Fun-to-drive road manners, good entry-level luxury, and solid hybrid economy are no longer mutually exclusive. When it comes to automakers' lowest-tier crossovers, this realization isn't even like the old expression "cheap, fast, reliable: pick two." You can indeed have all three, and Lexus' entry in the subcompact crossover ring makes for a compelling offer: the 2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport.
If this sounds weird or not all that believable, do believe that it feels weird to say, especially considering some of its power output is distributed to the front wheels via a CVT. I recently had a whole week with the 250h in its top spec, the F Sport Premium with all-wheel drive, and between plenty of freeway and local road driving, as well as hauling unusually dimensioned items, I had a chance to figure this out all on my own. I was pleasantly surprised and hope this is a trend that more automakers hop on as they try to differentiate in a field that's largely been dominated by anonymous appliances with incredibly lackluster (albeit thrifty) powertrains.
Here's how the UX does it.
2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport Specs
The UX 250h represents Lexus' most entry-level crossover and is only available as a hybrid. For those scratching their heads over whether its size indeed qualifies as a crossover, you're not in the wrong for being a little confused—the UX shares the same GA-C platform as the current Toyota Corolla and Prius.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, if you ask me, the UX is still an overall good-looking package that follows the brand's design language well, especially in the grille and headlights. It's also undergone a refresh for the 2023 model year, most notably with the addition of this F Sport trim which tacks sportier 18-inch F Sport wheels, a revised grille, black roof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, fog and cornering lamps, and the aforementioned painted wheel arch molding.
One weird yet cool feature is its taillights—they feature little fins that stick up. These are presumably just for design but help the UX stand out quite a bit when looking at it from behind and at a low angle.
Inside, my F Sport Premium tester was adorned in materials and features that are commonplace for the brand, including a simple-yet-elegant seven-inch digital instrument display, soft leather seats with electric adjustment and lumbar support, a leather steering wheel with a host of controls, and a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen. Switchgear is nicely laid out and easy to operate, although I wasn't a big fan of Lexus' latest UI—touchscreen boxes are a tad small and there's a bit of on-screen clutter that could potentially steal precious moments from one's gaze. Though, one area that'll save a few milliseconds of attention is its standard dual-zone automatic climate control. Much of this is unchanged from the 2022 model, with the exception of Lexus' new high-resolution touchscreen interface with an anti-glare screen and voice control.
Fitment-wise, my six-foot-three stature was actually quite comfortable behind the wheel. Even though the sunroof on this tester steals away an inch and a half of headroom, I had plenty, and the seats were amply comfortable. I can't say the same for any passenger who'd end up sitting behind me—besides maybe a small child—as there's nowhere near enough legroom even with an average adult at the helm. The front seats also featured heating and ventilation which is always nice to see in a brand's entry-level offering.
Between the UX's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine at the front and two motor generators at the rear, output is rated at just 181 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque on 87 octane. That's … not a whole lot for this bulky hatch's 3,605-pound curb weight, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at its ability to hop it from a stop light. Lexus clocks its zero to 60 mph time at 8.4 seconds, but I was able to achieve around a second less with a little courage and letting the rear powertrain spin up before letting off the brake pedal. That's right, I brake-torqued a Lexus crossover and I'm not sorry.
I'd call its acceleration adequate, especially for getting out of the way on faster city streets as well as dumping one's right foot at 50 mph on an on-ramp. Plus, that low-end hybrid torque at the rear wheels definitely makes it feel faster than it actually is.
Driving the Lexus UX 250h F Sport
Besides trying to beat Lexus' acceleration figures when conditions allowed, the UX 250h F Sport was a pleasant compact to get around town in. My tester was equipped with adaptive dampers that dealt with bumpy roads, enthusiastic highway merges, and mild twisty road fare quite well. Normal and Eco modes softened things up whereas Sport S added a bit more firmness to its damping. I found Sport S to be the best all-around mode as the ride was solid but not too stiff, and made the car genuinely fun to take any corner I could with a bit more speed. Sport Plus made everything a hair sharper, including the CVT action, but otherwise, I couldn't feel much of a difference.
Funnily enough, the UX's twistable stalk stage-right of its dash binnacle that you use to switch between modes mirrors the same switchgear found in Lexus' top-tier LC 500 grand tourer.
