by Gerhard Horn
The Lexus UX seems like a godsend in comparison to previous small Lexus models like the CT200h hatchback. This entry-level model was a pretty poor attempt at cashing in on the brand's hard-earned reputation. It was slow, horrible to drive, and the styling was absurd. It looked like two completely different cars were welded together in the middle. The sales figures proved that the US market did not respond well to this hybrid hatch, which is why Lexus needed to rethink its strategy.
Luckily, the compact crossover boom gave Lexus the answer it was looking for. Instead of a hatch, it needed to do something more off-roady. To give it a unique selling point, it added a hybrid powertrain. But is it enough to beat competition from the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Volvo XC40?
While the nameplate is still relatively new, there are some changes being made to the 2021 Lexus UX. Most of these seemed to be aimed at addressing customer complaints. The UX250h is equipped with a new cargo board, increasing the luggage capacity from 17.1 cubic feet to 21.7 cubic feet. The throttle response has also been improved. As for the rest of the range, Autumn Shimmer and Silver Lining Metallic are dropped from the color palette. All models are now equipped with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as standard.
See trim levels and configurations:
Lexus has a fairly recognizable design language these days, standard across all of its models. The UX has a prominent hourglass grille, angular headlights, and a single light bar at the rear. In-between, you get sharp, angular lines. It may be too much for some, but if you want to stand out in the most hotly contested segment in the USA, you have to give people something to think about. All UX models have Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, and daytime running lights. The F-Sport takes it a step further by adding more aggressive front and rear bumpers, 18-inch alloys, and F-Sport badges.
In terms of size, the Lexus UX is somewhere in the middle compared to other luxury compact and subcompact crossovers. It stands 177 inches long with a width of 72.4 inches with the side mirrors folded in. A height of 60.6 inches and a 103.9-inch wheelbase gives the UX large overhangs. You can easily spot it from the front, with that massive grille and bumper. From this, we can conclude that the UX was never intended to do any real off-road activity. The gas-only UX weighs 3,307 pounds, while the heavier hybrid models have a weight of 3,605 lbs.
With such striking lines, you want a color that emphasizes the design. Even after removing Autumn Shimmer and Silver Lining from the palette, the UX is still available in a wide variety of hues. The UX looks good in every color, except for black, which dulls its sensuous curves. The full color lineup includes Eminent White Pearl, Nebula Gray Pearl, Atomic Silver, Obsidian, Caviar, Redline, Nori Green Pearl, Cadmium Orange, Ultra White, and Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0. Not all trim levels are offered in all colors, but the Lexus online configurator will divert you to the right model if you desire a specific color, rather than a specific model.
The UX's design writes checks neither of its engines can cash. The 200 models are equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine, producing 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Most of the power is only available near the redline, so you have to stomp on the throttle if you want decent progress. Anything less than full throttle results in a tepid response. The 0 to 60 mph sprint time of 8.9 seconds is slower than all of its main competitors.
You'd expect the hybrid 250h to offer better performance thanks to an additional electric motor, but you'd be disappointed. It only adds an extra 12 hp (181 hp), but it also adds 300 lbs. The result is a 0-60 mph sprint time of 8.6 seconds.
Around town, the lack of performance isn't as noticeable, but it can become frustrating when merging or overtaking on the freeway. It's one of those cars you have to get used to. You have to adapt to it, rather than the other way around.
It's a pity the UX isn't powered by a small capacity turbocharged engine, as it would have suited it so much better. And it's not a case of Lexus not having access to such an engine. The Toyota C-HR, with which the UX shares a platform, is available with a sweet turbocharged triple in other countries.
Both the 200 and 250h are equipped with the same 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine. It's an advanced powertrain that employs various technologies to keep it as light as possible. The goal was frugality over performance, so the result is 169 hp and 151 lb-ft. The addition of the electric motor on the 250h takes the power up to 181 hp, but Lexus doesn't supply a torque figure for this particular engine.
Both engines are mated to what Lexus calls a 10-speed continuously variable transmission, or CVT as it's known colloquially. A CVT transmission doesn't have gears but rather mimics the effect of a gearchange to make it feel more like a traditional torque-converter automatic. In any case, customers in the market will likely not care whether it has ten gears or a hundred.
Fortunately, Toyota has more experience with CVT transmissions than most manufacturers, and the result is a CVT that's not as annoying as you might expect. It does a good job at city speeds, but it's less adept at freeway speeds. Merging and overtaking can be a daunting task, but it's a case of learning to cooperate with it, especially if you want the best fuel consumption results. To get rid of that annoying CVT drone, Lexus pumps some fake engine noise into the cabin. We're not huge fans of these systems, but we have to admit that they work well when the alternative is listening to a strained four-pot/CVT combo when travelling at top speed..
The standard 200 models are all front-wheel-drive, while the 250h models are all-wheel-drive. It's not a traditional all-wheel-drive system as we know it. There isn't a prop shaft sending power from the front-mounted engine to the rear wheels. Instead, the battery is mounted in the rear, and it powers the rear axle when needed.
While some of the models in the range may have the word "sport" in their name, the Lexus UX SUV is about as sporty as a British Bulldog. It was built for comfort rather than speed. This bias towards comfort suits the nature of the car perfectly because, as mentioned earlier, it's no ball of fire.
The steering response is excellent and spot-on for city driving. At higher speeds, it can feel a bit artificial, but we're willing to forgive that since the UX is not a speed merchant. Push it to the limit and it will understeer, which may annoy enthusiasts, but is much safer than the alternative.
The F Sport is equipped with a stiffer suspension, but it doesn't add any sportiness to the mix. It also doesn't spoil the ride quality, which begs the question, why have it at all. The standard suspension setup is perfectly suited to the UX.
The all-wheel-drive model is interesting, as mentioned earlier. With no mechanical coupling, the rear wheels are driven by the electric motor only, and only at speeds below 43 mph. Any higher than that, and it reverts to a front-wheel-drive petrol car. It makes sense in town in low-grip situations, but we can't help but wonder what happens when the battery is fully drained and the conditions are still bad
The UX 200 has EPA-estimated figures of 29/37/32 mpg for city/highway/combined. That is an impressive set of numbers given its dimensions and engine size. The 250h hybrid does even better, with EPA-estimated mileage of 41/38/39 mpg. You can see the electric motor at work at slower speeds within the city, while the benefits are less pronounced on the highway. Still, it remains a remarkable achievement compared to non-electrified configurations, especially because it has 300 extra pounds to carry around. The 200 UX has a 12.4-gallon tank and an estimated range of 409 miles. The 250h has a smaller 10.6-gallon tank, but thanks to the added efficiency, it can do an estimated 413 miles.
The quality of the cabin more than makes up for the lackluster performance. It's a beautifully executed design, angled towards the driver to give it a sportier feel. You'd be forgiven for mistaking images of the interior for those of a Germanic luxury SUV, but there is just enough Japanese quirkiness to put any doubt to rest. You won't find a single piece of tacky plastic in there, and as a result, it feels like it will last decades.
Since the focus is on comfort, Lexus includes a lot of luxury kit as standard. Dual-zone climate control, a leather steering wheel and shifter, and eight-way power-adjustable front seats with two-way lumbar support are just some of the standard items. The level of luxury you get will depend on how much you're willing to spend. F Sport models offer more bolstering on the seats, while Luxury models get LED-illuminated air vent knobs. The latter sounds silly and gimmicky, but once you get used to driving with it in the dark, you start wondering why all cars don't have it.
With compact crossovers, it's always the same story. Loads of room in the front, but limited room for rear passengers. In the UX, it's more of the same. The dark interior makes it feel even more cramped than it is. The front legroom is fantastic at 42 inches, and headroom is also good. However, moving up the trim levels will see you lose a few inches of headroom in the font, which is further hampered when you spec on the available moonroof. The rear legroom is a mere 33.1 inches, while headroom is 36.3 inches. Even a less "premium" vehicle like the Kia Soul offers more space front and rear.
