Displaying items by tag: lexus
The verdict: The 2021 Lexus ES gets all-wheel drive for the first time, though it might not be what you’d expect: Four-wheel traction is paired only with a noisy, modestly powered four-cylinder engine.
Versus the competition: With disappearing competition, the ES remains one of the last large, affordable luxury cars on the market that isn’t hellbent on being sporty.
The 2019 redesign of the Lexus ES made it a more accomplished luxury car with a higher-quality interior and improved isolation from road and wind noise, but that wasn’t the end of the updates for the ES: For 2021, Lexus has added a gas-only four-cylinder model, called the ES 250, that brings all-wheel drive to the party for the first time. Strangely, it’s not really appropriate to call the four-cylinder a “base” engine, because the ES 250 with AWD has a starting price identical to the front-wheel-drive-only V-6 ES 350, at $41,025 (all prices include destination charges).
The ES faithful will find this newest AWD, four-cylinder variant very different from what they’re used to, but the ES faithful may not be the market for the new version. Mid-size luxury sedans aren’t exactly a hot ticket right now, as luxury and non-luxury automakers alike have increasingly turned their focus to SUVs. The ES 250 may instead serve multiple consumers: buyers looking for SUV-like all-season capability in a familiar sedan package, and those looking for an alternative to the discontinued Lexus GS, which was previously Lexus’ sportier mid-size sedan. (The ES F Sport variant will be the best bet for these shoppers.)
All-wheel drive is new for 2021, but it’s only available with the also-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 203 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque. Strangely, the ES 350’s accomplished and refined 3.5-liter V-6, which often overpowers the front tires on that car, can only have front-wheel drive. The ES 250’s power is a bit underwhelming for a 3,780-pound sedan — a Toyota RAV4’s power-to-weight ratio is more favorable. In my experience, though, the Lexus’ eight-speed automatic transmission reacts more quickly while passing than in similar front-wheel-drive Toyota/Lexus applications, so the four-cylinder doesn’t feel underpowered. It’s not as rewarding an experience as you get from the base turbocharged four-cylinders in the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, and the ES 250’s grainy-sounding four-cylinder is unbecoming of the otherwise buttoned-up sedan.
In other cars, Toyota’s 2.5-liter is a commendable engine with surprising torque and linear power delivery, but it seems mismatched in the ES thanks to its rough soundtrack. Both during moderate acceleration and near redline, the engine wheezes through its powerband. That’s less of an issue in the non-luxury setting of parent-company Toyota’s cars and SUVs, where this engine more frequently appears, but it stands out in the Lexus. Competitors’ turbocharged four-cylinders don’t have to rev as high or as frequently, and turbos — driven by exhaust gases — act as an additional muffler to help hide ugly engine sounds. The Lexus is not turbocharged.
The ES 250’s power and acceleration deficits are substantial compared with the ES 350, making 99 fewer horsepower and 83 fewer pounds-feet of torque (the V-6 is rated 302 hp and 267 pounds-feet of torque). Lexus says the ES 250 accelerates from 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds, making it the slowest ES in the lineup. The ES 350 makes that run in 6.6 seconds, and even the ES 300h hybrid sprints to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. The hybrid also uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but it pairs with an electric motor for a combined 215 hp. Two seconds slower to 60 mph is a difference you feel in the seat of your pants. In addition to having the least power in the lineup, the ES 250 AWD is also the heaviest ES — by 90 pounds over the 350 and 50 pounds over the 300h.
The second attribute making the ES 250 unique is its new all-wheel-drive system, which can direct as much as 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels for traction. I put the ES 250’s AWD to the test during a snowstorm that dumped 8 inches of snow overnight, burying the Lexus to its rocker panels in wet, heavy snow. The ES did its job clawing out of my uncleared driveway and unplowed neighborhood streets, all the way to a major street that had been plowed — and that’s really all this kind of system needs to do.
It wasn’t flawless, though. The snow scraped the car’s underbelly thanks to its sedan ground clearance, and it hesitated briefly when accelerating from a stop as the all-season tires spun for grip. It was slowed by its traction control system, but the ES eventually gained steam without having to change drive modes or disable traction control for more wheel speed.
The ES 250’s all-wheel-drive system is a now-common type with front-to-rear torque transfer and the ability to decouple for increased fuel economy. It’s the same type you’ll find on the related Toyota Avalon and smaller Toyota Camry, but it’s really more similar to the AWD systems you’d find on small SUVs — not so much a performance-minded luxury sedan. The Acura TLX, for example, has a mechanical torque-vectoring rear axle for on-road dynamics, and the discontinued Buick LaCrosse was an odd host for impressive dynamics with its twin-clutch torque vectoring rear axle (RIP). The ES 250’s system does little, if anything, for on-road performance driving — but it isn’t much needed, considering that on dry roads the less-powerful four-cylinder mitigates the ES 350 V-6’s power-on-traction disadvantage anyway.
Other than driveline, much of the ES 250 AWD is unchanged from the ES 350. The same is true of the 250 F Sport I drove, which uses the same wheels, tires and suspension tuning as the 350 F Sport, though the ES 350 F Sport is also available with an optional adjustable firmness suspension. The ES F Sport has a taut ride with more road feel than previous generations, but it’s not offensive or uncontrolled. It’s firm enough, however, that you’d best pass up the F Sport if you’re looking for the classic ES ride quality. The ES F Sport is essentially a proficient handling package, but it’s still not as eager to drive spiritedly as the outgoing rear-wheel-drive Lexus GS F Sport. That said, it also doesn’t crash over rough roads like other F Sport treatments (on the Lexus RC, for example), where large impacts shudder through the whole chassis. As a whole, the ES F Sport is quite livable.
What hasn’t changed with the new engine and all-wheel-drive system is the ES’ generous occupant and cargo dimensions for the price, though it doesn’t have a folding backseat like the related Toyota Avalon. The ES is considerably larger and more comfortable than a BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 or Lexus IS. In fact, few remaining competitors match the ES’ price-to-size ratio. The Buick LaCrosse used to, but it’s gone now. The previous-generation Genesis G80 was close, until its pricing ballooned with its 2021 redesign.
What’s left? The Cadillac CT5 (formerly the CTS) is a compelling alternative that has some of the comfort vibe of the ES, but with more balanced ride and handling and without having to splurge for an additional performance suspension option. The last CT5 I tested had the optional 335-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with all-wheel drive, which Cadillac says goes from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds; as-tested, it stickered at $52,155. The ES 250 F Sport with AWD that I tested for this review cost $53,400, but it had a lot more advanced driver-assist tech than the CT5. The ES comes standard with full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane centering, and all trims except the base model have blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Little else on the ES has changed since 2019, which means it has a commendably rich interior for its price; it showed off well in our test car’s red interior. I can’t say the same about the CT5. The ES, however, remains saddled with a touchpad-based multimedia and control system — no touchscreen. The available 12.3-inch screen is at least high resolution, and it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s easy to view while driving, if hard to control. Lexus may be at a turning point, however, as the RX SUV received a well-done touchscreen for 2020 without a major redesign to the whole car, which means there’s hope yet that this major sticking point will be resolved with an update in the (near?) future.
Should You Buy the ES 250 AWD or ES 350?
In the weirdest turn of the model year, the ES 250 and ES 350 have identical pricing, both starting at $41,025. Their standard features are nearly identical, but the ES 350 can be equipped with a panoramic glass roof and adaptive shocks, while the ES 250 can’t. As for gas mileage difference, it’s minor: The ES 350’s 22/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined is only 2 mpg combined less than the ES 250’s 25/34/28 mpg. Both cars make their maximum power on regular octane — not premium, like most luxury cars — so between the two powertrains you’re looking at an estimated gas price difference of only $100 per year, based on 15,000 miles a year at current fuel prices: $1,350 for the ES 250 and $1,450 for the ES 350. So, if fuel economy and price aren’t much of a consideration, what is? Honestly, it’s whether you need AWD.
