The Lexus UXh may be the newest nameplate over at Toyota’s luxury division, but that’s not to say Lexus is out of its league when it comes to the compact luxury crossover segment; if you’ll remember, it wasn’t that long ago that they were churning out CT hatchbacks by the baleful – a production run that ended just over a year before the UX arrived in showrooms -- a vehicle that is roughly the same size as the UX but doesn’t get the higher ride height or AWD that are pretty much requirements in the segment.
Like the CT, the UXh is available only as a hybrid (hence the model line’s official name: “UXh”) and it makes use of the Atkinson Cycle Lexus Hybrid Drive that has been doing the gruntwork for years and now has a place in almost every model the brand makes. In the UX 250h – which is the only way you can have the UXh in Canada – it’s good for 181 horsepower and *an* amount of torque; Lexus is always cagey about the torque of their hybrids because it does depend on which elements of the hybrid powertrain are at work. Call it 220 lb-ft or so.
Style-wise, it’s pretty safe to say that it takes the CT to the cleaners thanks to the great blacked-out spindle grille, smoked 18-inch alloys that are just the right size for the vehicle, nicely-shaped wing mirrors with two-tone mirror caps and the glorious “Redline” red colour on my tester. Add a stance that is right on, and you have a crossover that looks more like a sporty compact hatch.
There is a new “Lexus Interface” infotainment system with a more responsive touchscreen and better graphics…but it’s not coming to the UXh until the 2023 model year. So, you’re stuck with the older system with its smaller display and blurry graphics and less intuitive interface. It’s too bad; I’ve sampled the new system in other Lexus products and it’s rather good.
Nevertheless, I did have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which is becoming of more and more importance in cars these days. One thing you will need to get used to is how to turn the system on or off and tune the radio because those controls don’t sit in and around the display as you’d think they would. Instead, they’re mounted down low ahead of the armrest and are small wheels. It looks elegant, but I never quite got used to them.
The same goes for the infotainment controller; it’s a trackpad of sorts and it controls an onscreen cursor that “snaps” to the button it thinks you want to go to. Trouble is, it’s often wrong and is frustrating as a result. There’s no touchscreen backup, either, so you have to take your chances with the clumsy trackpad to control your media and satnav. Happily, there are traditional “hard” buttons for your climate controls so you don’t have to fiddle around for those as well.
One thing I got used to right away, however, was the driver’s seating position which, after a few quick adjustments is right on the money. Comfortable, with a great view out and a dash that rises to the windshield just enough to feel ensconcing without being obtrusive. Lexus knows how to make an interior feel of a quality and style and that’s filtered down even to this, their entry-level model.
For its size, the back seat isn’t bad as the UXh has a tall roof and the headroom that comes with it. Rear legroom is serviceable as well, but you do pay for it in the form of a short cargo floor out back. You have to be strategic with your cargo loading, that’s for sure; I had a hard time getting my toddler’s UppaBaby Cruz stroller in there.
There have also been some under-the-skin changes including new steering tuning, suspension tuning, and even improved structural rigidity, all changes that, having previously driven the UX, I was surprised can be fairly readily felt.
I found the steering changes really only manifest as speeds increased, but the ride and improved chassis fidelity can be felt right as you set off; the common bumps and upsets experienced in the city are very well metered out, leaving the impression that Lexus wanted to ensure that even at the entry level, their vehicle would make proper luxury returns. From the smart damper settings, to the sound insulation and even how robust the steering rack feels, the luxury aspects are right on. That last one’s a big one; your steering wheel is your main connection to the road below so reducing wheel vibration or twisting over bumps is key to improving the onboard experience.
Whatever that torque figure may be, it pairs with that 181 hp to get the UXh up and running in a manner that’s pretty unbecoming of what is essentially an entry-level luxury car – in a good way. It’s peppier than you may think, sending you down the road with conviction and just enough attitude to provide a somewhat athletic experience, nicely disguising the fact that everything’s handled by a CVT – not the most involving of transmission types.
If the power delivery impresses, then the steering is more than up to the task to keep the image of an athletic compact going. Very responsive and light, the chunky wheel feeling nice in your palms as you wind it through both the entanglement of the city, and the serpentine nature of a mountain road. Turns out that more than just feeling solid, the steering is solid and confident in its responsiveness as well.
It all comes together to provide an enticing way to enter the world of Lexus luxury. Indeed, an as-tested price of about 50 grand for a subcompact like this is a somewhat stiff drink, but for the most part, the UXh makes good on the bargain.
2022 Lexus UX 250h
Five-door subcompact luxury CUV
front-engine, all-wheel drive
2.0-litre I4, hybrid, 181 hp, ~220 lb-ft of torque
FUEL ECONOMY CITY/HIGHWAY/COMBINED:
5.7/6.2/6.0 L/100 km
MIN. CARGO CAPACITY:
As tested MSRP:
WEBSITE: Lexus UXh
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.