The plastics in the UX are either soft-touch or high quality. There are some brushed aluminum inserts on the air vents, steering wheel, and shifter, just to break up the black and dark gray interior. The base model offers a choice of four dash and seat color options. Rather than real leather, base models are upholstered in NuLuxe synthetic leather. If someone didn't tell you, you'd never be able to tell the difference. The most striking options include Glazed Caramel seats and the Birch seats with a Lapis Blue dash. In F Sport models you can go the whole nine yards and order a black dash with Circuit Red Seats.
Thanks to a new cargo arrangement in the hybrid model, its cargo capacity has gone up from 17.1 cubic feet to 21.7 cubic feet. While still not class-leading, it is closer to the BMW X1's 27.1 cubic feet. The question is, why is only the hybrid equipped with this new adjustable cargo board? According to Lexus's website, the 200 models still have the smaller 17.1-cubic-foot trunk. The rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split, offering more space for odd occasions. Luxury models include a power liftgate as standard, which makes loading cargo easier. Interior storage consists of a small glovebox, slim door pockets, a center armrest storage bin, and dual front cupholders.
Lexus has a reputation for including loads of features, even on its entry-level models. The UX is no different. The base specs include keyless entry with push-button start, selectable driving modes (eco, sport, and normal), Wi-Fi connectivity, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a leather steering wheel and shifter. Even the standard safety features list is impressive, including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection and rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. The Luxury trim adds LED-illuminated air vent knobs, rain-sensing wipers, a power sunroof, auto-dimming side mirrors, and a power liftgate. The F Sport trim comes with LED fog lights, cornering lamps, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, active sound control, and performance dials inspired by the iconic LFA.
The Lexus UX comes standard with a seven-inch color LCD. This grows by an inch on the UX 200 F Sport and 250h F Sport. The screen is on the small side, but all the latest connectivity features are included as standard. All UX trims get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, Lexus Enform remote system with Google Assistant, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, and Sirius XM. A Lexus six-speaker Premium Sound System is standard across the range.
A 10.3-inch display is an optional extra, as is dynamic voice command, wireless charging, a head-up display, and an eight-speaker premium sound system. Interacting with this system isn't very intuitive, though. Lexus still insists on using a touchpad controller, rather than a simpler touchscreen interface. Thankfully, the volume and tuning knobs for the sound system are separate and easier to access.
The very first Lexus, the LS 400 sedan, is well-known for its solid reliability. One famously got to a million miles simply by following the basic service schedule (and replacing a few parts along the way). Lexus cars tend to be extremely reliable, no doubt because of their Toyota roots and the UX has remained remarkably recall free, except for one slight niggle on the 250h in 2019. The problem was a loss of stability control, which would have been a major issue on a performance car, but not a car as underpowered as this.
Last year the UX scored 84 in the J.D. Power survey, but it slipped down to 77 points for 2021.
The UX comes as standard with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a one-year/10,000-mile maintenance plan. The hybrid components are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.
A safety review of the Lexus UX range saw it earn an overall rating of five stars from the NHTSA. It's worth mentioning that it only received four out of five stars in the frontal crash subcategory. The IIHS named the UX a Top Safety Pick in 2020. The IIHS did not test the hybrid separately, but since the two models are almost identical, it will likely hold up just as well in a crash.
For the 2021 model year, all models are now equipped with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as standard. The more traditional safety kit includes ten airbags, a rearview camera, ABS, stability and traction control, as well as a rigid body with multiple crumple zones. Unlike so many other manufacturers who expect you to pay extra for advanced driver assistance systems, Lexus includes its Safety System 2.0 as standard. This comprises frontal collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, road sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and intelligent high-beam assist.
There's not much wrong with the UX. It competes in a segment that's all the rage right now, and it does so with unique and striking Japanese design. On the inside, it offers a quality interior that easily rivals the German top dogs, and you get almost every luxury and safety feature as standard. Sure, it's an entry-level compact crossover, but it's a Lexus first and foremost. We're glad Lexus didn't cut corners, as it would have done damage not just to this car, but to the whole brand.
Our biggest gripe is the underwhelming powertrain options. All of its rivals offer more power and better performance. Having said that, it depends entirely on what you're looking for in a car. If its performance, the BMW X1 would do a much better job. But if fuel economy is high up on the list, the Lexus' consumption figures can't be ignored.