If you have good snow removal — or little snow — and flat ground, a FWD ES 350 with good tires (all-seasons rated well in snow or dedicated winter tires) will most often be fine. All-wheel drive is most useful in deep snow or on roads/driveways with inclines. If you don’t need AWD, there’s little reason to consider the four-cylinder ES, given it’s not less expensive, it’s considerably pokier and louder, and its AWD doesn’t make the ES a more engaging sports sedan on dry roads. What it does do, however, is make the ES more appealing to a crowd that would otherwise be looking at an SUV. There’s comfort knowing you’ll be ready for just about any weather condition, and the ES 250 starts a full $5,000 less than a comparably sized mid-size Lexus RX SUV.
As for its qualifications as a GS 350 replacement, the AWD ES 250 is pretty far off. There’s no hope on the horizon for GS loyalists, either, as a Lexus spokesperson says there are no plans to add AWD to the ES 350 in the near future.
Compact crossover is an intriguing, leftfield choice
Seemingly at a relentless pace, the onward march of the SUV continues, as typified by the Lexus UX crossover. Not so long ago, the RX was Lexus’s only SUV, but in short order the British line-up’s been fleshed-out both by the medium-sized NX and the seven-seater RX L. With the UX, Lexus has a smaller model to entice buyers away from the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
It’s the GLA that this Lexus feels closest to in terms of ethos – while it ticks various SUV styling cue boxes with its unpainted dark grey wheelarch extensions and body addenda, the UX nevertheless feels like more like a tall hatchback than a rugged cross-country vehicle, much like the Audi Q2 and BMW X2.
As a result, Lexus loyalists will likely head to the UX from the ageing CT hatchback, or perhaps downsize from the bestselling NX. In fact, Lexus has such high hopes for the UX that it should become the firm’s most popular model, overtaking the UX. It’s also expected to be the most important model for the brand in terms of getting new customers into the Lexus brand.
Interior stylish and well made
You won’t mistake the UX’s cabin for the Teutonic look of its Germanic rivals or the so-so quality from its Jaguar Land Rover alternatives – this is undoubtedly a good thing and we like that Lexus continues to plough its own furrow. Material quality, fit and finish is deeply impressive, with a variety of complementary materials giving the dashboard a broad, low, layered look.
Less successful is the continued application of the touchpad for controlling the multimedia system – it’s simply not as intuitive as its rivals’ systems and in some regards is downright infuriating. Still, at least the clock alongside the infotainment screen is a classy analogue number, and not a digital affair shared with a 1980s microwave oven.
Space isn’t the UX’s strongest point however. While there’s enough room up front with an excellent, low-feeling, cocooning driving position, space in the back is no better than adequate. Compared with something like the Audi Q3 which is very impressive indeed, the UX’s sleek roofline and smaller dimensions mean there’s only enough room for two average-height adults. Any taller or wider and you’ll be struggling, especially if there are taller occupants in the front.
Lexus UX 250h the only engine option
Although a petrol-only UX 200 is available in other European markets, the UK cars will be exclusively hybrid-powered – all models sold in Britain will be badged UX 250h.
Despite the numbering system suggesting otherwise, the 250h is powered by a combination of an all-new 2.0-litre petrol engine, with Lexus’s fourth-generation of hybrid technology. Together they produce 178hp and 202Nm of torque, driving the front wheels. Its top speed is electronically governed to just 110mph, while the claimed 0-62mph acceleration benchmark requires just 8.5 seconds.
There’s also a four-wheel drive version of the UX available – badged E-Four – but this is expected to be a small seller. It also has some practicality issues in that it shrinks the boot down to just 283 litres from 320 litres – no better than a small supermini. Around town, both versions are very civilised and hushed, only getting noisier when you accelerate harder.
It still sounds like the engine’s spinning faster than the rate of acceleration suggests it should be, but this soon subsides. The gentler, more progressive you drive it, the more relaxed it feels. And sounds.
How economical is the UX 250h?
Lexus has yet to confirm the exact fuel efficiency and emissions levels of the UX range, but under the more real-world-imitating WLTP testing method they don’t look immediately impressive. Stick with a front-wheel drive UX 250h and fuel economy ranges between 49.6mpg and 53.3mpg, and claims CO2 emissions of 131g/km.
At the other end of the scale, a UX 250h F Sport E-Four riding on 18-inch rims delivers equivalent figures of 46.3-48.7mpg. Lexus has no immediate plans to release a plug-in hybrid version of the UX – for the time being the 250h is what its manufacturer refers to as a ‘self-charging hybrid’.
Lexus UX practicality and boot space
Lexus’s engineers wanted the UX to have a coupe-like feel and to a certain degree they’ve been successful in this aim, although not always to the benefit of passengers. You sit low down, lowering the car’s centre of gravity, but because the window line is also quite high – you feel more hemmed-in than behind the wheel of a BMW X2 or Range Rover Evoque, for instance.
Space-wise the front chairs have ample room for limbs and heads, and also prove very comfortable – it’s possible to spec them with heater and cooling air conditioning fans. F Sport-spec seats are slightly pinchier at the hips, but in no way uncomfortable. Spare a thought for those in the back, though – it’s not especially roomy and tall passengers will struggle for both head- and legroom in particular. Three adults abreast on the rear bench will prove unpopular and uncomfortable, although the transmission tunnel is quite small.
Even getting in and out of the back seat is a bit of a challenge, with quite a narrow door aperture. Pre-teens aren’t likely to have anywhere near as much bother, and arguably if more space is required, there’s the NX above the UX in Lexus’s SUV hierarchy.
That cosy interior comes partly because the UX is a compact car. It’s smaller than an Audi Q3 – more like the Q2 in size, and as a result is very easy to manoeuvre. Reversing cameras and parking sensors are standard which help, and visibility is good looking forwards and to the sides thanks to slim A-pillars.
Turn around and the angular body work lends a more restricted view out of the back – making it a little trickier to manoeuvre than its Audi rivals. However, those extra assistance systems help to negate this. On the plus side, the UX’s turning circle is nice and tight, so manoeuvring in tight spots is very simple.
Practicality is also hampered in the boot, with a high loading lip and a shallow depth between the boot floor and the flimsy luggage cover. On front-wheel drive models this load level can be lowered to a space beneath, expanding to 320 litres, but it’s very shallow when it’s in place and in line with the loading lip.
Those cars fitted with E-Four come with this as the only boot set-up – the shallow one that even saw a medium-sized holdall digging into the load cover. In this form, boot capacity is just 283 litres which is worse than many small superminis.
How safe is the UX?
Thanks to standard-fit Lexus Safety System, the UX boasts some impressive safety credentials that have contributed to its five-star rating from Euro NCAP. The suite of driver aids and safety kit consists of:
On top of this, the UX comes with eight airbags, various braking and traction systems, hill-hold assist and the option of adding blindspot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert. For families, there are two Isofix points in the rear as well.
Lexus UX interior and comfort
The design of the UX’s interior matches that of the exterior. There are plenty of varied angles and design features, but we’re pleased to report it’s very high quality with an expensive feel. It’s also less daunting to operate than you might expect, although the media system is a source of frustration like it is in the brand’s other models.
Getting comfortable is very easy indeed thanks to a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment. You don’t sit especially high up like you’d expect of an SUV – there’s more of a hatchback feel to the UX. However, you feel hunkered down with the cabin swooping around you, and is a very pleasant place to be.
Whether it’s the seats, the door panels or the top of the dash, the materials used are high quality for the most part, even if there are various different materials and textures used.
Our biggest issue with the interior of the UX – at least in the front – is the media system. The large screen is bright and easy to view as it’s set on top of the dashboard, but the way in which it’s operated is via a frustratingly dim-witted touchpad located on the centre console. It requires greater precision than a rotary controller or touchscreen, and can be quite distracting. The system itself just looks a little dated, too.
Is it comfortable?
