Auto review: The 2019 Lexus UX 200 provides a mixed user experience

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 10, 2019

             

The 2019 Lexus UX 200.

Given the ease of accessing anything online from your smart phone, tablet or laptop, it’s easy to forget how long it once took to pay a bill.

First, you’d examine the charges and match them to your receipts. Then you’d write out a check, and put it in an envelope onto which you affixed a stamp. Next, you schlepped to the post office to mail it. This assumes that you don’t have to deposit money in the bank to cover your checks. Before ATMs, this could only be done sometime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., which is when you’re working. How convenient. And if your bill arrived just after you left on a two-week vacation, you might have to call the company and explain the situation, which adds to the time needed to take care of this relatively simple task.

Now it’s all done digitally, and takes less time than it once took to open a bill and curse yourself for wasting money on a Patrick Nagel print.

So much in life is made easier by technology, at least when it delivers a good user experience, known in the tech world as UX — a term known by everyone under a certain age. So, given that Lexus’s new entry level vehicle is called the UX 200, you’d expect it to deliver one.

It does, as long as you have modest expectations.

Looking more like a raised hatchback than a true SUV, the UX 200’s stance is no different from its many competitors’, including the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and Infiniti QX30. But its appearance is uniquely aggressive, thanks to Lexus’ current design direction. The test car, a UX 200 F-Sport, costs $2,000 more than the base model, thanks to its more aggressive front and rear styling, blacked-out grille, LED fog lights and 225/50RF198 rubber. It works, save for the Pontiac Aztek-like plastic molding around the wheel arches. Nevertheless, it works, lending the ute a sporty appearance that will, no doubt, lure entry-level luxury lovers.

This assertive wardrobe cloaks Toyota’s Global Architecture Compact (GA-C) platform that also underpins the Toyota Corolla Hatchback and Toyota C-HR. Not surprisingly, the Lexus has more than two cubic feet of additional cargo space, but less headroom due to its sportier styling.

The UX 200 also employs the C-HR’s driveline, although it’s blessed with more horsepower (169 hp vs. the C-HR’s 144 hp). However, this powertrain is offered solely with front-wheel drive. To get all-wheel drive, you must spring for the UX 200h hybrid, which starts at $2,000 more than the UX 200, but also has 181 hp, an extra 300 pounds of weight, and an extra 6 mpg in combined fuel economy (39 mpg vs. 33 mpg). Both models come with a standard continuously variable automatic transmission.

But the hybrid may not be worth the extra scratch since neither vehicle is a barn-burner off the line.

The UX 200 runs from 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, while the hybrid makes the same trip in 8.6 seconds. Initially responsive, the UX 200’s power quickly ebbs unless your right foot asks for more. Then the UX responds as the transmission reluctantly offers up more power and the engine lets loose with loud, long moan. Engine noise is present at higher revs, more so than you’d expect from a luxury offering, especially considering it doesn’t sound sporty. Certainly, this part of the user experience proves disappointing.

Handling is far better, with a responsive nature and progressive steering that satisfies. The suspension impressively filters out the worst road shocks, while F-Sport tuned suspension provides enough of a fun factor to remind you why opted for the UX in the first place. Braking seems fairly good, and Lexus provides an impressive roster of safety systems, although the Blind Spot Warning was too sensitive when changing lanes, sending out alerts for cars two or three lanes away.

Inside, you’ll find an interior with a pleasing array of materials that ably mimic Lexus’ tonier models. The comfortably supportive seats are covered in soft leather and offer up a perfect driving position with a thick steering wheel, although the side of the center console’s hard plastic hits the driver’s right knee thanks to its fairly narrow cabin. Leg room is sufficient up front, but lacking in the rear unless the front seat passengers compromise by moving forward.

Other parts of the cabin were frustrating as well. A large cup or thermos doesn’t fit in the cup holders because their small diameter, while a row of toggle buttons above prevents you from placing anything too tall in them. And remarkably, Lexus’ infotainment continues to be one of the finickiest offered. A touchpad controls the on-screen cursor that rarely goes where you need it to, resulting in your taking your eyes off the road for extended periods of time as you end up actuating the wrong feature. It’s extraordinarily frustrating to use. What’s worse is that it always reverts to the navigation screen, even when you just want the audio screen.

Thankfully, Apple CarPlay is offered, but not Android Auto. Clearly, this is one part of the vehicle that clearly needs improvement.

So, while the Lexus UX 200’s user experience is not perfect, there might be enough here to capture your interest. Just be sure to watch the price. As the UX’s price increases, you might find the larger Lexus NX is a better buy for just a little more money.

Stats

2019 Lexus UX 200 F-Sport

Base price/As tested: $34,000/$40,615

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 169/151 pound-feet @4,800 RPM

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 29/37 mpg

Fuel required: Regular

Wheelbase/Length/Width: 103.9/177/72.4 inches

Cargo capacity: 21.7 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,307 pounds