The refined ride, impressive fuel economy, luxury, and safety features make up for the lack of grunt, and we think the UX is more than good enough to put on your test-drive list if you happen to be shopping around in this segment.
The base price of the Lexus UX 200 is $33,000. The 200 UX F Sport goes for $35,000, while the Luxury model will cost you $37,700. On the hybrid side, the 250h AWD has an MSRP of $35,200, followed by the 250h F Sport AWD costing $37,200. The top-spec 250h Luxury AWD comes in $100 shy of under $40k. These prices exclude the delivery, processing, and handling fee of $1,025.
There are two basic cars in the UX line-up, but each is available in three trim levels. The two basic models are the 200 with a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine and front-wheel-drive, and the 250h hybrid with four-wheel-drive. Both engines use a CVT transmission to transfer the power to the road. The three trim levels are base, F Sport, and Luxury.
The base model boasts an extensive list of standard features, easily beating German rivals. The list includes a seven-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, LED headlights, and driver assistance features like pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, and lane-keep assist.
The F Sport specification adds several features aimed at enhancing the driving experience. These include LED fog lights and cornering lights, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, F Sport bucket seats, a sportier suspension, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, active sound control, and digital gauges inspired by Lexus's performance models.
The top-spec Luxury trim adds an eight-inch infotainment screen with navigation, a power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated seats, auto-dimming side mirrors, and a hands-free power liftgate.
The base trim has one package, as well as a few standalone options. The Premium Package retails for $1,175 and adds Washi interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, as well as heated and ventilated front seats.
The F Sport trim can be ordered with a $975 Premium Package, or a $2,390 Luxury Package. The former adds rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, and heated front seats. The Luxury adds a memory function for the driver's seat, power rear doors, heated and ventilated front seats, and side mirrors that dim automatically and tilt down when you reverse.
The Luxury has no optional packages, as it already includes most of the above. There are several standalone features that can also be added to the other models. These are a color head-up display for $500, a wireless charger for $75, and a heated steering wheel for $150.
The UX 250h F Sport is the sweet spot in the range. The hybrid powertrain is well worth the additional $2,200. It's a tiny bit faster, way more frugal, and comes with the added benefit of all-wheel-drive. The reason we'd have the F Sport over the base 250h is the bolder exterior, as well as the few other additions. We'd also add the Luxury Package, which requires you to add the 10.3-inch split-screen multimedia display with navigation. The result is a $43,240 compact crossover, which seems like a steep price. But try to add some of the standard features this car has to its German rivals and see how quickly you get to $50,000.
The UX has the same problem as every other premium compact crossover out there. Add a few more dollars and you can have a larger, seemingly better car. In the case of the UX, the top-spec 250h Luxury AWD comes in just under $40,000. The 2021 Lexus NX 300 with all-wheel-drive has an MSRP of $39,010. The hybrid version is $40,160.
The NX 300 and the 300h are interesting rivals because they're just as lavishly equipped from the base upward. The base model comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot, good for 235 hp and 258 lb-ft. The 300h hybrid comes with a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine and an electric motor, and EPA-estimated figures of 33/30/31 mpg city/highway/combined.
And since Lexus isn't afraid to include luxury features as standard, the base NX comes with synthetic leather, power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, and an eight-inch multimedia display boasting the same features as the UX.
The NX is also better to drive and is more spacious than the UX. We'd gladly sacrifice the UX's fuel economy and rather buy one of these.
The RX and RXh are two steps up from the UX, but pricing starts at $45,170, while the hybrid pricing starts at $47,820. That's only a moderate leap in price compared to the UX. The RX has a 3.5-liter V6 producing 295 horsepower, while the hybrid has a total system output of 308 hp. It's much thirstier than the UX, thanks to the old-school V6 engine, but it is silky smooth and will get to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. It's also worth pointing out that the RX is one of the most comfortable cars in existence - not just in its segment, but out of all cars on sale today.
The RX dwarfs the UX and has the same specification level, including power-adjustable seats, dual-zone climate control, and driver assistance systems. Once again, you have to decide whether it's worth sacrificing fuel efficiency for more space. For us, it's an easy choice.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Lexus UX: