The luxury subcompact is an excellent entry point into the Lexus brand.
In a bid to rack up more sales, luxury carmakers have introduced entry-level models (mostly crossovers) to attract people to their brand with mixed results. While some of these subcompact luxury crossover models have failed to live up to their brand cache, the 2020 Lexus UX Hybrid hits the mark taking over where the old CT hatchback left off, a frugal and affordable model to usher Toyota customers into the company's luxury arm.
After driving the UX Hybrid in its more aggressive F Sport trim, we believe it is one of the best subcompact luxury crossovers on the market. It has faults, sure, but as a cohesive package, we think it will please first time Lexus owners enough to stick with the brand for many years. Here is what we loved about the UX, and what we'd change.
To compete with the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo XC40, and others, Lexus had to make the UX look like an attractive package. While we wouldn't say that the UX is the best looking of this bunch, it certainly fits in with the pack. The UX rides just high enough to warrant its status as a crossover, looking more hatchback-like than many of its rivals. We particularly like the F Sport trim, which gives the UX some added aggression. The Lexus spindle grille will always have its fans and detractors, but we think the connected taillight bar in the back is pretty futuristic and cool, like the eyes of a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica.
The UX's styling writes a check that its engine can't cash, especially in F Sport guise. The non-hybrid model shares its 2.0-liter four-cylinder with the Toyota Corolla, producing an identical 169 horsepower. With the hybrid system, the UX makes a total system output of 181 hp, which still trails almost every other vehicle in its segment. A 0 to 60 mph time of 8.6 seconds does little to convey a sense of effortless passing power on the road, detracting from the UX's luxury appeal.
F Sport models also receive one of the strangest features we can recall. It's called Active Sound Control, and it pipes a fake engine note into the cabin to deliver a "sportier" experience. Many cars also do this, but the UX's ASC has a unique problem. The sound it emits emulates transmission shifts, even though the UX uses a CVT. So when you mash the throttle, the car produces shift noises when the engine RPMs don't move. It's a strange experience, to say the least.
Crafting an interior that doesn't feel cheap can be a struggle for luxury automakers attempting to keep their entry-level models at a specific price point. Many of these subcompact crossovers end up feeling much cheaper than their larger siblings, even dropping below the level of quality seen on higher-end mainstream models. With the UX, Lexus seems to have avoided this issue altogether.
All materials feel like they belong in a Lexus product with minimal use of hard surfaces or cheap plastics. The Circuit Red interior of the F Sport trim ise a fabulous place to spend time. The cabin is ergonomically well-designed and stays quieter than many competitors on the highway. We particularly love the bolstered F Sport seats.
The UX's interior may feel luxurious, but it does not feel spacious. Even by subcompact crossover standards, this cabin feels tiny and claustrophobic. The rear seats only offer 33.1 inches of legroom, meaning tall occupants will struggle for comfort back there. As for the trunk, the UX doesn't offer much in the way of storage space with only 21.7 cubic feet. Due to the placement of the batteries, the UX Hybrid is even tighter with only 17.1 cubic feet of space. You'll fit one or two large suitcases, and that's about it before you have to fold down the rear seats.
The UX's lack of power and small stature may not appeal to some, but they do result in some pretty outstanding fuel economy. In standard guise, the UX achieves impressive fuel economy of 29/37/33 mpg city/highway/combined. The hybrid improves on these figures with 41/38/39 mpg, putting the UX well at the top of its class.
Like most Lexus products, the UX is burdened with the company's Enform infotainment system with the Remote Touch interface. The laptop mouse-style controller is finicky to use, meaning it's easy to miss menu items on the screen. It's also distracting to use while driving. However, the UX features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, giving access to excellent voice commands, and it also has a cool radio interface that isn't found on any other Lexus.
All of the controls for the volume, tuning, radio, and media are housed on a unique controller positioned below the trackpad. These controls fall easily to hand and have a tactile feel that allows them to be used without looking. It's a clever way to execute volume and tuning knobs that we'd like to see more from Lexus.