The UX may well look like a sharp, sporty off-roader, but the good news is that it doesn’t ride like one. Lexuses are famed for relaxed, comfortable drives – while remaining balanced and composed – and the UX is very much the same.
Refinement is excellent which means long journeys are easy and chilled for all, while the seats on all models are excellent. Both supportive in all the right places and very comfortable (with plenty of adjustment) it’s a doddle to get comfy and stay comfy.
Those in the back may find it a bit of a squeeze which impacts comfort levels, but there won’t be too many complaints about the way the UX rides over bad surfaces. Only F Sport models have a slightly more fidgety ride, but even on larger alloy wheels it’s a more relaxed affair than in an Audi Q3 S Line, for example.
Cars fitted with smaller wheels and/or the Adaptive Variable Suspension option offer a very composed ride, with adaptive suspension that is tweaked based on the driving mode you’re in – with a choice of Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport S+. Leave it in Normal for the most relaxed ride.
Lexus UX running costs and mpg
With just one engine available, it’s easy to sift through the UX’s economy figures. For the front-wheel drive model, Lexus claims between 49.5 and 53.2mpg. The lower figure is for cars on smaller alloy wheels.
Go for the E-Four version and there’s only a small penalty – claiming between 46.3mpg and 47mpg.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to get near these figures in everyday driving – as long as you’re not revving the nuts off it.
As with fuel economy, the UX’s CO2 emissions figures are easy to decipher, with just two variants of the same engine.
Tested on the new WLTP emissions cycle, the best-performing UX for emissions comes in at 120g/km, while the worst offender is just over 130g/km – figures that are more than competitive with the majority of its rivals.
Is it reliable?
Despite featuring a new hybrid powertrain, there’s little reason to expect the UX to be an unreliable car to own. Lexus has a stellar reputation for building cars to very high standards – with some incredible attention to detail that they call ‘Takumi Craftsmanship’. This features things such as windows that slow down before they close to make less noise, and exhaustive testing of the way the doors shut to ensure it’s a solid-sounding noise.
In terms of mechanical components, Lexus has been building hybrids for years, so the technology used should be top notch and very well tested.
Lexus UX engines and performance
Performance is delivered by just one engine – a 2.0-litre petrol hybrid badged UX 250h with 184hp and 190Nm of torque. Lexus describes it as a self-charging hybrid, which basically means you don’t need to plug it in and it sorts itself out which mode it’s in.
The most popular version is the front-wheel drive model, and this will take 8.5 seconds to complete the 0-62mph sprint. Go for the E-Four four-wheel drive model and this drops ever so slightly to 8.7 seconds – largely due to the extra weight it’s carrying around.
In reality, the UX doesn’t feel as rapid as those figures suggest when you floor the throttle. It takes a little while for the engine to get going, but when it does it surges forwards smoothly and without any real fuss. The main thing you’ll notice is the moan from the engine as the revs soar – a characteristic we’ve become used to with hybrid powertrains and CVT transmissions. However it calms down when you’re up to speed, and the UX isn’t the kind of car you’d be thrashing around anyway.
Everywhere else, the comfortable and quiet nature of the UX means it’s very refined and relaxed, while pottering around town allows you to travel for a lot of the time purely on battery power. That means it’s very smooth and silent, with just a little murmur from the engine when it does kick in.
Lexus UX 250h E-Four
The E-Four system directs drive to the rear wheels when it detects the front pair could do with extra traction. Having driven both versions over similar road conditions, we suspect the E-Four package isn’t going to be beneficial to most UX buyers.
Although the UX 250h E-Four has the same top speed as its front-wheel drive sibling (110mph), the extra weight of the system slows the 0-62mph time a shade to 8.7 seconds.
Lexus refers to the hybrid UX’s gearbox as an electronic continuously variable transmission, but it’s not a CVT in the conventional sense – strictly speaking it’s a planetary gear set. Rather than get bogged-down in technicalities, the important thing to know is that it’s less whiny than previous iterations of the transmission.
How does it handle?
The UX performs well around town – the hint is in the name as it stands for ‘Urban Crossover’. It’s very quiet running in EV mode for a lot of the time, but even when it’s not, it’s very hushed. Its small size and tight turning circle make it great for nipping around city streets. Whether you’re in Eco or Normal driving modes, it’s a smooth and relaxed operation.
If you’ve sampled other Lexuses, particularly the CT and NX, you’ll note that the UX’s controls feel weightier. They still feel light around town, but the small amount of extra force you need to haul it about on windier, quicker roads makes it more engaging than its siblings.
While it’s nimble on twisty B-roads, it doesn’t strike its driver as being an athletically enthusiastic sporty SUV. Traction is more than ample – even on front-wheel drive versions – but you don’t find yourself deliberately seeking to carry speed into corners with a view of powering fast out of them – an X1 or an E-Pace perform better in this regard. A lot of this comes because of the hybrid engine that almost holds you back from having too much fun.
F Sport versions of the UX feature larger, 18-inch alloy wheels and stiffened suspension, with anti-rollbars, featuring mid-point dampers to absorb shocks transmitted through the suspension. Over poor road surfaces you’re immediately aware of the firmer compromise – it’s not uncomfortable, and still rides in a far more relaxed manner than an equivalent S Line Audi or M Sport BMW.
Far better to stick with a 17-inch-wheeled UX and opt for the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) arrangement. Here the combination is satisfyingly compliant and seemingly free from uneasy wallowing in corners or under braking. Again, it reinforces that the UX performs more impressively when driven with measured consideration.
Lexus UX long-term test
We ran a Lexus UX 250h for six months, between December 2019 and June 2020. Click the links below to jump to individual monthly reports...
Most car manufacturers are jabbering on about electrifying their model line-ups, some with more ambition than others. But all the while, Lexus has been leading the charge (boo) – offering a hybrid powertrain in every single one of its UK models since 2013.
So while Lexus, or rather its parent company Toyota Group, wasn’t the first to the hybrid game, it’s been the most successful, selling more hybrids than anybody else so far. Yet it’s also proved resistant to change, having yet to launch a plug-in hybrid or pure-electric vehicle and continuing on with what it calls its ‘self-charging hybrid’ powertrain.
To see if it’s still fit for purpose, I’ll be running this for the next six months – a Lexus UX. It’s the smallest SUV in the brand’s four-strong range, and rivals cars such as the Audi Q2, BMW X1 or Volvo XC40.
I wanted to tackle this term right away, as it can instil rage into even the most mild-mannered of car enthusiasts online. Type it into Twitter and you’ll find page upon page of not-so-reasoned debate.
Critics say that the term is misleading – it suggests that the car is pulling electricity out of thin air, that it will never need to be refuelled and that all it is is a more efficient petrol car. Toyota says that it addresses buyer’s concerns about hybrid cars – namely, the misconception that you can’t buy one unless you have somewhere to plug it in – and it wants to show that its vehicles do not need external power to perform at their best.
2020 Lexus UX rear three quarter
While I can see where the critics are coming from, I don’t really buy that the average consumer is so thick as to believe the car entirely fuels itself. And though I’m not mad on the term, I can’t really think of a better one that extols the virtues of the powertrain while also communicating that it’s different to a plug-in hybrid.
In addition, I think it's a fairly accurate description. While admittedly all of the power comes from petrol in one way or another, the car charges its battery entirely autonomously - either from the engine or through regenerative braking and coasting.
So there. I’ll be calling this UX a self-charging hybrid throughout these reports. Ner ner ner.
So what’s it actually like?
Superficial things out of the way first – the UX’s design is an acquired taste, but I love the combination of Celestial Blue metallic paint and cream leather that our car rocks. It certainly stands out, with bodywork covered in violent cuts and creases, the aggressive ‘spindle’ grille and a full-width element at the rear providing plenty of interest.
This is a base-spec UX, but it’s fitted with two really important upgrades – the Premium Plus Pack and the Tech and Sound pack. These are pricey options, weighing in at £4,200 and £1,900 – though you can’t have the latter without the former.
