A Week With: 2021 Lexus UX 250hMay 21, 2021
In the tech world UX stands for user experience, but in the automotive world, it’s Lexus’ smallest vehicle. So, it’s natural to wonder if the Lexus UX provides a good UX? Given its status as one of Lexus’ least-popular sport-utility vehicles, probably not. So, what gives?
Built on Toyota’s Global Architecture Compact (GA-C) platform that also underpins the Toyota Corolla Hatchback and Toyota C-HR, the Lexus UX comes with a 4-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive, or as a gas-electric with all-wheel drive.
For 2021, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is standard, while hybrids get a new adjustable double decker cargo board that expands the UX 250h’s cargo capacity to 21.7 cubic feet from 17.1 cubic feet. Both upgrades enhance the UX for 2021.
The funky chunky styling that epitomizes Lexus haute couture works unusually well on this petite automotive bonbon. Its energetic angles add an aggressive vitality to its persona, avoiding the short, dumpy appearance common to diminutive crossover SUVs. While it seems more a raised hatchback than a true SUV, its mission is tackling urban jungles, not actual ones.
Inside, you’ll find the UX ably impersonating Lexus’ posher models by using soft-touch materials in key spots. The front bucket seats prove supportive, affording a perfect driving position. Leg room is more than sufficient up front, but the rear seat lacks usable legroom unless front seat passengers surrender some of theirs.
There are some unusual controls, such as the driving-mode knob on the right side of the instrument cluster. And the row of climate control toggle switches limits the height of the bottles or cups you place in the diminutive cupholders. But the instrument cluster’s refined appearance reminds that you’re in a Lexus despite these minor hiccups.
Cargo space in this little cumquat is fairly limited. Thankfully, aluminum roof rails expand the UX’s carrying cred. Better to fold down the rear seats to expand it since you’ll never fit anyone you like back there. Nevertheless, kudos to Toyota for providing grocery bag hooks in the cargo area, a convenience too often overlooked.
Our test car came with Toyota’s Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with two electric motors that together produce 181 horsepower through a continuously variable automatic transmission with power routed to all four wheels. Lexus Drive Mode Select is standard, offering Normal, Eco, Sport and EV driving modes. Electricity comes courtesy of a 180-cell nickel-metal hydride battery, which the EPA says helps the UX 250h return 41 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway and 39 mpg combined; we averaged 34 mpg.
Safety and Technology
Lexus’ list of standard driver-assist safety gear is impressive, with a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane-tracing assist, road-sign assist, and automatic high-beam headlamps.
When it comes time for tech, you’ll find the UX gives you most of what you need, including a standard 7-inch infotainment system screen; a 10.3-inch screen with navigation is available. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility is standard, as is a 4GB Wi-Fi Hotspot. As in other Lexus models, the infotainment screen’s touchpad and interface remains as frustrating and clunky to use as ever, and it takes too much time to activate a simple button. It’s far too easy to hit the wrong spot on the screen and takes too much attention away from watching the road.
Handling is better than you might expect given its hybrid credentials. The progressive steering’s alert nature is satisfying, and the brakes provide good stopping power. But pedal feel is light and lacking in the regen feel you might expect from a gas-electric hybrid. The suspension rides firmly over the worst road shocks, but body lean is well controlled. But ultimately, the Lexus UX 250h proves disappointing for its leisurely acceleration and a CVT transmission isn’t responsive enough, even in Sport driving mode. And real-world fuel economy proves disappointing as well, returning 33.8 mpg during a week-long mix of city/highway driving.
The UX 250h’s UX is a mixed bag. Great styling cloaks a small interior; nimble handling betrays its sluggish driveline; fuel economy that promises much but doesn’t meet the EPA rating — this model’s raison d’etre.
Then there’s the matter of price. For our test vehicle’s $43,625 sticker price, you could buy the larger NX, which delivers more space, better performance, a usable back seat and more cargo space.