Given the current love on the market for small (read tiny) SUVs, it was only a matter of time before luxury carmaker Lexus got in the game with its own shrunken utility model – and of course we’re using the term ‘utility’ only in the most general sense, for identification purposes only. The wee Lexus UX comes to market as a more urban-focused alternative to the larger NX SUV.
And urban is definitely what you should come up if you’re playing a word association game involving the UX! Like most other micro-‘utes, the 2019 UX is at home in the city, and for several reasons: small dimensions (did I mention it’s small?), fabulously low fuel consumption and two-wheel-drive configuration.
Also, the design is “edgy”, interior space is limited and the whole shebang of connectivity features is included to seduce those consumers for whom that is important (read, young city dwellers).
Like with other vehicles in this segment, the question that came to my mind was, what is the precise utility of this tiny utility vehicle? The answer below…
A Toyota Corolla Hatchback in bespoke clothes?
Let’s be frank, shall we? The Lexus UX has a fair amount of points in common with the compact car from sister company Toyota, particularly the fact that the UX and the likable new-gen Corolla 5-door share the same TNGA-C platform. So yes, it’s valid to compare the two small cars, even if there’s a several-thousand-dollar gulf between the two, as well as wildly divergent designs.
The UX 200 is longer, wider and taller than the Corolla. But, the wheelbases of the two models are the same, and that is a telling indicator. Note as well that the Lexus UX has a 25-mm higher ground clearance than the Corolla Hatchback, which earns the former the right to sport those black plastic underbody elements.
Under the hood, the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine is, you guessed it, the same unit that powers the two front wheels of the Corolla Hatchback. The 168 hp delivered by this engine is sufficient muscle for the UX 200, even though it carries some extra pounds in comparison with the Toyota. Versus the sportier of its competitors, however, the UX does lag behind!
One thing’s clear: the exterior styling of Lexus’ new small SUV is the ballsiest of any in the carmaker’s lineup. Its appeal is further enhanced by the optional F SPORT Series 1 package that throws in an exclusive grille and 18-inch F SPORT wheels as well as LED antifog lights and front position lights. The package also includes an F SPORT heated steering wheel, heated seats and NuLuxe leatherette upholstery, not to mention the auto-dimming rearview mirror!
The knife-cut edges and sharp lines aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, that’s true, but we should tip our hat nonetheless to Lexus for having, in recent years, found its identity style-wise. The UX is the fullest fruition of those efforts to date. I should also mention those rear position lights, which manage to evoke the outside wings of the big American sedans. That’s right, the UX 200 has wings!
Sport, yes, but utility?
It’s obvious from the outside, and it’s confirmed as soon as you climb in: the UX 200 is not huge inside. The front row space is ok, but those in back will find little legroom to play with. Two adults can sit back there if they sit up straight and behave, but stick two kids in car seats in there and their feet will spend much of the drive time kicking the seat backs in front of them. That’s due in part to the car seats putting them in an elevated position, of course, but you get my point.
As for the trunk, its capacity is 486 litres, which isn’t massive, and you can quickly end up with rear visibility issues if you fill it up. Fortunately you can fold down the rear seats in part or in whole to gain space to fit larger objects.
While the Lexus UX won’t win any prizes for practicality, in terms of interior quality it’s every bit what you’d expect from the brand. Which is say, excellent. This new model might be the lowest on the brand’s SUV totem pole, but the company has not skimped. I mentioned the seating is leatherette, but it’s of fine quality, and the comfort level of the seats is exceptional.
The dashboard, for its part, borrows some elements from the LC coupe, for instance the two cylinders on each side of the panel above the instrument cluster. The left one serves to deactivate the anti-skid function, while the right one can be used to change the driving character of the car, from ECO to Normal to Sport. The F SPORT steering wheel is pleasant to the grip, the driving position is what you’d expect from a sport compact, and the gear shift lever is in just the right place.
Sadly, all is not sunshine and rainbows inside. The touch pad, which serves as a mouse used to navigate the infotainment system’s various menus, is still an unnecessary distraction for the driver who wants to consult the screen. The screen itself is nice and big, mind you. The small knobs located by the right hand’s resting place when driving are an interesting idea, but I found them too small to be used with gloves on.
At the wheel
As mentioned, the Lexus UX 200 shares several internal organs with the Corolla Hatchback. Does that mean this pocket SUV drives like Toyota’s 5-door compact? In a word, yes. The UX 200 does drive like the Corolla Hatchback. Except that you do feel like the frame is stiffer, which is a plus, and the magic of electronics means that the sound and responsiveness produced by the UX means we’re dealing with a slightly sportier vehicle… though only when Sport mode is chosen.
It’s worth noting that the UX 200 works solely with front-wheel drive, while the hybrid version of the model gets AWD.
The UX, then, offers driving dynamics similar to that of a compact hatchback. The suspension is firm but not to the point of creating discomfort, and the steering is weighted and sharp enough that the driver can have at least a little bit of fun. That’s offset, unfortunately, by an engine that’s stuck in a loveless marriage with a CVT transmission.
That CVT - the same unit as in the Corolla Hatchback by the way - poses no issues in the city. From a dead stop the unit works like a regular old automatic transmission. But once beyond the first gear, the CVT makes the 3.0L 4-cylinder sing loud and hard. Take note that the transmission also imitates 10 programmed speeds that can be changed using the paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel or the lever itself.
The last word
At $39,400 and up, the 2019 Lexus UX 200 is no bargain, not by a long shot. But take a look at the models it competes with and you see that Toyota’s luxury division has come up with a competitive price point. The wee SUV is no different in size than its rivals, and while the second row is pretty cramped, the fact that the UX comes with a virtually indestructible 4-cylinder engine should be enough to convince a lot of consumers that putting up with its compromises is preferable to spending a lot of time at the dealer for repairs!