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2019 Lexus UX250h Review: A good thing in a small package

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Auto123 reviews the 2019 Lexus UX250h, a nifty little hybrid-powered SUV that by and large delivers on what it promises

Raise your hands everyone who remembers the Lexus CT200h hybrid hatch! OK, it wasn’t that long ago that it graced Lexus showrooms so most likely, plenty of you do - especially since they seem to have done well for Toyota’s luxury arm as you tend to see them all over the place. In an age where compact luxury hatchbacks were always going to have to bow to their crossover siblings, the CT soldiered on.

With the popularization of compact luxury CUVs, however, it became even tougher for luxury hatches like the CT to survive, and the model bowed out after the 2017 model-year, to be replaced two years later by what you see here: the UX200/UX250h compact crossover. Just like the CT shared a platform with the Toyota Corolla of the era, the UX shares its TNGA-C platform with the new Corolla.

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Photo: D.Heyman

Not to mention that aside from the UX being a little taller than the CT – no surprise, as it is a CUV – everything else between the two size-wise comes out about the same. The CT is a little wider, but the UX has a little more room inside.

Not much more room, though, as evidenced by the undeniable snugness of the rear seats. We managed to fit a rear-facing child’s seat back there, but the front passenger shouldn’t be expecting much legroom if you’re going to go that way. At least the seat itself is easy enough to install thanks to shallow-mounted ISO-FIX anchors.

The driver seating position, however, is actually quote good with a commanding view out through the broad windscreen. You’ll get some over-the-shoulder blind spots, of course, but as always, that’s the price you pay for styling.

And there is some properly nice exterior styling going on with the UX.

It actually starts at the back, where the taillights are connected by a light bar that ups the ante in the classiness department and makes the high(ish)-riding UX appear a little wider and more ground-hugging as a result.

Photo: D.Heyman

As your perspective shifts around the front of the car, the next details that jump out are the squared-off fenders, which make for a tough look that I wouldn’t have expected from a Lexus soft-roader like this. It’s darn cool and coupled with a down sloping beltline, it’s authoritative, too.

Up front, the fascia is predictably dominated by the hourglass-shaped grille that adorns most current Lexus models these days, and I have a feeling it will be just as divisive here as it is on the UX’s bigger RX sibling. Me? I’m a fan; I like my CUV to have a little bit of an attitude, because it sets it apart from other vehicles in the segment like the Buick Encore, Audi Q3 and BMW X2. It also allows the UX to let its hair down a little and maybe attract the young urban professionals vehicles like this squarely have in their sights.

Photo: D.Heyman

It should come as no surprise that buyers in that demographic are also very in-tune with tech of all forms, and that extends to what’s available inside their vehicles. That means that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are pretty much a must at this level and while the UX doesn’t get the latter, it does get the former. Happily, there were few connectivity issues as CarPlay worked every time I tried. Save for Google Play Music, of course, but that’s hardly the car’s fault as pretty much every time I try GPM in a car, it’s a frustrating, buggy affair.

It’s good that CarPlay is available because it’s a whole heck of a lot more pleasing to look at than is Lexus’ native infotainment interface, which gets a pretty boring colour palette; too bad the very nice widescreen display isn’t a touch affair, because the trackpad system you need to use to navigate the menus isn’t the slickest of interfaces.

At least the UX gets scroll wheels on the three exposed edges of the trackpad which work well as shortcuts for regularly-used commands such as radio tuning, volume, et cetera. Still, most of the time, I just fired up CarPlay, set my favorite playlist and hit the road.

Plus, my car had the Enform 2.0 audio upgrade which provides 8-speaker audio, which you don’t need a slick interface to enjoy.

Photo: D.Heyman

You also don’t need that widescreen in order to track what your hybrid powertrain’s doing, either, as that can be displayed on the TFT screen between the gauges, among trip computer info and so on. It’s a gauge I ended up using quite regularly, as gas prices were pretty sky high during my test and I really wanted to get the most out of the hybrid powertrain.

Which, as it turns out, is not hard to do because the UX250h uses a hybrid system that Toyota/Lexus has been honing and honing over the years, except with a unique twist: it’s called “E-Four AWD”, and it’s a neat-o way of providing both hybrid power and AWD.

Essentially, the front wheels are powered by the hybrid powertrain (combined power: 175 hp), while the rears are powered only by a 5.3 Kw electric motor that can vary the torque between the two rear wheels to provide the best grip and performance possible in adverse conditions.

Now, we didn’t see a lot of that during our drive, but nevertheless, you can feel the power working as you head into curves and the computers decide on the best way to deploy the power. The result is a properly able-handling lil’ crossover that inventively uses its hybrid powertrain to actually make the drive more…fun?

Photo: D.Heyman

Yes; “fun”. That’s probably the best way to put it because I wouldn’t call it “fast”, necessarily; 175 hp isn’t bad, but it does have the weight of a hybrid powertrain and that AWD system to contend with. Not to mention – in the case of my test, anyway – a family of three plus holiday wares, including a stroller.

Which, by the way, highlights an issue brought on by the switch from the non-hybrid UX200 to the hybridized UX250h: a hit to your rear cargo area, to the tune of about 130 litres. This is a compact vehicle, after all, and they had to find somewhere to put that battery pack, forcing them to push the rear cargo floor up. We managed to get everything in there, but the rear seat and its footwell were definitely put to use in the cargo-hauling department.

Photo: D.Heyman

What all that weight didn’t really affect, however, was our fuel economy. While I was keeping a close watch on the power flow meter, I didn’t drive all that differently than I normally would and since my family – including a two-year-old -- was in the car so much of the time, I didn’t skimp on the A/C, either, and still managed to turn in 6.2L/100 km over the course of my 700-km drive. That’s just 0.2L over what Lexus claims, and I can’t complain about that considering those figures are often achieved under optimal conditions.

You can also ask the powertrain to stay in EV mode, but it will quickly come out of that if you apply too much throttle, or carry too much speed. You’ll know why EV mode gets disabled, too, because every time that happens, a big message appears on the left-hand gauge explaining why.

Good as it is, the Lexus UX250h has its small-car moments; while cruising around town is a fairly quiet affair, once you get on it you can really feel – and hear – that engine working and no matter how much leather and mood lighting you provide, that will impact on your feeling of being in a luxury car.

Photo: D.Heyman

I won’t take too much away from the UX250h for that, though. It remains a neat little crossover that works (mostly) as advertised, and you can’t complain about that. Not to mention its uniqueness; none of the competition really offers anything like it, and that counts for something.

We like

Efficient hybrid powertrain that works as advertised
Clever AWD
Trendy styling
Darty handling

We like less

Snug rear seat
Loss of cargo space compared to UX200
Aged infotainment
Powertrain gets loud when stressed

The competition

Audi Q3
BMW X2/i3
Buick Encore
Cadillac XT4
Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

Photo: D.Heyman

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2019 Lexus UX
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Photos:D.Heyman
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