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2019 Lexus UX: First Drive Review

  • The new 2019 Lexus UX is smaller than the NX.
  • The UX is offered as both gasoline and hybrid.
  • There is an available F Sport version.

In recent years, many automakers have been referring to their goods and services as "products." I get it, they are selling something, but that word really robs the creator, designer or seller of the real emotional impact of that thing — especially if that thing is a car. I imagine Disney, Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out tell their employees they’re selling "Joy" or an "Experience" or even "Happiness." I think several automakers are in the same boat. Yes, they’re ultimately selling a material thing — but it’s really much more than that.

New Challenges

Bentley, Porsche and Lexus do this kind of thing very well, and Lexus does it at a price that many regular folks can aspire to if not outright afford. They’re selling more than just cars; they’re selling a sensibility. Granted, the implication is that it’s a sensibility that can only be fully embraced by purchasing one of their cars, but it feels like an experience first and a car purchase second. The Lexus LS and RX are great testaments to this. This can be a tricky position for a company like Lexus because they have to maintain that image across a vast portfolio of vehicles and experiences.

And that’s exactly the challenge the new 2019 Lexus UX presents. It’s a subcompact crossover from a luxury brand. One thing I know for sure: Luxury equals space — there’s no way around it. There’s a reason luxury homes and luxury hotel suites are larger. First-class airline seats don’t just have a larger TV screen and a comfy chair, they have extra space.

Real Luxury

So how does the Lexus UX come off as a real luxury item given its size? I don’t know.

Walking up to the Lexus UX for the first time, I was skeptical. The first impression inside is that they spent the appropriate amount of time and budget making sure the UX has a real Lexus vibe. Interesting patterns and available colors and textures work in the UX’s favor, clearly communicating a luxurious environment.

But what about space? The front seats are more than roomy enough with more than enough head, leg and hip room. Is it magic? Well, yes and no. The space disadvantage becomes obvious when you check out the back seat. It’s a subcompact crossover/SUV; this entire class of vehicle struggles with the same thing. However, the more square-ish Volvo XC40 has more cargo space.

The Lexus UX is perfect for those with a more European sense of car-buying. Most Americans who live outside large cities tend to buy the largest car they can afford. Europeans tend to get the smallest car they can get away with.

One brilliant touch — Apple CarPlay is standard. High fives all around to whoever made that call. There are also cool tech touches like Amazon Alexa integration and Lexus Safety System features like lane-tracing assist, adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system.

The exterior look is suitably attractive and looks different enough — interesting color choices help, so does the rear end treatment, with a light-bar that runs the entire width of the little SUV. With the black "I’m-an-SUV" fender accents, the UX looks kind of basic in white. The burnt orange and deep mossy green look better – and, again, more fitting for a luxury SUV.

On the Road

One thing that doesn’t feel very luxurious is the standard 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. It makes a respectable 169 horsepower, but it just feels and sounds less than Lexus-like. On the other hand, the hybrid is a dramatic upgrade. You get that quick-off-the-line feel that many hybrids and EVs are known for, plus the gas/electric combination seems to keep the noise down. The feeling overall is just a more serene experience with a little bit of punch to keep things interesting. The hybrid also has all-wheel drive with power increasing to 175 hp.

There’s an F Sport version of the UX as well. It has sportier suspension tuning, more supportive seats and a few exterior styling cues. F Sport versions of the UX are available with the 2.0-liter engine as well as the hybrid. The perfect Lexus experience in a small package is the UX250h with F Sport.

Lexus Sensibility

The price starts just above $33,000. That’s a noticeable saving over the larger Lexus NX300, which is about $4,000 more.

In the end, Lexus has gone against typically luxury sensibilities by building a small SUV that, despite its size, still feels quite luxurious — especially with the hybrid UX250h.

For those of you scoring at home — Lexus now has eight crossovers and SUVs, if you consider hybrids as separate models. The only thing better than effectively selling an image or experience as an automaker is offering that experience across a very wide price range.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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