2020 Lexus UX interior
They add plenty of luxury kit, though, which I reckon is fairly essential on a premium-badged model such as this. In fact, for the £6,100 total you get 25 new features – not a bad ratio. They include keyless entry, all-round parking sensors, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass, which are all useful touches.
Naturally, as a bit of a tech geek, I’m more interested in the wireless charging pad, digital dashboard, head-up display and 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system. I can confirm that it sounds absolutely mega.
I’ll admit to being slightly less enthusiastic over the prospect of six months with Lexus’ infotainment system. More on that in a future update, but for now, all you need to know is that it took three fairly experienced automotive journalists around 10 minutes to figure out how to turn the sat-nav’s voice commands off.
Our UX also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though there’s great news on that front – 2020 model year cars come with the software installed, and it’s an upgrade that will be applied to our car at its next service. Toyota Group has dragged its heels on this smartphone integration for years, and it’s fantastic to finally see it become available.
Speaking of service, Lexus has supplied us with a car with a few thousand miles on to begin with – it’ll require a trip to the dealers during our term with it. This is great, because it means I’ll get to experience Lexus’ legendary service department first-hand and see if it really does live up to expectations.
Any other disappointments?
I’m a bit miffed that this base-spec model still uses halogen bulbs for indicators – they rather spoil the futuristic aesthetic Lexus is going for with the styling, and I think it’s stingy given this car’s near-£30,000 starting price.
Practicality has already proven an issue. The boot is unbelievably shallow, to the point where even a standard-sized bag of shopping pushes into the parcel shelf. The official figures list the boot space as more than 300 litres, which I take with a grain of salt – there’s certainly less usable space in there than in most superminis or even city cars. It’s not a patch on the likes of the Volvo XC40.
The powertrain is often a sticking point with Lexus hybrids – some love its relaxed nature, others find the sometimes unpredictable nature of the transmission a bore. I’m beginning to lean more towards enjoying it, but there are still times when I yearn for the more enjoyable performance you’d get from a similarly powerful turbocharged petrol engine.
I’ve gone through just shy of 1,000 miles over my first month with the UX – a mixture of short runs to and from work and longer cross-country trips. It’s given me plenty of food for thought, but overall it’s proven a surprisingly likable car so far.
But watch this space for greater detail, as there’s plenty more to dive into during our six-month term.
Update 2: Performance and handling
Lexus is a brand known for comfort, stunning build quality and impeccable customer service. That’s not to say all of its models are sedate hybrids, though – cars such as the LC, RC F and even the LFA prove that Toyota’s luxury arm can do ‘exciting’ when it puts its mind to it.
So, did any of that expertise get called up when Lexus put together the UX? After all, small SUVs – especially fashion-led ones like this UX – are bought by young, vibrant types... in theory. Certainly from my perspective, as a single 26-year old (albeit somewhat lacking in vibrancy), I'd like a car that's good fun to drive. And happily, I can report that, within its own confines – being a hybrid, automatic SUV – the UX is pretty good.
How good can a self-charging hybrid SUV with a CVT actually be?
It’s all about driving within the car’s limits. Put your foot down all the way and you’re in for a rough time. The continuously variable transmission sends the revs spiking as the engine desperately spins up to try and conjure some forward momentum. You could even flick the car into Sport mode and take control of some artificially created gear ratios. But once again, this is a practice full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Instead, I’ve found the ideal level of throttle input. Place your foot at about 70% and the electric motor and petrol engine work in sync to bring progress that’s genuinely rapid, yet refined. It’s rather like riding the wave of torque that you get with a diesel, but without the associated tractor-like thrum.
In fact, it’s rather easy to trivialise the fact that the UX really is quite a quick little thing. At full chat, 0-62mph comes about in just 8.5 seconds – the same as an Audi Q2 35 TFSI. Not too long ago, that would have been considered hot hatchback pace.
The UX certainly doesn’t handle like a hot hatchback, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good fun. It’s remarkably poised in the corners, and you can carry a fair degree of speed without the car feeling as though it’s on the edge of disaster.
The rear end in particular feels surprisingly communicative – a surprise, for a small SUV. As ever, the steering’s remote and over-light, but that’s par for the course among this car’s competitors.
Relaxed manners make cruising a pleasure
Yet the UX doesn’t encourage spirited driving, and so my average pace has steadily dropped back. I still keep up with traffic, but this car benefits more and more the smoother your inputs become. Drive it carefully and you’ll see the little ‘EV’ symbol light up on the dashboard, signifying that the petrol engine’s been switched off and, for this limited period, you’re not using any fuel at all.
In fact it’s immensely satisfying to see how often, and how long I can get the EV light to stay on for. There’s a knack to it – you need to lift off the accelerator just enough, as if you were encouraging an automatic car to shift into a higher gear. The last mile or so of my commute is a straight 30mph cruise through my village, and I’m now capable of doing this reliably on electric power alone. So it’s disappointing that, despite all this battery-powered motion, I’ve yet to crack 46mpg since the impressive first month…
Surprisingly for a hybrid – and I say ‘surprisingly’ because these powertrains are usually at their best around town – the UX is a pleasure to drive on the motorway. The engine has more than enough poke for overtaking at faster speeds, wind, road and engine noise are all well-contained, and the supple ride glides over all but particularly rough surfaces.
The adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist functions aren’t quite as slick as they were on my previous long-termer, a Honda Civic, though. The cruise control is particularly easily perturbed – even with the following distance at its closest setting, it panics and slows the car down long before I get anywhere near the car in front. The lane-keeping aid, meanwhile, tends to spend all its time twitching the wheel, which is very tiring. I’ve had these both switched off for a while in favour of driving ‘analogue’.
Fuel economy: 45.8mpg
Update 3: A mid-pandemic service for our Lexus UX
In line with COVID-19 lockdown regulations (and acknowledging that my job here at Parkers, while important, doesn’t make me a key worker) I’ve been hiding out in my spare bedroom for the last six weeks, working from home and allowing my long-term Lexus UX to gather dust outside but for a weekly trip to the supermarket.
Lockdown couldn’t have come at a worse time either, at least where the car is concerned. It was due its first service, at 10,000 miles or one year old – and I’d just booked it in for March 25 when the country locked down, on March 23. Bugger.
Of course, a short delay on a service interval is hardly a big deal. This is pre-emptive maintenance rather than a particular necessity, and it’s a very badly built car that will go bang if it misses a single scheduled service. The vast majority of car manufacturers have in fact extended their service intervals for the duration of the lockdown period, promising that drivers don’t need to worry about voiding their warranty for missing a scheduled service.
This act has the additional benefit of freeing up space in service bays for key workers – those still working who may need to drive, and for whom a well-maintained car is particularly important.
Some free slots for service still available
Still, I can only assume that the technicians at the Lexus dealer were twiddling their thumbs, because they called me offering a service slot, should I want it. They stressed that I didn't have to take it, though. Toyota's official stance is it will take a 'sympathetic and flexible' approach to servicing during the pandemic - and if I had concerns, I could delay the service.
I accepted, however, for a few reasons. First, and very selfishly, I desperately wanted to get out of the house – having been cooped up alone for almost two months, the deep but one-sided conversations with my dishwasher were beginning to wear rather thin. Second, I was very encouraged by how seriously Lexus was taking cleanliness and social distancing protocols.
And finally, I intended to sign up to the next wave of NHS volunteers, having already used the car to deliver a few lots of groceries around town – and didn’t want the excess mileage to be a problem.
It’s strange how unnatural driving feels, when you’re back at the wheel for the first time in a while. The trip to my ‘local’ dealer in Cambridge (I live 40 miles away, but my nearby Toyota dealer won’t touch Lexus) took a good hour, and felt deeply weird until I got my head wrapped back around the sensation of speed. It was as uneventful as you’d expect, the UX proving as comfortable and refined as ever.
