Review: Lexus offers subcompact luxury in UX SUV

Lexus' website places the 2021 UX 250h under the "sport-utility vehicle" heading, but the UX series — for all its many good points — is more accurately described as a subcompact luxury station wagon. Its ground clearance is just 3.5 inches, far short of conventional SUV standards.

Yet we doubt that many people who buy the UX have visions of expeditions on mountainous logging roads. It's an urban car, with moderate cargo room, decent visibility and small exterior dimensions that make it easy to park. Best of all — from a strictly urban standpoint — it delivers a whopping 41 mpg in city driving, and a respectable 38 mpg on the highway. 

These appealing numbers are products of the UX 250h's 2.0-liter engine with a hybrid system, delivering a combined total of 181 horsepower. This system connects the driver with the road via a continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

This was not the first UX we've driven, but it surprised us pleasantly in at least two respects. First, we actually enjoyed driving it. Other small Lexus models were a little bland, and we didn't expect anything different with the 181-horsepower UX 250h and its CVT transmission. On the contrary, the hybrid system was quick and responsive, inviting the driver to push the car through turns and curves. We found ourselves driving the UX 250h faster and more aggressively than any Lexus we've test-driven in recent years.

Second, the car rode smoothly and quietly for such a small car. However, it handled crisply, belying its luxury DNA.

The UX series is the smallest of five SUVs offered by Lexus. The others, from compact to full-sized, are the NX, RX, GX and LX. The base UX 200, with no hybrid system, is priced at $33,000. The UX 250h starts at $35,200. Our test car, in top-drawer Luxury trim, had a base price of $39,800 and a sticker price of $43,625.

The test car had four options that added $2,800 to its sticker price. Among the standard features were the Lexus Safety System +2.0; blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert; 10.3-inch color display; Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility; premium audio system; satellite radio; run-flat tires; aluminum roof rails;, power seats with a power lumbar control in the driver's seat; moonroof; navigation system and dual-zone automatic climate control.

More Information

2021 Lexus UX 250h Luxury

Price: $43,625
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four with hybrid system, 181 horsepower
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Suspension: MacPherson struts front and rear
Ground clearance: 3.5 in.
Curb weight: 3,605 lb.
Wheels: 18x7-in. alloy
Tires: P225/50R18, run-flat
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 17.1 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 10.6 gal.
Fuel economy: 41 mpg city, 38 highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The UX 250h does have a couple downsides. Rear-seat leg room is skimpy at best, nonexistent when the front seats are levered all the way back. And the infotainment system is an endless challenge. We eventually came around to BMW's iDrive and Mazda's Command dials between the front seats, but we've never warmed to Lexus' touchpad. Other automakers have retained redundant controls, such as round knobs for volume and tuning.

 The UX 250h received a 5-star overall score in government crash tests and was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

UX sales last year were about 17,000, compared with more than 100,000 for the midsize RX, Lexus' top seller.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Brookfield, Conn.