“That car is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!” I didn’t hear that. I said it – when I first saw photos of the Lexus UX compact crossover. I seriously thought an F-117A stealth fighter copulated with a Toyota C-HR and this is what flew out the hatchback. Now, it’s been in my driveway and parking lot. I’ve spent a pile of miles behind the wheel driving from Indianapolis to Pennsylvania and back. And…it’s not that ugly.
Not everybody is going to like it, but many will love the angular bodylines, snarling black mesh grille, accentuated ground affects, and 18” gray alloy wheels. LED foglights and running lamps illuminate the front while LED light tubes grace the rear. Look close and you’ll see subtle tailfins. Lexus’ current styling themes work better on larger cars and crossovers than the squat UX, but it definitely has presence. Slow pokes tend to move away from your grille on the highway.
Grip the thick leather-wrapped F Sport steering wheel and settle into the deeply bolstered red leather seats – heated and cooled if you please. They’ll grip your sides, but are all-day comfortable. The rest of the interior is fully up to Lexus standards with soft stitched materials on the dash/doors and contrasting color console. Rear door panel tops are low-rent hard plastic, but aluminum pedals and scuff plates compensate – as does a sunroof and power rear hatch. There’s no Mark Levinson audio as in other Lexus models, but you won’t miss his fancy pants when you rock out to your favorite tunes. Still sounds great!
You’ll tap in through Lexus’ infotainment system controlled by a console touch pad and widescreen in the upper dash. I think it’s all a bit much, but I’ve gotten used to it. And, it’s easy to connect your devices with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and a plethora of USBs. Alexa and Google Assistant Compatibility await too. My long drive was made easier with adaptive radar cruise, lane tracing assist, blind spot warning, and forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection. A rearview camera and rear cross path detection help tight parking maneuvers. Navigation, with redundant indicator in the instrument cluster, plotted my course expertly.
Behind that angry wind-busting schnoz is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 169 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque – all routed to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. If you don’t like the weird weed-wacker sounds a CVT elicits, click into 10 pre-set ratios with the paddle shifters. With sneaker firmly planted, and the engine at full rev, you’ll see 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds on the way to a 118 mph top speed. Running extra-legal speeds on the Interstate is easy-peasy. Tread lighter to see 29/37-MPG city/highway.
Putting dance to its step are tight steering and a firmly damped four-wheel independent suspension system that can flip through corners, but still provide a comfortable ride as it glides over rough city streets and highway expansion joints. A knob on the instrument binnacle adjusts through three drive modes: Normal, Eco, and Sport, each altering throttle sensitivity and shift timing. Eco saves fuel and Normal is best for daily driving, but Sport mode encourages you to gallop with aplomb. While the latter pipes additional noise into the cabin, it produces exactly zero additional horsepower.
Out on the open road, the UX200 was a welcome traveling companion. Together, we knocked off nearly 400 miles over a morning enjoyed with a couple cups of coffee and 1.5 tanks of gas. There was enough power, but a turbo’s torque would add zest and keep the CVT from buzzing about. Seats with power lumbar and a thick steering wheel soothed this weary driver. Back home in tight garages, the car cranked into parking spaces like a tiny little compact. It’s a luxurious and sporty urban commuter that is happy to sprint long distances.
Nobody will call the UX200 beautiful, but it’s less drunken origami and more road-going F-117A stealth fighter. No matter what you think of the sheetmetal creases, you should find the drive beautiful. A base price of $32,000 rises to $36,625 as-tested – making it hot competition for the Mercedes GLA, Buick Encore, Audi A3, and BMW X2.
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2019 Lexus UX200 F Sport
Five-passenger, fwd compact
Powertrain: 169hp 2.0-liter I4, CVT
Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Powertrain
Fuel economy: 29/37 mpg city/hwy
Base/As-tested price: $32,000/$36,625