Fins are back!
That’s right, if you’ve secretly been craving the fin-crazy styling of the late 1950s and early ’60s, Lexus has something special for you, finned taillights on its new UX. No, these aren’t those Himalayan peaks from grandpa’s old Dodge or Plymouth, these are subtle foothills, but pointy nonetheless.
You may be wondering now, what the heck is a UX? It’s Lexus newest crossover, a small one that serves as its entry-level vehicle and a lure to affluent younger drivers who desire a crossover, and a luxury badge on its hood and hatch.
Keeping with its bold nose design that now identifies Lexus vehicles, this one is actually a cute ute of sorts, riding on the same platform as Toyota’s adorable, but less costly, C-HR. The UX, which Lexus says stands for Urban Explorer, rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase and is 177 inches long, 6 inches longer than its Toyota cousin. Think Subaru Crosstrek size, but without the all-wheel-drive.
Essentially UX is a two-person crossover with just enough room in back to carry a couple passengers on short hauls. It’s a fine grocery getter and daily commuter.
But make no mistake, Lexus is aiming this at the under-30 crowd that has landed a good job after college and wants their colleagues to know they’re on their way up.
The base UX 200 starts at $33,025, including delivery and the tested F Sport, Lexus’ sporty trim, lists at $35,025 with delivery. This one added a couple pricey packages to end up at $40,115, still modest for luxury sheet metal and plastic. A more luxurious 200 Luxury model begins at $38,225. And a hybrid version also is available, the 250h starting at $35,025 and topping out at $40,225 for its Luxury trim. The hybrid offers AWD.
Certainly the UX 200 F Sport has a quiet luxury crossover interior that reflects the Lexus quality and look you’d expect.
The seats are a snazzy red leather with black stripe down the center and are extremely supportive to give the front seat passenger’s a snug hug. Seats also are heated and cooled with three levels to choose from. Back seats are comfortable enough, but knee room is a little snug if the front seat folks are 6-footers and beyond and need to push their power seats back much.
The dash is nicely laid out and as do other new Lexus models it features a wide infotainment screen that is handsomely blended into the dash’s top, not looking like an add-on as in many other luxury makes.
There is an array of toggles under that screen that control all the climate operations and defroster options. Easy to use and thoughtful.
Sadly the UX continues with the Lexus touchpad on the console for controlling and adjusting much of that infotainment screen. There is a slight modification though, which lets us know Lexus knows it has a problem with the touchpad.
The UX includes two small dials for sound and tuning on the front edge of the armrest between the seats, plus a couple buttons for the radio and other media. In place of the touchpad you can use these for adjusting the radio, a slight improvement to be sure, but extremely hard to use or a driver wearing gloves. Still, I’m hoping this is the first step to better infotainment controls.
Naturally there are many bright spots inside the UX, lest we get bogged down in touchpad minutia. There are three memory setting buttons on the door to allow various drivers to set their favorite driving position. And surprisingly, there’s a power tilt/telescope steering wheel in this entry-level luxury crossover that helps a driver find the perfect driving position.
Many buttons dot the wheel’s hub too, so controlling the trip computer, a phone, radio volume, a lane departure assist system, and smart cruise control can all be accomplished with the quick touch of a button.
Overhead is an SOS system, visors that slide, soft-touch lighting, and a sunroof with manual sun shade.
The F Sport trim also includes a thick leather steering wheel and aluminum gas and brake pedals. Sadly that wheel is round while a flat-bottomed wheel would not only look racier, but provide more knee clearance when exiting the crossover.
Outside, the F Sport features special front and rear bumpers and a grille with L-shaped spindles. There also are fog lamps with large bezels around them to distinguish the F Sport’s appearance. The rear hatch also is powered and there’s a wiper on that rear window too.
Driving the UX is less exciting though than sitting in its interior.
It lacks power and the solid luxury feel that other Lexus models offer. The engine is a 2.0-liter I4 that produces just 169 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s coupled with a 10-speed automatic continuously variable transmission in an effort to save fuel, which is does well.
A driver can control the power to a degree with a rotary knob above the main dash gauges. Eco mode is way too slow to shift and feels underpowered, while Normal is OK, but still offers just modest acceleration and the shifts are a bit choppy at times.
Move up to Sport mode and there’s definitely a kick up in power as the tranny uses low gears longer to boost acceleration. It’s still not quick, but feels less lackadaisical. However, your ears pay the price as the high-revving engine sounds like it’s working quite hard to deliver that extra boost off the line. A turbocharged engine may help, or the hybrid is another option. Its electric motors along with the I4 increase its power and torque numbers. I hope to test a 250h later in the year to see if that’s the best answer for the UX’s acceleration woes.
The upside to low power is good gas mileage. The EPA rates the UX at 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. I managed 31.6 mpg in about 60% city driving.
A plus on the performance side also is the crossover’s light and easy handling. This is a breeze to park and fun to move around on the highway or roads with swoopy curves.
Ride is OK for a short-wheelbase crossover, but can get choppy on severely bumpy city streets, especially those with expansion joints. Braking was fine.
The UX also has all the usual safety devices from rearview camera and lane departure to blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, although those last two are part of the luxury package that costs $2,890 and adds the leather seats, power tilt-telescope wheel, fancier alloy wheels and the sunroof among other items.
A navigation system also added $2,200 to the cost, a big hit for something most of us have on our smart phones.
For now, the UX offers a reasonable package for young urbane luxury crossover buyers who need the status, but not a monster monthly car payment. A turbo version (if it appears), or possibly the hybrid model, may offer better overall performance.
Hits: Finned taillights, cute exterior, nice dash and colorful interior, heated/cooled front seats, big infotainment screen, sunroof, and hatch with wiper. Quiet inside, three drive modes, light handling, supportive seats.
Misses: Low on power, noisy acceleration in Sport mode, awkward touchpad tuning with dials and buttons near armrest to adjust infotainment system.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.0-liter I4, 169 horsepower
Transmission: 10-speed CVT automatic
Weight: 3,307 lbs.
Length: 177.0 in.
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Cargo: 21.7 cu. ft.
MPG: 31.6 (tested)
Base Price: $35,025 (includes delivery)
Navigation system, $2,200
Luxury package (blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, linear black shadow wood trim, LED lights, steering wheel/seat memory, heated mirrors w/power fold, power sunroof, R18 tires, heated/cooled front seats, perforated leather seats, leather steering wheel & shifter, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, split 5-spoke alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers), $2,890
Test vehicle: $40,115
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage