For a brand with a reputation for appealing to an older audience, Lexus has rolled out some fairly daring designs in recent years.
Among them, few have been as bold as the one bestowed upon the smallest vehicle in its lineup, the UX. With more funky lines than a Rick James album, the effective successor to the CT – which, it’s worth noting, was a quirky car in its own right – has always been a bit different.
That goes doubly for its user interface, which has long been among the most frustrating on the market thanks to the confounding console-mounted touchpad that’s required to run the infotainment system. Long employed throughout the Lexus lineup, the device has been far more distracting than simply tapping a touchscreen. Graciously, it’s finally gone, with the 2023 Lexus UX adding a touch-responsive display as part of a handful of changes aimed at improving this subcompact offering.
The other big change of note is what’s under the hood. Gone is the gas-only powertrain of old, with the little UX continuing on as a hybrid from here on out. That means there’s a 2.0L four-cylinder between the front fenders alongside a pair of electric motor-generators: one that can power the front wheels, and another that can put energy into the 1.4-kWh battery pack under the back seat.
In addition, every 2023 UX sold in Canada features an all-wheel drive system that uses a separate electric motor to motivate the rear wheels. That unit being completely independent of what’s happening under the hood makes this an on-demand system that provides electric torque when it’s required at speeds as fast as about 100 km/h; otherwise, the UX powers only its front wheels in the name of efficiency.
The combined gas–electric output is never enough to overwhelm, but it’s more than adequate. Spin it into sport mode, hammer the throttle, and it’ll surge ahead with something short of all-out furry but more might than most little hybrids like it.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
The intended purpose of the gas–electric powertrain is, of course, efficiency rather than performance, and in that way the UX is quite special. Officially, it’s rated to burn regular-grade gas at a rate of 5.7 L/100 km in the city, 6.2 on the highway, and 6.0 combined, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).
Amongst its competitive set, all of which run on pricey premium-grade gas, this little Lexus handily outperforms them all – and that’s on paper and in practice. Granted, this is the only hybrid entry in the luxury subcompact crossover segment, but fuel-conscious shoppers will surely want to take that into consideration.
During an initial evaluation drive that spanned nearly 200 km, combined consumption registered at 6.1 L/100 km. Given that about 80 per cent of that distance was covered at highway speeds in chilly December temperatures, the results should be considered more than commendable.
Where the UX suffers, not necessarily next to others in the segment but rather more generally, is in its ability to move people and stuff. While the front half of the cabin is cozy yet comfortable, the back seats don’t offer much space. Likewise, the 487 L of cargo room listed on the spec sheet seems ample for a vehicle this size, but in reality the high load floor greatly reduces the overall usefulness on hand here.
Like most hybrids out there, the UX gets a bit buzzy when the gas engine kicks in, which sort of betrays the premium nature of this crossover. The opposite is true of a faux-leather upholstery, however, while the driver’s seat stood up well to about five hours behind the wheel during the first day of testing and remained supportive all week long. It’s also worth noting that headroom up front suffers a bit because of the standard sunroof, but it doesn’t take long to learn to naturally slouch behind the wheel without causing discomfort.
Even without the new adaptive dampers that are available with either F Sport package, ride quality is mellow and well-measured. It’s only at low speeds around town – when slowing for a stop, for example – that bits of broken pavement become a nuisance; otherwise, occupants remain well isolated from road imperfections.
Driving Feel: 8/10
It wouldn’t be right to call the Lexus UX sporty in any sense of the word, but there’s a certain degree of playfulness here. It’s largely a by-product of the short wheelbase and stubby proportions more than anything else, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to drive when carrying a bit too much speed through a winding road.
Those squat proportions are well suited to Lexus’s sharp-angled design language. The spindle grille and squinting headlights add some aggression, but it doesn’t dominate the look – particularly in this tester’s shade of pearlescent white paint ($500). The cabin isn’t quite as contrarian, although it’s filled with its fair share of interesting shapes and angles, while the brown upholstery here keeps it classy.
In a rare safety miss for Lexus, the thick A-pillars that frame the windshield obstruct visibility, particularly when attempting to spot pedestrians while turning, and the chunky rear corners do the same for the view out the back. On the plus side, the UX is decked out with an assortment of advanced driver-assistance and safety aids, including forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, as well as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Other features include lane departure warning and keeping assistance, the brand’s so-called lane-tracing system that chips in with steering help (the driver’s hands have to be on the wheel), automatic high-beam control, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. This being the latest version of the brand’s advanced safety suite, the systems certainly feel smoother than before. For instance, the adaptive cruise control maintains a more natural distance from preceding traffic, while there are fewer early – or just plain erroneous – warnings than before.
The 2023 Lexus UX lineup is a simple one, at least on the surface, with a single trim and powertrain on offer. Where it gets complicated is with the various packages that mix in more features and styling tweaks. Unlike most premium models on the market, however, not all desirable features are paywalled behind those pricey packages. In fact, there’s plenty of good stuff found even in the cheapest version of this crossover that’s less than $44,000 before tax.
Heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections are all standard. So, too, is an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Features like a larger 12.3-inch touch display, 10-speaker stereo, wireless phone charger, and head-up display are reserved for the most expensive packages.
The touch-responsive display is the game-changer here. The dash was restyled ever so slightly to bring the screen closer to occupants, while even the eight-inch touchscreen in this tester is vastly superior to the static display and corresponding touchpad of old. Just as almost any digital artist will agree that drawing on something like an iPad is easier than using a basic graphic tablet that requires tedious hand-eye coordination to master, reaching out to poke an icon on a touchscreen makes far more sense than swiping and clicking an outdated – and entirely disconnected – touchpad.
The rest of the systems inside are manipulated by traditional controls, including buttons and toggles for climate that incorporate a dedicated LCD display, and a mechanical gear selector on the console. There’s a whole host of switchgear on the steering wheel, too, while sliding into the driver’s seat is easy thanks to the wide door opening and low ride height. And in spite of the cargo room it robs, the high load floor makes loading and unloading the back of the UX easier than it is in most crossovers this size.
With a starting price of $43,595 before tax (that includes a non-negotiable freight charge of $2,145), the 2023 Lexus UX is cheaper than competitors from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. Now consider the features it includes and the fuel it will save, and there’s plenty of appeal that comes with it.
With its adaptive LED headlights and subtle styling tweaks, the Elegance Special Edition package added to this tester is a kind of take-it-or-leave-it upgrade at $1,800. And while the $9,500 F Sport Series 2 package is perhaps a little much, pushing the asking price to more than $53,000 before the government’s share, the $4,750 Luxury pack is much more palatable for all it adds for a little more than $48,000 with freight. For the sake of comparison, that’s about the same as the Mercedes GLA-Class’s starting price.
Practicality issues aside, the 2023 Lexus UX is efficient and shockingly affordable next to its gas-only contemporaries in the subcompact segment. The addition of a touch-responsive display is one of a handful of changes that simply make it better, but it’s far and away the most important of them all. This little runabout has always had plenty of upside, but the newfound simplicity of the sort of infotainment interface it should’ve had from the start eliminates the biggest hang-up that was hampering it all along.
|Engine Cylinders||Hybrid I4|
|Peak Horsepower||201 hp net|
|Fuel Economy||5.7 / 6.2 / 6.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||487 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Lexus UX 250h|
|Price as Tested||$45,995|
$2,300 – Elegance Special Edition package, $1,800; Eminent White Pearl paint, $500