Driven! Lexus UX 250h Hybrid Crossover

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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Sometimes less is more. That’s the rationale behind the modern urban lifestyle: Live simply, lower your carbon footprint, use technology to maximize your free time. It’s also a sentiment Lexus ascribes to the UX, its newest crossover.

  • The 2019 Lexus UX is a subcompact luxury vehicle that’s so tiny it’s actually more of a small hatchback than an SUV.
  • The UX 200 has a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, while the UX 250h uses a hybrid version of the same engine paired with a novel all-wheel-drive system.
  • Starting price for the UX is just $33,175, making it the least expensive Lexus vehicle; the hybrid version costs $2,000 extra.

Lexus UX 250h
The Lexus UX 250h is styled like a crossover, but it’s more car than SUV. (Photo: Lexus)

Little competition

There’s not much choice in this little sliver of the market, as the only other premium hybrid mini-ute is the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 plug-in. The Countryman’s BMW X1 cousin will also spawn a PHEV version next year; BMW owns the Mini brand and the X1 and Countryman share mechanicals. But this is it for competition for the UX 250h.

There aren’t even many small hybrid crossovers from mainstream brands. The short list includes the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, and the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid — and those last two are bigger than the little Lexus. The UX rides low to the ground like a car, more closely resembling the Toyota Prius than any of those SUVs.

Lexus UX 250h
If anyone knows hybrids it’s Toyota – which owns the Lexus luxury brand. (Photo: Lexus)

Prius-like

The UX and Prius actually share a platform, meaning the vehicles have some common parts and engineering, which are also found in the Toyota Corolla and Toyota CH-R. (Toyota makes a hybrid version of both of these models, but only the Corolla Hybrid is sold in the U.S.) Most of this commonality is hidden beneath the very different bodies and interiors of each vehicle. And in the case of the Lexus, a unique 2.0-liter four-cylinder pulls the UX 250h further from the Toyota side of the family.

That engine is the same one found in the non-hybrid version of the UX, where it is rated at 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. In the hybrid, the UX’s continuously variable transmission is replaced by Toyota’s familiar two-motor hybrid system, which brings total system horsepower up to 181. The UX 250h also borrows the rear electric motor from the Prius AWD-e, giving the Lexus hybrid all-wheel-drive, unavailable in the non-hybrid. This is not the sort of robust four-by-four system for off-roading or tackling deep snow. The rear electric motor makes only 7 horsepower (about what you’d find in a self-propelled lawnmower) and is more for getting up a slippery driveway; it doesn’t even operate at speeds above 43 miles per hour.

2019 Lexus UX 250h
The Lexus UX is shapely, but its steeply raked hatchback obstructs rearward vision. (Photo: Lexus)

Size: Extra-small

Driving the UX 250h is an exercise in managing expectations. If your frame of comparison is a commodity car, the Lexus might be revelatory. It has a quiet cabin and extremely comfortable seats, at least up front. The suspension easily absorbs pothole impacts while remaining firm enough to inspire driving confidence, so long as you don’t attack any mountain roads. Put the UX 250h into sport mode and it delivers good throttle response, the sort of low-speed city punchiness that evaporates as soon as you need to pull into freeway traffic. Overall it mostly looks and feels like a small, sporty luxury hatchback. Lexus used to make something like this called the CT200h.

Lexus says it is pitching the new UX — which stands for “urban crossover,” duh — at young people buying their first luxury vehicle. Probably enough of those potential customers will be trading up from a hand-me-down Prius that the UX 250h might seem a legitimate next step. But if you’re coming at it from the other direction, or any other Lexus product, you’re probably going to be less impressed.

Most of the problem is that the UX is just too small. The cargo area is cramped thanks to the steeply raked hatchback, and in the 250h further capacity gets eaten up by the power inverter that sits below the load floor. Rear visibility is poor, victimized by the styling of the thick pillars and hatch. The best thing that can be said about the backseat is that it is “child-friendly,” but good luck climbing back there to deal with carseats and boosters.

The Lexus UX dashboard
The Lexus UX dashboard looks high-tech and modern, but it overwhelm the small space. (Photo: Lexus)

Lots of Lexus

Even the front of the UX feels tight, in part because Lexus has crammed its full driver’s cockpit instrumentation, infotainment system, and luxury car dashboard into the space. This is all cool stuff, with a modern looking design, but its horizontal orientation doesn’t really work here. So little room is left over that controls for the audio system were relocated on the center console. The dials and buttons are arranged around a square of plastic like on an old transistor radio. Very Japanese, but not very intuitive to use.

Speaking of which, the UX 250h is also saddled with the same touchpad interface that has been a deal-breaker in every other recent Lexus. At least corporate parent Toyota has recently gotten on board with Apple CarPlay, although Android Auto is still a no-go. The touchpad is really a shame, as it would be preferable for the UX to just use a version of the touchscreen found in Toyota’s mainstream models — Prius included.

Mileage matters

Notice that the Prius keeps popping up here. That’s because provided you can get over the fact that it’s not a luxury vehicle, it is an altogether better hybrid. It may not be as nice or as quiet as the UX and its smaller engine makes it even duller to drive, but a Prius AWD-e hits 50 miles-per-gallon combined in EPA testing. The UX250h manages just 39. The Prius is also a bit bigger, which makes it roomier and gives it greater cargo capacity than the UX. And you can load up the all-wheel-drive Prius model and still not hit the starting price of the Lexus.

The value proposition of the Lexus UX 250h hinges entirely on your determination to not just drive a small hybrid, but one that also pretends to be a crossover and comes from a luxury brand. Which seems to miss the original point. Sometimes less can be more, but in this case, more can also be less.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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