► Smallest Lexus SUV
► Efficient hybrid power
► Comfort over sportiness
Premium-yet-compact SUV crossovers speak to a lot of buyers these days, so has the Lexus UX got what it takes to compete in a crowded marketplace?
Smallest of the Japanese luxury marque’s SUV hierarchy has a fight on its hands against all manner of competition including Audi’s Q2 and Q3, BMW’s X1 and X2, the E-Pace and Range Rover Evoque from Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes’ GLA and Volvo’s XC40. Most of these do most things well, so standing out could be a trial – although visually at least, the UX isn’t likely to mistaken for anything else.
That’s not to say it’s attractive, but it is certainly individual. And the interior is a class act as well.
What’s the Lexus UX name all about, then?
In these tech-savvy times when ICT parlance has leaked into everyday language, you’d be forgiven for assuming its naming initials might stand for User eXperience. Nope.
Much more rudimentary than that, this is Lexus’s urban crossover. Which sort of also accounts for the UX looking more like a tall hatchback than a rugged SUV.
Being a Lexus, presumably it’s a hybrid?
Lexus doesn’t just build hybrids, but you’re right: for a long time you could only buy the UX 250h ‘self-charging’ hybrid in the UK. Lexus has subsequently added the UX 300e electric model, but this review concentrates on the former, which is now available in quite the array of trim levels.
The UX 250h comes with front-wheel drive as standard, with an optional E-Four system available on higher-spec variants. This adds a second electric motor at the back to divert some of the drive to the rear wheels when extra traction’s required. It doesn’t get any extra actual performance, however (in fact, it’s slower 0-62mph), and we’d recommend sticking with FWD.
Regardless of specification, the total system output of the UX hybrid is now 181bhp – up from the original 176bhp, and achieved via a combination of 2.0-litre petrol and electric motor power. Though 0-62mph in an unchanged 8.5sec (8.7sec in the E-Four) is a reasonable effort, it somehow never really feels even that rapid. Although such is the smooth delivery that the speed you find yourself travelling can sometimes come as a shock.
Top speed is electronically capped at 110mph.
Justified and ancient?
Drive the UX 250h gently around town and it is very refined and hushed, going about its business with minimal fuss.
Call on it for a little more vigour, however, and you’ll still experience that high-pitched mooing sound that characterises a continually variable transmission – a planetary gearset labelled E-CVT in this instance – as well as the usual sensation that the engine speed isn’t quite in unison with the rate of acceleration.
These things are (much) better than they used to be, but all the trademarks are still there. Paddleshifters on the back of the steering wheel simulate a selection of gears, but you quickly tired of bothering with this (although it can sometimes help with deceleration).
Will it cost a pittance to run?
The UX 250h won’t be ultra-cheap to run, but it should prove more cost-efficient for urban dwellers than a diesel-engined rival. For while the electric battery is absolutely tiny by today’s plug-in hybrid standards, the system fitted here is highly optimised and does a remarkably good job of disengaging the petrol engine at every possible opportunity.
Refinement is so good at inner-city speeds that sometimes the only obvious clue to what’s propelling you is the EV light on the dashboard. The trouble is that as soon as you stand on the gas for a sustained amount of time outside of town, those efficiency gains begin to disappear. Fortunately, both the interior and the general driving experience invite you take it easy.
What is the Lexus UX like to drive?
Even by posh compact crossover standards, the UX is a diminutive car – which makes piloting it around town (and into parking spaces) something of a doddle. The controls are a little weightier than some previous Lexus preferences, so it feels a little more engaged as you start to go faster, but it’s quickly clear that entertaining the driver isn’t the first thing on the agenda.
It’s not that anything is particularly bad – direction changes are alert enough, and there’s not a great deal of body roll. It’s just that the UX doesn’t seem to be interested, and nothing you do behind the wheel seems like it’s going to change that. Competence and complacency abounds.
So instead of tearing about the place, you soon begin to appreciate the UX for its greater virtues – namely the relative silence and the impressive ride quality. There is some variance in the latter, as F Sport models have stiffer suspension to go with their 18-inch wheels and you can get adaptive dampers if you really want them. But whatever you go for, the UX is simply supremely unflustered by all but the very worst surfaces and expansion joints.
In this respect, it’s quite the contrast to some rivals. Wouldn’t go so far as to call it a breath of fresh air – it’s slightly too lethargic for that – but if you value comfort above agro, the UX could be worth a look.
Up front, the plushness continues, as Lexus has built a distinctive, modern cabin filled with top-notch materials, and available trimmed in spectacular fashion – if you’re brave enough to go for some of the more daring colour combinations.
We won’t even have to put up with the fiddly trackpad infotainment controller for much longer, as a 2023 model year update ushers in a brand-new touchscreen system and ditches it.
The problems come if you have any expectations of genuine practicality from your five-door SUV. The rear seats are cramped for leg- and headroom, and the concept of getting three adults in across the bench is a (not very good) joke. The awkwardly shaped door openings crown this shambles.
Worse still is the boot, which has a high lip and load floor. FWD models can at least access space beneath this, but the E-Four versions are limited to only what you see when the somewhat recalcitrant powered-tailgate gets itself out of the way. Which is less luggage room than you’ll find in the back of a Vauxhall Corsa.
You can fold the rear seats down to create more capacity, but anyone with a baggage-attached lifestyle is going to find the Lexus a pain.
Lexus UX 250h verdict
The interior is nice, and so lovingly put together, while the ride comfort and general refinement certainly deliver a relaxing experience. No arguing with the effectiveness of the Lexus hybrid system these days, either; this is a good solution for someone seeking eco-minded small-scale luxury transportation without routine access to a handy battery-replenishing plug socket. We should probably mention the 10-year warranty, too.
So, the UX hybrid is very likeable – unless you’ve been stuffed into the back for a long journey, probably – but somehow we still find it hard to drum up any real enthusiasm. The driving experience is just that bit too flat, and the practicality fails too pronounced.