Social distancing like a pro
Lexus was operating service slots in 15-minute intervals to prevent customers from coming in contact with each other. There’s zero contact with the staff, either – I was invited to sanitise my hands and my car key before placing the latter into an envelope and leaving it on the table. I then collected another envelope with the keys to my courtesy car: another UX, freshly sanitised. Returning was the reverse of this.
The process was quick and reassuring, and though there’s no way to totally mitigate the risks of this virus the procedures in place certainly go a long way to minimising it.
As expected, no warnings were thrown up from the service. All went ahead as planned, with the exception of one thing – I’d been assured an update for the infotainment system would be available, adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the UX’s central screen, but this didn’t materialise. It’s a shame, as the drive reminded me how sub-par Lexus’ system is. Even my courtesy car, fitted with an upgraded setup and a larger, higher-resolution display ran the same awkward system, making it no easier to use.
However, as a first-time recipient of Lexus’ legendary customer service, I was left very impressed. Hopefully the next time we meet won’t be under pandemic conditions…
Fuel economy: 43.5mpg
Update 4: Practicality
One of the key factors that appeals to buyers when opting for an SUV is the promise of space – lots of room in the back seats and in the boot, especially compared with an equivalent hatchback. That’s why in many cases they’ve replaced MPVs in manufacturer line-ups.
Lexus has never sold an MPV in the UK, though, and while many of the brand’s larger cars are immensely practical it’s not a particular brand hallmark in the way it is with, say, Honda or Skoda. Despite this, the UX still falls some way short of the practicality I’d hope to find on a car such as this.
Cramped in the back
Front seat passengers are treated very well, but space in the back is a little more limited. There’s sufficient knee and head-room for adults, but four six-footers will definitely feel cramped. That’s a complaint we can make about the majority of compact SUVs, though.
What makes the UX especially bad, however, is the uncomfortable centre perch, and the high window line and aggressively tinted rear glass that make it very dark and cave-like in the back, despite our car’s light leather.
Passengers have also made a curious complaint – that the subwoofer for my car’s (wonderful) Mark Levinson sound system reverberates through the seat, buzzing against their backs and making even short journeys incredibly irritating. I can’t say it’s an issue I’ve experienced myself, even on the few journeys I’ve spent as a rear-seat passenger – but it might be something to consider if you’re buying this car with the intention of regularly transporting people in the rear.
Any issues with the rear seat pale in comparison to those with the boot, though.
Boot? What boot?
The UX’s boot is laughably shallow, to the point it would probably stop me – even with my limited demands on a car’s boot – from buying one. Overall boot capacity is just 320 litres – smaller than a lot of superminis, and much smaller than the 470 litres of a BMW X2 or 405 litres of an Audi Q2.
It’s a long, wide and flat space, but there’s so little space underneath the parcel shelf that even a small bag of shopping ends up squashed.
That must be why Lexus opted to fit a flexible, fabric parcel shelf, rather than a rigid one. This conforms itself to whatever’s placed under it, though, leaving a rather unsightly bulge in the rear-view mirror…
The big problem is that Lexus was forced to fit the car’s standard 12V battery back here. It sits just behind the rear wheelarch, and artificially raises the boot floor to this insane level. As a side benefit, you do get a reasonably-sized hidden area underneath the boot floor, but I’d trade that in for more overall height.
At least the seats fold easily and lay almost completely flat, so it’s not as awful at the trademark IKEA run as it could be.
Is it really a problem?
Limited rear-seat room can be disregarded for a lot of small premium cars like this, as they’re often bought by single people or couples who value style over space. The boot, however, is ridiculous – even a supermini can accommodate a weekly shop for two without needing the parcel shelf to be removed.
It’s certainly a feature I’d recommend looking very carefully at before opting to purchase the UX.
Fuel economy: 45.1mpg
Update 5: interior & technology
I have a pretty extensive mental list of things in a car’s interior that I enjoy, and things that annoy. Like one of those couples on Escape to the Country who demand six acres and a large characterful kitchen-diner, I’m looking for a few specific items – but can be easily put off by an avocado bathroom suite.
The first is the seats. I like long seat bases to support my long legs, plenty of back support – but not too huggy around the thighs. Tick, tick, and a big Lexussy tick here – the UX, like most Lexuses, has fantastic seats. They’re superbly comfortable and very supportive.
Dials and gauges can make or break a car’s interior. After all, nobody wants information overload, but at the same time it’s tiring to be forced to scroll through multiple sub-menus just to see your remaining fuel, for example. Here’s another area the Lexus does well – its dynamic, part-digital dials show plenty of information, with a small panel off to the side which holds driving data. It’s easy to navigate and attractive to look at. Top work.
You’d hope for excellent build quality with Lexus, and I’m happy to report that even on the little UX everything feels well screwed together with no squeaks, rattles or buzzes at speed.
I’m not one to get dewy-eyed over soft-touch plastics, but the Lexus uses them where it makes sense – with all the places you touch being cushioned and pliable, while surfaces lower down the dash are less so.
Tech all works well
My UX is a base model, but one that’s fitted with the Premium Plus Tech and Sound pack. This brings loads of stuff I reckon is essential if the UX is to compete with cars like the Mercedes-Benz GLA or Audi Q2. Electric adjustment and heating for the front seats, keyless entry, all-round parking sensors should, I think, be standard equipment anyway – while the leather upholstery, high-powered Mark Levinson stereo, head-up display and wireless charging are all nice extras.
The stereo in particular sounds excellent, with deep bass, great clarity and more volume than is strictly necessary. It’s a shame that the infotainment system it’s attached to is so rubbish, though – playing music through Bluetooth feels mighty old-fashioned when competitors allow you to connect Android Auto and scroll through to your heart’s content.
Anything you’re missing?
Well, the 7-inch infotainment screen looks a little bit lost in its surround. Higher-end UX models have a 10.3-inch screen, which means the housing has to be able to accommodate that larger unit. As a result, my car has some rather ugly bezels either side and with the text-heavy interface it can be confusing to navigate.
A 360-degree camera would be nice, but the standard rear-view unit works just fine – no need to upgrade as far as I’m concerned. What I do miss is the more sophisticated LED headlights with adaptive high beam – they might illuminate the road slightly more impressively than my car’s basic LED units, which have a very sharp cut-off.
What I’d really like, though, is for Toyota to take the infotainment display from its facelifted C-HR and plop it into the UX. I’ll speak a bit more about the relationship these cars share and which comes out on top in my final update, but in terms of tech the Toyota is leagues ahead thanks to its provision of both a touchscreen and Apple Carplay/Android Auto connectivity.
Fuel economy: 45.0mpg
Update 6: Farewell
After six months and a few thousand miles in the Lexus UX, it’s time to wave goodbye – and collect my thoughts on the time I’ve spent with this premium, hybrid SUV. This obviously wasn’t the typical long-term loan, as it was punctuated in the middle by a nationwide lockdown period. But I handed the car back with plenty of opinions – mixed ones – which I’ll attempt to share now.
Overall? I really like the UX. It’s not quite my favourite of the Lexus lineup – that honour goes to the LC, followed by the RX, because deep down I’m a fancy gal trapped in the body of a cash-strapped journalist. Yet even the UX’s status as the baby of the range doesn’t make it feel in any way budget. Little touches, like the soft-close electric windows, the sumptuously supple leather, the intricate analogue clock on the dash – none of them are what you’d call essential, but they elevate the UX above a similarly-sized offering like the Volkswagen T-Cross.
Looks don’t fade
Divisive – yes. But the UX still looks fresh and I think it’s a particularly smart addition to this market sector.
Lexus UX rear cornering
At night, things only get better. I love the lighting signatures on this car – they’re unmistakably Lexus, yet different to the rest of the range. Full-width taillight elements are becoming more commonplace, but the UX has a particularly clean example. You’ll definitely know if you’re following one of these home.
Great to drive – with caveats
I don’t think the self-charging hybrid system is for everybody. Mechanically involving it is not – even less so than a conventional automatic, so if you like to feel as though you’re innately connected to your car, a Lexus hybrid is not for you. Try a Porsche Macan, or something with a manual gearbox.
