250h still has plenty of advantages to help it stand out from others in its segment. While it does noticeably lag behind some in basic performance and infotainment hardware. It’s fuel economy will be its biggest trump card and we suspect that will ultimately help the UX reach out to savvy urban explorers looking for a fun vehicle that fits their lifestyle.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.