The Turnaround

The 2023 Lexus UX 250h is more fun for the frugal and fuel-conscious.
Dec 1, 2023
Barry Spyker

Talk about a turnaround. Lexus gave its subcompact hybrid crossover another run for 2023, despite less-than-stellar sales last year. The decision proved a good one as sales of its UX 250h more than doubled in the first half of this year, Lexus figures show.

Credit the Japanese carmaker for improving on the formula — and the ride. 

The UX 250h appeal has been its clean look, comfort and entry-level pricing. Plus, its hybrid-driven powertrain delivers more than 40 mpg combined. But now it is more fun to drive, gets improved driver-assist features as well as upgrades on the dashboard instruments and infotainment.

More fun? It’s not the fastest in the pack but, ok… it’s among the slowest. However, the UX is more agile on the twisty roads, especially with F Sport handling enhancements like adaptive variable suspension. The system adjusts dampers for more firmness and better control on corners, but can soften up the bumps and dips equally well.

Outside it’s pretty much the same crossover, with a broad spindle grille and mesh pattern, arrowhead-shaped LED lights and fog lights, blacked out roof with sunroof, and F Sport wheels. A light bar with 120 LEDs spans the entire rear of the lift back.

Each UX gets the fourth-generation hybrid system; the lower-selling non-hybrid version was dropped. The powertrain includes a 2.0-liter inline-four engine linked to a pair of motor-generators up front, and a third which drives the rear wheels. Front-wheel-drive is standard, but AWD is available if you can swing the extra $1,400. 

Feeding the UX is a 14-kW nickel-metal hydride battery pack that sits neatly under an already cramped rear seat. Note to shoppers: No need to look further if your heart is set on a hybrid in this class. The UX is the only one; the rest are either gas-engine or fully electric. 

Total powertrain output is 181 horsepower so the run to 60 mph takes nearly nine seconds. The electric motors assist early, then yield to the gas engine. You’ll find the best torque comes in the middle of acceleration.

But it’s not about speed here, it’s about handling. The suspension setup provides a smooth and comfortable ride, with good grip on slippery roads and hills. Steering is nicely weighted and response is improved, too. 

The F Sport adds drive modes including Normal, Sport and Sport+ (even firmer), Eco and EV for electric-only driving up to 28 mph. It also has paddle shifters to create six fake gears from the continuously variable transmission, plus an F Sport heated steering wheel, sporty gauge cluster and bolstered seats. 

Want to hear the power? Lexus’ Active Sound Control sends engine and exhaust notes through the sound system. Some like it, others not so much, but fortunately it can be turned off.

The hybrid high point, of course, is in the fuel economy and the UX gets an impressive 42 mpg combined with the lighter FWD model: 43 mpg city, 41 highway, according to the EPA. The AWD is nearly as good with 41 mpg city, 38 highway and 39 mpg combined.

While J.D. Power figures indicate that most purchase the UX for its looks and fuel economy, no one overlooks the gorgeous cabin. Materials are rich looking and the panel fit is spot-on.

Seats come in eco-friendly synthetic leather and have a distinct two-tone design with accent stitching. They are soft and well padded and have power adjustments for both driver and passenger — not bad for an entry vehicle. 

The rear seat is tighter, though, especially in leg room. To make matters worse, the rear-door opening requires adults to bend themselves into the cabin. They do get USB ports and their own AC vents.

The main event inside is Lexus’ new multimedia interface, appearing on an optional 12.3-inch touchscreen with colorful and crisp graphics. It’s fairly easy to learn and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The system offers voice control: Just say “Hey Lexus. Where are my sandals?” Ok, it’s not your mother, but you can ask for country or rock music, or even a particular artist. It can also make the cabin warmer or cooler, check weather, traffic and local fuel prices. A 10-speaker premium audio system is available, as is a larger wireless charging pad.

Cabin storage is limited. The glovebox is small, door pockets too, and the center console bin is deep but narrow. It does have a handy dual hinge to allow access by either driver or passenger. Cupholders are small, too, but have an anti-tip feature.

Add limited cargo space to the equation: The floor is high and there’s just 17 cubic feet of space, not much even for a subcompact crossover. One consolation: It has helpful LED lights on each side.

Safety features have been expanded within the Lexus Safety System+ 2.5, including better pre-collision cameras to spot pedestrians and bicyclists. Standard features include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. 

The UX 250h was geared toward younger buyers, but the median age for buyers is in the mid-50s, so it has a more universal appeal than expected. At any age, buyers appreciate the comfortable ride, good fuel economy and entry-level pricing that gets them into the upscale Lexus family. 

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald


2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport

MSRP: $43,605

As tested: $47,690 (Includes all-wheel-drive, F Sport premium and handling packages with 18-inch wheels, black roof with moonroof, LED fog lights, adaptive variable suspension, active sound control, head-up display, wireless charger, intuitive parking assist, power rear hatch)

What’s all the excitement about? Improved handling, expanded safety features, attractive price

Powertrain: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder hybrid engine, mated to continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters to simulate gear-shifting; total output is 181 hp

How’s the performance? One of the slowest to 60 mph in its class, but still fun on twisty roads and comfortable around town

Fuel economy: AWD model estimated at 41 mpg city, 38 highway, for 41 mpg combined; FWD version does slightly better at 42 mpg combined driving.


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