An Urban Prius in a Nice Suit
by Brendan Appel & Paul Herrold
Let’s be honest: the Lexus UX250h is not our kind of car. We’re into speed and the UX250h, well…isn’t. With 181 total horsepower, a CVT transmission and a 0-60 times in the 8+ second range we would be lying if we said we were excited to get behind the wheel. But when we did drive the UX something quite weird happened; we started to forget about high horsepower and speed and started to care about… fuel economy? Yes, you read that correctly – this car is actually fun to drive but in an entirely different way. It’s not about the “how many smiles per miles,” but rather, “how many miles per smiles,” and you can’t help but smile when you drive around town all day with all the stop lights, traffic, potholes and work zones and you look down to see an amazing 41mpg average fuel economy on the gauge. Want some even more fun? Roll down the windows and drive at low speeds to hear the car’s futuristic whine that tells visually impaired and other pedestrians that you’re about to roll past them on battery power – it sounds so cool. And that’s what the UX250h is about, it’s an urban AWD Prius in a nice suit with a ton of technology and some unique features.
Since this is a hybrid, the first thing to talk about is (of course) fuel efficiency, and the Lexus UX250h does not disappoint. Unlike the powerful cars we are used to that guzzle as much fuel as possible, this one just sips gas through a cocktail straw. In fact, feather the gas and you won’t actually use any at all. Keep a light touch on the accelerator and this crossover will do its best to run on battery power alone, only kicking on the gas engine when you either want more off-the-line push or you start going too fast. Learn to take it easy and the car rewards you with those 41mpg city driving numbers. And the cornucopia of miles-per-gallon doesn’t end there: on the highway, when the gas engine is running the entire time, this Lexus still gives you an impressive 38mpg and a combined total of 39mpg.
Now, getting back to those unique features, one of them being the automatic heated seats and steering wheel. That’s right, the same feature found on Lexus’ uber luxury models comes on this car as well. When you start it up – if it’s cold enough outside, the UX250h puts the seats and steering wheel heaters on for you automatically, and then it will reduce the heat as more time progresses to keep the temp right in the perfect zone; your hands and butt will thank you!
The ride is Lexus smooth. There is a luxury feel to the way the UX soaks up bumps and road imperfections. The suspension is very comfortable, not harsh; however, body lean seems to be a little exaggerated by the extra weight of those on-board batteries. We also have to mention that while we normally do not like a Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT), Lexus has done a great job in eliminating the usual whinny noise and bungie-cord shift feel to make it feel like a proper automatic transmission. As for interior space, there is no sugar coating it – this is a smaller crossover, so there are going to be some compromises. Front cabin room is good; however, rear seat room is tight but acceptable for shorter trips. The let-down is in the trunk. Cargo room is unnaturally constricted by the hybrid powertrain behind the rear seats which moves the cargo floor up to a fairly lofty height and reduces volume from 18.6 cubic feet in the non-hybrid UX’s to 17.1 cubic feet here. The very sloped C-pillar doesn’t help trunk space either as taller items run out of height quickly and have to be move inward for the trunk to properly close.
After 20 minutes of driving the UX250h for the first time, you begin to question your perspective of the road. In the back of your mind you know you are in a SUV/crossover, yet from where you are sitting it doesn’t really feel that way. Why is the driver not really able to see above the cars in front (not that there are many “cars” left on the road anymore)? Shouldn’t one be sitting up higher? With a ground clearance of just 6”, only 0.9” more than the car on which it is based – the Toyota Prius – the UX250h “Luxury Edition” is definitely more “tall-car” than it is SUV. Not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s actually very nice as you basically just slide your bottom right into the seat without having to either step-up or bend-down to get in.
Now, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t list a few misses, and for Lexus it seems to always come down to the same two things. First is the much-maligned trackpad. You’d think that after the issues most people had with BMW’s i-Drive and Cadillac’s CUE system Lexus would have taken more care to make an infotainment controller that worked seamlessly. Unfortunately, the trackpad does not rise to that level. The biggest problem is while driving, you cannot keep your finger where you want it as the car jostles around. Trying to flag something on Waze is even harder. A touchscreen would fix this but would also require an interior redesign across Lexus’ entire lineup, so don’t expect a change anytime soon. Now, we only get a week with each test car, so we’re pretty sure that spending more time driving the UX would improve the trackpad experience, but we can safely say the learning curve is pretty steep. The second miss that always seems to plague Lexus vehicles is numb steering feel. Of course, the UX250h is not a track car and, yes, the steering works just fine but we still yearn for more feedback. Unless we’re driving a bus, there is not a time where we don’t want the steering wheel to communicate more info on what those two front tires are actually doing. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening here.
The Lexus UX250h starts at $34,500, which is sort of a bargain considering the hybrid system only adds $2,200 to the cost of the non-hybrid UX200. However, prices start to go up on the Luxury trim version to $39,700 and max out with the car we drove at a fairly high $43,530. The extra $3,830 includes some frugal options like a wireless charger ($75), windshield deicer ($100), and a heated steering wheel ($150) to name a few, along with some pricier options like a head-up display ($500), parking assist, rear cross traffic alert with automatic braking ($565), illuminated door sills ($425) and triple beam LED headlamps with auto-leveling ($1,660). Destination charge from Fukuoka, Japan adds $1,025.
At the end of the day, the UX250h presses a lot of buttons. Stylish design, both inside and out, luxury touches, economical and loaded with cool – and at times frustrating – technology. There is a lot to like here, and if you’re a city dweller in search of an upscale crossover hybrid that is fun, then this Lexus could be for you. Just be prepared for a different kind of fun!
2020© Sons Of Speed LLC