On Autos: New Lexus hybrid is a city-friendly crossover


The 2019 Lexus UX 250h is a subcompact luxury crossover that gets an EPA-estimated 41 mpg in city driving. Photo by Brady Holt

Subcompact cars are a great choice for a crowded city. Maneuverable and easy to park, they can be a perfect fit for D.C. Of course, the typical subcompact car is an entry-level vehicle with spartan interior decor, few high-end features, and ho-hum looks.

That’s why the burgeoning subcompact luxury crossover class has been such a hit. The best of these models boil the essence of their brands into a smaller, more convenient and more affordable package.

The all-new 2019 Lexus UX is joining a crowd that includes such models as the Mercedes-Benz GLA (that familiar staple of D.C.’s car2go car-sharing fleet) and the Volvo XC40.

It also brings another city-friendly technology that’s not offered on any of its competitors: a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. The Current tested this model, the UX 250h, and enjoyed its comfortable cabin, luxury-grade feature content, and outstanding fuel economy — though its limited interior space left something to be desired.

Like the Mercedes GLA, BMW X2, or Infiniti QX30, the UX is shaped like a slightly taller hatchback more than like a boxy SUV. That makes this Lexus sleeker and more aerodynamic than a Volvo XC40 or BMW X1, but it also has less passenger and cargo space than those models. Adults have a tight squeeze in the rear seat, which you’ll have to fold down to carry very much stuff. Its liftback versatility makes the UX more functional than a small sedan, though.

The 2019 Lexus UX 250h is more fuel efficient than the competition, but its low body reduces its interior space. Photo by Brady Holt

The cheapest UX is the UX 200 model, which has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower. That’s less zip than the competition in the luxury field, where turbocharged engines with more than 200 horsepower are the norm. But it’s great news at the pump, where the UX’s EPA-estimated 33 miles per gallon in mixed driving beats every competitor.

The UX 250h costs $2,000 more than the UX 200, but it’s worth the extra money. Not only does it bring all-wheel-drive instead of front-wheel-drive, but it also has more horsepower (181).

That’s to say nothing of its phenomenal fuel economy around town, where the EPA estimates it will get 41 mpg compared to 29 mpg for the UX 200. Like most hybrids, the UX 250h is more efficient around town because its electric motors can help out more at low speeds, sometimes even letting you accelerate or coast without using the gas engine at all.

The tested UX 250h even beat its EPA estimates to average about 43 mpg in mixed driving, and both the hybrid and the gas-only model require regular-grade fuel instead of costly premium.

The 2019 Lexus UX 250h has a modern, well-finished, high-tech interior. Like other Lexus models, some controls could be easier to use. Photo by Brady Holt

Drivers who take long road trips might not appreciate that the UX is noisier on the highway than most luxury crossovers, but it’s well-behaved around town, where it exhibits a comfortable ride and agile handling. It’s even smoother than Lexus’s larger, pricier NX compact crossover, though not as roomy or quick.

Pricing for the UX is highly competitive, starting at just $33,025 for the UX 200 and $35,020 for the UX 250h hybrid. That’s quite good for a luxuriously finished, generously equipped, and sharp-looking luxury crossover — and its extra-low fuel costs further keep expenses down. Just don’t expect the high seating position, spacious interior, or smooth, powerful engine that you might associate with a luxury SUV.

To see more photos of the tested 2019 Lexus UX 250h, you can visit tinyurl.com/ux-current.