The 2019 Lexus UX 200 F Sport is successfully creating and filling a marker niche we didn't even know we wanted — luxury subcompact crossovers that aren't really SUVs but are a lot of fun to drive.
I was a little skeptical when the copper and black UX was first delivered for testing. For starters, I'm beginning to question the concept of subcompact anythings. They don't offer many advantages over similar compacts, which have a lot more interior room, get only slightly worse fuel economy, are almost as easy to drive around town, and don't cost all that much more — especially for buyers spreading their payments over several years.
And I am also getting annoyed by vehicles promoted as crossovers that aren't offered with all-wheel-drive. To me, crossover means the link between a car and an SUV, which is always available with AWD if not more rugged four-wheel-drive systems.
And then there was the heritage. Lexus is the Toyota's premium brand, and the UX is based on the inexpensive subcompact Toyota C-HR hatchback and uses the same powertrain as the new Corolla Hatchback. How much better could the UX be, considering the higher price?
But after only a short time behind the wheel, I changed my mind. Thanks in part to the optional F-Sport suspension, I was soon impressed by the lively handling, even at slower speeds. Despite only having 169 horsepower, the UX was relatively quick off the line and able to climb hills and merge into freeway traffic without any problems. The Sport mode also helped. I soon realized I was having a lot more fun driving it than other subcompact crossovers.
As should be expected, the UX also felt more solid and was much quieter than C-HR and Corolla Hatchback, both of which I tested a few months ago. The interior materials were of course superior, but I also like the typical Lexus dash layout, which is both modern but incorporates retro elements that remind me of the 1980s and 1990s cars that I grew up driving.
And the UX is available with AWD in the UX 250 hybrid version. It adds a second electric motor to power the rear wheels off line and then as needed up to about 45 miles per hour, which should be able to handle most of the wet winter weather in the Pacific Northwest.
The UX is one of several boldly styled subcompact and compact crossovers that might not appeal to everyone. I like them because I want designers to cut loose on such traditionally-stodgy products. I even liked the older Honda Crosstour, which was panned by critics but featured a practical hatchback and AWD.
With the UX, Lexus is pushing their current design style, which features a lot of sharp angles and a large spindle grill. I think all the elements work well on the new subcompact, more successfully than on the C-HR, which seems designed primariiy for young buyers,
Some buyers are likely to be initially puzzled by the infotainment system. The stereo controls have been moved to a pod on the center console just behind the shift lever. They are pretty easy to operate, once you get use to them. But the touch pad in front of it is not all that intuitive, despite the best intentions of the Lexus designers.
So after only a few days of driving, I had to reconsider my doubts about subcompacts, at least when it comes to the 2019 Lexus UX 200 F Sport. If all of them were as much fun to drive, I'd have to admit bigger isn't always better.
2019 Lexus UX 200 F Sport
Base price: $34,000
Price as tested: $41,285
Type: Subcompact crosover
Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (169 hp, 151 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed Direct Shift Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 29/37
Overall length: 177 inches
Curb weight: 3,300 pounds
Final assembly: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan
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