But it didn’t take long for me to get used to how the UX proceeds along the road. The electric motor, continuously variable transmission and engine have a pretty harmonious relationship; certainly, some time spent in other manufacturer’s hybrid models has given me new appreciation for how Lexus has tuned its self-charging hybrid system.
It shouldn’t be surprising, really, as parent brand Toyota has been building hybrid cars for more than two decades now…
Practicality still a problem
Truly, the size of the boot was my biggest issue with the UX. I’ve already had a long moan about it above, so I won’t go into it too much here, but I reiterate – any car, even the sportiest of roadsters, ought to be able to cope with a midweek shop for two people. A compact SUV? Well, the bar’s set even higher.
Having normal-sized shopping bags distending the flexible parcel shelf and spoiling rear visibility is something that never stopped grating on me, especially during lockdown when a trip to the supermarket was the only time I drove the car at all.
How much did it cost to run?
Here’s another area the UX left me disappointed – its fuel consumption. I’ve spent plenty of time in Toyota hybrids before now, and I’ve always been incredibly impressed at their economy. A long weekend in a Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid once saw me average over 65mpg with ease – the beauty being that, unlike a diesel, that economy figure is possible even on short journeys.
Lexus UX driving modes
Yet in the UX I’ve never exceeded the 47.9mpg I got during my first month with the car, and over my months it’s averaged out to just 45.5mpg. With official WLTP figures for my two-wheel drive model being a claimed minimum of 49.5mpg, I’m a little disappointed – and I’m certainly no lead-footed speed freak. During its worst month, where a slightly quicker colleague borrowed it, the UX returned just 43.5mpg.
But overall, how does the UX stack up to a closely-related model? Well, that’s where things get awkward, because you see…
I’d rather have a Toyota C-HR
At launch the Toyota C-HR was only available with a rather asthmatic 1.8-litre self-charging hybrid powertrain, so it took until the facelift and the introduction of a 2.0-litre alternative to become a rival to the UX.
After sampling the two back-to-back I have to admit the C-HR is a better car. Though its powertrain is very closely related to the system in the UX, the difference in response is remarkable. The C-HR has a genuine degree more immediacy when you pull away – its handling is keener and its steering rack quicker, too.
You don’t lose much in comfort, either, and the C-HR’s boot is enormous compared with the UX.
The C-HR doesn’t have anything like the interior ambiance that the UX enjoys, but it’s still neatly designed and laid out and – joy of joys – it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built in. That’s something new UX’s do get, but the update to install it to my car wasn’t ready before I had to hand it back.
The UX is good-looking, has a cracking interior, is superbly comfortable on a long journey and is even reasonably good value considering the kit that’s on offer – once you choose a few carefully considered options packs, that is.
Is it worthy of converting buyers of premium German SUVs, such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 or Mercedes-Benz GLA? I think it is, but whether those drivers would even consider a Japanese car with the quirks of the UX over its Teutonic competition is perhaps unlikely.
Lexus UX front three quarter
I still recommend taking one for a test-drive, though. You never know, you may be drawn in to the world of Lexus – a place where dependability and customer service rule the roost. It’s this, rather than the car itself, that would tempt me into Lexus ownership.
Fuel economy: 45.4mpg
Total average: 45.5mpg
Lexus UX verdict
If practicality is at the bottom of your list of priorities, the Lexus UX is more than worthy of a place on your shopping list if you want something smooth, relaxing and easy to drive that also has some character. It looks great, the interior is plush, interesting, packed to the roof with equipment and has an excellent driving position. It just feels different and a bit special – especially compared with the competition.
While the sole engine option may limit its appeal, the hybrid drivetrain is refined and relaxing around town – which is also where it’s most efficient. The added bonus is that the UX is really quite fun to drive with agile handling and responsive steering, plus it can get up and go if you need it to without fuss and drama.
The Toyota C-HR comes with the same powertrain, though, and costs less to buy and has a bigger boot. It's also just as distinctive to look at and be in. If you want something that's a bit more family-friendly, an Audi Q2 or BMW X2 could be worth a look, but you won't find a hybrid option in either of these ranges.
This luxurious two-door is showing its age, but it’s still a rewarding car for people who love to drive.
The Lexus RC coupe, like the recently updated-for-2021 Lexus IS sedan, has been around for some time, first going on sale in 2015 and receiving a major face-lift in 2018. It doesn't have too many competitors. Sporty luxury coupes aren't nearly as popular as upscale SUVs these days, leaving the Lexus battling three primary competitors: the BMW 2 Series, the Infiniti Q60, and the Audi A5. Within that bunch, The RC is the only one to offer a naturally aspirated engine, and as a result, it falls somewhat awkwardly between rivals that use turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants and those with mightier turbocharged V-6 engines.
We got our hands on an example of the midrange 2021 Lexus RC350 F Sport, which sits above the entry-level RC300 and below the muscular RC F. Over the span of two weeks, we attacked canyon roads, climbed mountains, and took on some heady freeway mileage to see if the RC has the goods to impress as it nears its twilight years.
It packs a 311-hp V-6 engine that produces 280 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission handles gear changes and sends power to the rear wheels in this guise, though an all-wheel-drive variant is available. The engine sounds great, and shifts come quickly, crisply, and accurately. It's one of the rare naturally aspirated powerplants still on sale; revving it out for all its worth is enjoyable, and doing so is met with a great exhaust note.
Maybe I've gotten used to the spindle grille, but the Lexus RC still looks sharp to me all these years later, even if I'm in the minority. Our car came with Metallic Infrared paint, a premium color for an additional $595, accented with additional orange F Sport brake calipers ($300). There's very little chrome on the exterior, just one strip on each side mirror, which should help prevent this car from looking dated for years to come. Otherwise, dark gunmetal gray trims the rest of the vehicle, endowing it with a mature, serious look. The power moonroof, which also helps brighten up the black and gray cabin, added another $1,100 to the total sum.
On the open road, the RC350 F Sport serves as a GT-lite. It's not nearly as powerful as its big brother, the gorgeous and capable LC500, but its adaptive F Sport suspension does a great job soaking up road imperfection in the Normal drive mode and stiffens up for better body control when set to Sport S or Sport S+ mode. Although the throttle and brake pedals provide direct and predictable feel, the V-6 doesn't quite provide enough grunt to match its sporty aesthetic.
In addition to the RC not being quite as quick as it feels like it should be, fuel economy isn't too impressive, either. The EPA rates the RC350 F Sport at 20/28 mpg city/highway. Drivers who like to zip off of the line can expect those numbers to dip to old-school muscle-car digits if they aren't careful. This is partially because this Lexus tips the scales just shy of two tons. So even though it's nimble, its heftiness hurts at the pump and the dragstrip.
This prevailing sense of predictability prevents the RC350 F Sport from offering true excitement. The engine, though it provides decent power at the top end of the rev range, doesn't quite have the torque to make launches or on-ramp runs exhilarating. At best, it brought a smirk to my face as I navigated tricky roads with ease and evoked some utterances of surprise that a midrange Lexus coupe handled so well without any drama whatsoever. It simply complies with the driver's wishes. For some folks, that's all they want in a car, and I get the appeal of that characteristic.
F-Ing Well Equipped
Our car came equipped with a smattering of options, most notably the Lexus Dynamic Handling package with dynamic rear steering and variable-gear ratio steering ($1,900), which helped the coupe handle with impressive poise on winding roads. The steering feels direct, gives good feedback, and is tuned well for navigating technical routes. A Torsen limited-slip differential ($390) also helped up our test car's handling. It even rode on summer tires, which had plenty of grip for brisk jaunts on our favorite roads.
