Do you want a luxury SUV but feel they’ve gotten way too expensive?
Even today’s smallest premium crossovers tend to start in the mid- to upper-$30,000s and quickly soar as options are added.
The all-new 2019 Lexus UX takes a step toward keeping prices in check. True, it is still priced like a luxury car, with a base price of $33,025. But once you factor in that starting price, a generous suite of standard safety features and comparatively affordable extra-cost options, the UX tends to cost thousands less than competitors like the BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Jaguar E-Pace.
It saves you money at the pump, too, either in the base four-cylinder UX 200 model or the extra-thrifty UX 250h hybrid we tested.
There are reasons the UX isn’t very expensive — it doesn’t have the high seating position, spacious interior or extra-quiet ride you’d typically associate with a luxury SUV. But its assertive styling and well-finished interior are unmistakably Lexus-grade.
The UX is one of several subcompact crossovers that are more like slightly taller hatchbacks than tall but truncated SUVs. It’s closest to the GLA, X2, Infiniti QX30 and Audi Q3, rather than boxy, function-focused subcompacts like the Volvo XC40 or BMW X1. The UX is only about 2.5 inches taller than the Lexus GS sedan. That’s bad news for its interior space but great news for its aerodynamics — improving fuel efficiency.
The UX is particularly unlike a true SUV because you can’t get all-wheel-drive on the base UX 200 model, only a front-wheel-drive platform it shares with the Toyota C-HR. Like the C-HR, the UX has decently agile handling along with a smooth ride, even if it doesn’t challenge a BMW for maximum driving excitement.
This UX 200 model has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower. That’s the sort of engine you’d sooner expect to find in an economy sedan than in a luxury crossover; most competitors have turbocharged engines with more than 200 horsepower.
On the other hand, the UX 200 also sips fuel like an economy car: It blows away the competition to achieve an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in mixed driving. And unlike many competitors, it uses affordable regular-grade fuel.
The UX 250h hybrid we tested does even better, especially in city driving. The EPA’s mixed-driving rating jumps from 33 mpg to 39 mpg, but the gap in stop-and-go traffic soars to 29 mpg versus 41 mpg — a 41 percent improvement.
We beat the EPA estimates to average 43 mpg in mixed driving, in part by accelerating carefully at low speeds so the electric motor could fully power the vehicle. As in most hybrids, such attention to the accelerator can greatly improve your fuel economy because you burn no gas at all during such driving. The electric motor helps out even when the gas engine is running, too, and the electric batteries recharge themselves as you drive.
The UX 250h costs $2,000 more than the UX 200, but given the improved fuel economy, it’s a worthwhile deal. Moreover, the UX 250h comes with all-wheel-drive; an optional all-wheel-drive system already would cost more than $2,000 on some competitors, even without gas-electric hybrid technology.
The UX has a great-looking interior, modern yet appropriately premium. But, as with most new Lexus models, the controls aren’t especially user-friendly, requiring extra attention while you’re driving.
The biggest downside is the interior space. Drivers enjoy comfortable seats — particularly in the tested F Sport model — but don’t sit up high like in a typical SUV. And adults won’t have enough legroom to be comfortable in the rear seat unless the front seats are moved well forward.
As with many subcompact crossovers, cargo space is useful if you fold the rear seat down, but not ample — about half what you’d find in a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
The low seating position and tight interior are familiar comments about the X2, QX30 and GLA, while models like the X1 and XC40 are much roomier for passengers and cargo.
So overall, much of the question comes down to what you’re looking for in a luxury crossover. The UX is high on style and premium feature content, it’s exceptionally fuel-thrifty even if you don’t choose the hybrid, and it tends to cost less than most competitors.
If you don’t mind it’s somewhat noisy cabin, and don’t need lots of horsepower or interior space, the new Lexus UX might be the perfect relatively small, relatively affordable way to enjoy a luxury crossover.
Visit tinyurl.com/ux-sentinel to see more photos of the tested 2019 Lexus UX 250h.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.