When it came to taking advantage of the UX's hybrid qualities, it proved to be quite economical while coursing through Southern California surface streets and highways. I made the mistake of opting to take all surface streets from Santa Ana to Long Beach on a weekday during rush hour, and the UX barely sipped any fuel at all. In spite of doing my best to wring it out as much as possible earlier in the day, I still got an estimated 37.2 mpg, which is less than Lexus' published 39 combined mpg, but still respectable after an awful lot of heavy-right-footed driving.
While I had no qualms with overall acceleration, the noises that the UX emitted along the way up the rev band were a tad strange. I could hear the buzziness of the 2.0-liter in front of me, yet also a healthy amount of added fake sound, and combined they produced a weird harmony as the revs climbed. It was odd to get used to. Not that people in the market would really care about little details like this all that much—it was really just a matter of "Huh, that's a weird racket."
Strangely, its CVT didn't annoy the hell out of me, and it even "shifted" surprisingly crisply in its Sport modes. It was no dual-clutch, but Lexus did a good job tuning it to be more dual-clutch-like than any other wretched, pulley-filled box that I'd ever driven before.
The Highs and Lows
Finally, its advanced driver assistance technology was smooth to operate, put up with poorly marked highway tarmac incredibly well, and was a snap to turn on and off. Combined with a solid suite of interior comfort and great economy, the UX would be an excellent daily commuter.
Those seeking ample space for occupants and cargo are better off stepping up to the NX or RX. Cargo room measures out to 17.1 cubic feet and it seems like it could've been a bit larger. I crammed a massive racing seat box in the back, but it was a tight fit, and it seems like space could've been expanded by thinning out some interior paneling.
The hatch floor comes up awfully high, which is convenient for unloading cargo and might have something to do with fitting in all the hybrid componentry below it, but it really made the cargo area smaller than it probably ought to be. Still, with the rear seats dropped the UX will accommodate a smaller Ikea—er, Restoration Hardware since it's a Lexus—haul without issue.
Lexus UX Features, Options, and Competition
To get behind the wheel of the 2023 Lexus UX 250h for as little money as possible, it'll cost $37,640. There's no doubt that this is indeed a good place to start, as it includes dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, Lexus' complete suite of Safety System+ 2.5 advanced driver assistance, pleasant NuLuxe (read: faux leather) interior materials, and the brand's full-size infotainment system.
This F Sport Handling is the UX's top-most trim and adds nearly $10,000 to the invoice. For that, you get painted wheel arches, sportier bolstered seats with heating and ventilation, 18-inch wheels, more aluminum and leather on interior surfaces, sport-tuned suspension, and Lexus' Active Sound Control. The latter takes the form of piped-in fake noise I mentioned earlier, which could surely start a street corner doo-wop group if you parked two to three UX 250h F Sport Handlings next to each other and revved their engines in a harmonizing fashion.
On either side of the UX 250h are some compelling choices: the Mazda CX-30, Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, and BMW X1. In terms of accelerative abilities, all of them reach 60 mph quicker than the UX. The CX-30 takes small crossover driving fun to the max with its turbocharged engine and enthusiastic chassis tuning, but its topmost trim isn't necessarily classified as a luxury model. But its luxurious specs certainly mirror those of the UX, and for less starting cash, to boot.
However, the UX is the only hybrid of the bunch and thus returns significantly better fuel economy than all of them.
The UX's high card is the fact that it's a fun-to-drive hybrid. Despite my heavy-footed afternoon trying to squeeze as much performance as I could out of it, and generally driving it at not-economy-friendly highway speeds, it refused to return less than 37 mpg. For those who are a little more materials-conscious, Lexus' NuLuxe faux leather material is very comfortable and of high quality, and lower trims can be configured to be entirely leather-free.
Value and Verdict
The 2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport is a great all-around package for those who are after hatchback utility, generally small dimensions for easy city driving, good economy, and solid luxury for the price. Its looks might not be for everyone, and I'd, in fact, prefer the unpainted molding of the lower-trim models to contrast that Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint. But overall, it has a somewhat unique shape with some neat little features here and there … like its teeny taillight wings.
It was also more fun to drive than I was expecting, albeit I'm certain this high-trim tester's adaptive dampers had a big hand in this. If you're in the market for something that's more sprightly than most other small, entry-level luxury hybrids, the well-spec'd UX would serve well for daily and road trip duty, plus any kind of driving in between that involves a twisty road.
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