Interior amenities are typical Lexus: a somewhat anachronistic user interface (saved in part by Apple CarPlay/Android Auto) and excellent materials and build quality. The leather seats were comfortable on the long haul and supportive when I took advantage of the car's great handling characteristics on fun roads. The transmission tunnel is pretty large and eats into the cockpit space, and there aren't a ton of storage cubbies, but then again, this is a compact coupe, not a bulbous crossover, so this detraction might not be a penalty for buyers expecting a cocoon-like cockpit. Trunk space is plentiful for a pair of travelers who don't like to travel light.
Good Deal Or No Deal
Other cool features on our test car include the triple-beam LED headlights ($1,160), a package that bundles in-car navigation and the Mark Levinson audio package ($2,725), and the Intuitive Parking Assist sensor package ($500). In all, our model we tested, almost $10,000 more than the $50,645 starting price for the RWD RC350 F Sport test car topped $60,000. Its performance lies in between the trim levels and engines of its competitors, but its starting price is more closely aligned with higher performance cars such as the Audi S5, which starts at $53,545 and has a more powerful turbocharged V-6 engine.
The RC350 F Sport is fun to drive without offering paradigm-shifting acceleration or speed. It's comfortable both physically and in the manner it performs. Those looking for more excitement should opt for the full-hog RC F. However, for dependable, luxurious transportation that can still provide driving joy when there are fun roads to explore, the RC350 F Sport is worth considering.
2020 Lexus RC350 F Sport Pros
Crisp, striking bodywork
Well-made and luxurious interior
Performance upgrades that add impressive capability
2020 Lexus RC350 F Sport Cons
Not as quick as we'd like
Poor fuel economy
Antiquated infotainment system and subpar track pad
This compact luxury crossover isn’t the user experience we were hoping for.
Your phone, laptop, smartwatch, heck, even your smart speakers are all a massive pain in the neck. Not for you, but for the people who made them. User experience and interface designers agonize over products for months or even years to deliver an intuitive user experience, and you always notice when they haven't. It's the same story for cars like the 2021 Lexus UX200 F Sport.
Engineers spend countless hours working through endless permutations of designs so they can get the little things like the detent on that volume knob just right. It's all part of an endless quest to satisfy the user. So when we see the letters "U" and "X" arrive emblazoned on the rump of a small subcompact luxury Lexus SUV, the expectation is a satisfying user experience. The only problem is that isn't quite what the Lexus UX200 delivers.
This miniaturized SUV belies both the quality and the satisfaction a Lexus badge normally promises, and the problems start with the UX's pee-wee powertrain. Its 2.0-liter I-4 makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, which makes the Lexus one of the slowest vehicles we tested in 2020. At 8.9 seconds to 60 mph, it's slower than much less expensive compact SUVs such as the Mazda CX-30, the base Kia Seltos, and even the Hyundai Venue SEL (which makes 48 hp less).
Sometimes a car feels quicker in the real world than its test numbers would leave you to believe. Sadly, that's not the case here. The UX feels just as breathless on the road as it is on the dragstrip. Merging onto freeways or passing on open roads demands you bury your right foot into the carpet. At that point, the little four-banger shoots to its 6,600-rpm redline and stays there in a perpetual shriek that's about as enjoyable as using a sandpaper Q-tip.
There are no two ways about it: This is a slow car, and despite the F Sport badge, there's little redemption when the going gets twisty. The UX's all-season tires give up grip quickly, and its 27.9-second figure-eight time at a 0.60 g average rank it near the bottom of all the vehicles we tested last year. The Mazda CX-9, a proper three-row SUV that weighs three-quarters of a ton more than the UX, logged a faster lap and a higher average g than the Lexus managed.
As for the UX, road test editor Chris Walton found the steering reasonably precise at the limit but bemoaned the UX's "10-speed" CVT, saying it was "slow to respond and kick down to a proper ratio." The transmission doesn't have "gears," as such, but it emulates a number of simulated ratios, and for most of my driving the CVT was in too low of a "gear," even in Normal mode. I resorted to putting the car in Eco mode for the majority of my driving just to keep the revs down and the engine-sound out of the cabin.
We noted issues with the throttle map on the previous UX we tested, but some software changes to the 2021 model have, thankfully, made the throttle response more linear and easier to modulate. Dynamically, though, that's the solitary bright spot for the UX, and it's not a particularly praiseworthy one.
Thankfully, the ride provides some relief from the lackluster powertrain of the Lexus. Over small lumps and fissures in the road, the UX can be crashy, but all in all, it rides well over most any surface and is more comfortable than rivals such as the Mercedes GLB and Jaguar E-Pace. A big part of that comfort is down to the excellent F Sport seats. They're supportive, heated, cooled, and trimmed in a luscious leather that makes spending time in them the best part of the whole car.
The rest of the interior, on the other hand, is largely where the user experience falls flat. One example: Just beneath the crisp, bright infotainment display is a well-organized row of HVAC buttons, but the option to turn the A/C on and off is buried under three menus. Plus, Lexus' finicky touchpad makes getting there difficult. Even after Lexus spent years refining and iterating on the system, it still isn't as intuitive or as accurate as the control knob offered by much of the German competition.
The volume knob is located on a funky, flat spar that juts out from the center console. It's supposed to be easy to use if your hand is resting on the lid of the console itself, and it's not necessarily a problem on its own. But once you have a passenger and their elbow takes up the exact position your arm needs to be in to use the volume knob properly, the illusion that this is somehow more intuitive or more interesting than a typical volume knob falls apart. That and the rest of the physical controls located on that spar become unusable.
The steering wheel is much too large for a car of this size, and even though the column is electrically powered, it doesn't telescope out far enough. The bit of plastic at the top of the instrument cluster creaked incessantly in our test car, and the screen resolution in the cluster itself doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Mercedes' MBUX and Audi's Virtual Cockpit. And then there's the excessive wind buffeting—even with both driver-side windows down, there's a literal tornado whipping around in the back of the cabin. You can mitigate it by lowering the rear passenger's side window, but at that point, you might as well be driving a convertible.
The rear cargo area only has 17 cubic feet of free space available (that's less than a Hyundai Veloster), and there's a middling amount of legroom and headroom available to second-row passengers. Now, I know what you're thinking. Here comes Johnny Auto Journalist, picking apart yet another SUV because we are taught to hate them. But you'd be wrong. There are plenty of SUVs, compact or otherwise, that we genuinely love.
On its face, the UX200 should be an appliance, a generalist automobile that takes you from A to B without hassle. Like your smartphone, it should be pleasant to use when you need it to be and out of your way when you don't. Lexus' quest to make it an "experience" with its, erm, eye-catching exterior looks and fussy interior design has only packed it full of compromise.
The user experience that I talked about earlier, the one that designers and engineers fret over, the one that separates good products from bad ones, simply doesn't excel here. The UX is inconvenient at its best and downright irritating at its worst, and for $41,655 there is no way to justify it.
For 2021 Lexus has updated the looks, tech and performance of the popular IS 300 Sedan. Can Lexus fend off the competition in this segment? We have a complete look.
A few mild updates keep Lexus’ sporty IS sedan alive and kicking, aimed squarely to capture the few remaining sports sedan buyers left on the market.
Versus the competition
The updates don’t go deep enough to make the IS 350 fully competitive against newer, fresher, faster rivals like the BMW M340i, Genesis G70 or Acura’s new TLX.
The beautiful thing about so many people starting to abandon entry-level luxury sedans for entry-level luxury SUVs and crossovers is that for the few remaining players in this class, a change is taking place. This is becoming especially obvious at the Japanese luxury brands, where instead of abandoning compact sports sedans, they’re changing their focus. No longer are they just entry-level models; the latest ones are being realigned specifically to be appealing sports sedans. The thinking goes that anyone still looking at a sedan over an SUV is really in it for the style and fun-to-drive factors, so why not make them the main focus of the car?
Acura did it with the new 2021 TLX, and now Lexus has done it with the 2021 IS 300 and IS 350. But has the redo and realignment of the IS gone far enough to keep it competitive against newer, fresher, faster rivals?
Looks a Bit Fresher
There are two models to choose from in the new IS lineup: the entry-level IS 300 with a 241-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, or the IS 350 you see here with its naturally aspirated 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Either model can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive, but if you go for an IS 300 AWD, it actually comes with a less powerful, 260-hp version of the V-6 that also has less torque than the turbo four-cylinder. All RWD cars come with a standard eight-speed automatic transmission, while AWD cars come with a six-speed automatic.
Here’s where we start to see the new focus on making the IS a sporty sedan: The IS 300 F Sport is no longer a thing. You can’t get the F Sport handling and appearance package on that version — but all IS 350 models automatically come with the F Sport trim, meaning you can get an IS 350 only in F Sport guise. If you opt for the IS 350 (which you probably should given its significant power advantage over the IS 300), you’ll be getting this — a compact sports sedan with a 311-hp nonturbo V-6 carried over from the past model year with standard rear-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic, a sport suspension, standard 19-inch wheels and more aggressive styling.
Lexus has updated the look of the IS for 2021, and I have to say that it’s a subtle but definite improvement. Those weird Nike swoosh signature LED lights up front have now been well integrated into the larger headlight assembly and look much, much better. The Lexus signature spindle grille is still here, but it’s either simply grown on us or just doesn’t look as offensive as it used to; either way, I think we’re finally used to it. The fenders are a tad wider to accommodate the bigger wheels and tires on the IS 350 F Sport, and a new trunk and rear bumper with a full-width LED taillight makes for more muscular-looking haunches. The Dynamic Handling Package available on the F Sport brings a couple of styling changes, too, including the addition of lovely matte-black 19-inch BBS wheels and a rather unnecessary carbon-fiber trunk spoiler. The overall changes have cleaned up the IS 350 considerably, giving it a lower, wider, more menacing appearance that’s less funky but more attractive.
Doesn’t Drive Any Differently
Out on the street, the new IS 350 really doesn’t feel that different from the last one. More than 300 horsepower might sound like a lot on paper, but 280 pounds-feet of torque isn’t all that impressive anymore, and it shows up in the IS 350’s rather underwhelming straight-line acceleration. Many of its competitors, such as the Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Genesis G70 and BMW 330, all employ turbocharged engines with torque that’s available low in the rev range, making for punchier acceleration than the IS 350 delivers. The IS certainly isn’t slow, but neither does it have the immediacy you’d expect when you floor the accelerator as you enter a highway on-ramp or pull out in front of traffic. Lexus’ given 0-60-mph time of 5.6 seconds isn’t exactly class-leading anymore. The eight-speed automatic transmission is well executed and does a decent job of providing smooth shifts, but it doesn’t seem quick or eager to kick down when you plant your foot, only adding to the more relaxed, slightly underpowered feeling the IS 350 delivers. Simply put, the IS 350 feels like it could use a more up-to-date engine and transmission combo, something that would boost its acceleration to match the more powerful and similarly priced offerings like the BMW M340i or Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400.
There’s not much to fault with the IS 350’s handling, however. The suspension provides an excellent balance of comfort and responsiveness that really does impress with its sophisticated feel. For a bit more money, you can specify the Dynamic Handling Package for your IS 350 F Sport that includes an electronic adaptive suspension, adjusting the ride firmness and response via a mode selector on the center console. I honestly didn’t find that it affected the ride quality or steering effort noticeably if I switched from Normal mode to Sport S or Sport S Plus modes, but it did seem to wake up the powertrain with a more responsive throttle and allow more revs to build before shifting. Keeping it in Sport modes isn’t really conducive to serene driving, however, so you’re likely going to just keep it in Normal where the IS 350 proves to be a pleasantly quiet touring car that allows for faster cruising speeds than you might otherwise expect.
Time to Rethink the Interior
Inside, there have been a few changes to the IS 350 for 2021, but again the car is showing how much it could use a rethink to its whole platform. The interior mixes decent fake leather and nice ash wood accents on the F Sport with unremarkable plastic surfaces. One notable option is the Circuit Red interior, which truly looks stunning — sadly, my test car came outfitted with a more somber, less interesting black interior. You have a highly welcome new touchscreen front and center, which finally allows you to skip using Lexus’ remote control for the multimedia system. An 8-inch screen (measured diagonally) is standard, and the 10.3-inch screen in my test car is optional on vehicles equipped with navigation. It’s almost 6 inches closer to the driver than the previous screen, so it’s easier to see and reach. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Amazon Alexa integration.
Lexus’ maddening remote joystick control has been replaced by a new touchpad, which is a bit better, but there’s no substitute for being able to touch the screen directly to do what you want to do. Thankfully, Lexus has finally realized that.
There isn’t much continuity to button design, with some buttons feeling large and well labeled, while others are tiny and hard to find, and still others are almost completely obscured from the driver’s view and difficult to use at all. The digital gauge cluster features an unusual sliding round master gauge that first appeared in F Sport versions of the IS and other Lexuses many years ago, inspired by the LFA supercar, but it honestly just seems needlessly gimmicky. And the fact that a bright green “Eco” light illuminates in the gauge cluster whenever the engine enters its fuel-saving mode is really annoying. In short, the IS 350’s interior layout and control strategy needs a modern redo.
But that’s not really the biggest issue with the interior. The IS 350 is cramped inside, with a narrow cabin and fairly tight seats. It features an unusually high driving position that feels as if the seat could stand to be an inch or two lower; more adjustability to the bottom cushion’s angle would be nice, too. The rear seats are also tight, with adequate room for two on short trips and decidedly more legroom than, say, an Alfa Romeo Giulia, but overall room in back feels about average for this category of sedan. There’s plenty of room in the trunk, and the rear seats do fold to allow for larger items. Yes, this is a compact sports sedan, and nobody’s expecting it to be a limousine. But its overall design aesthetic, packaging and control layout all seem to be in need of a more comprehensive update.
A Better Value Only on Base Models
The basic Lexus IS 300 RWD starts at $40,025 (all prices include destination), and my IS 350 F Sport RWD test car starts at a still reasonable $43,925, which rings in several thousand dollars less than the 2020 IS 350 F Sport thanks to Lexus’ new trim strategy. Add the moonroof, Dynamic Handling Package, navigation with premium Mark Levinson audio and a few other odds and ends, and you come to my car’s as-tested price of $55,220. That’s a little harder to swallow, frankly, given the other competitors you have at this price like a BMW M340i or Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, both of which outgun the IS 350 in the powertrain department. Or even opt for the new 2021 Cadillac CT5-V or Genesis G70 3.3T, both of which also feature more powerful engines for less money, accompanied by more modern interiors.
Lexus’ entry-level sports sedan is meant to be a good starting point for fans looking to get into the brand, and its refocused energy on capturing the few remaining sports sedan buyers with a more value-oriented F Sport model is commendable. But its updates for 2021 didn’t quite go far enough to make it a more competitive offering versus the considerably newer, fresher and more powerful competitors. Still, it has its looks and refinement going for it, along with Lexus’ reputation for reliability. If those factors weigh more heavily for you, then the new 2021 Lexus IS might be worth putting on your shopping list.
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Lexus's updated IS350 F Sport has the looks to kill but it doesn't deliver sufficient thrills.
Sedans are dead, at least that's the conventional wisdom. The trend toward crossovers has seemingly placed four-door cars on death row, but while they're down, they're not out of appeals. New sports sedans are still being introduced. Lexus's updated 2021 IS350 F Sport is just such a sedan, but is it good enough to find enough buyers to save itself from the gallows?
First introduced for the 2014 model year, the third-generation Lexus IS has been reformed by a second mid-cycle refresh in an attempt to keep up with newer offerings like the BMW 3-series, Cadillac CT4-V, Genesis G70, and the still lovely Mercedes-Benz C-class. Designers went to work on the sheetmetal with a smoothed-out profile, squinty headlights, and following the trend, an even larger grille. It's a killer-looking sedan, especially when dressed in the IS350's standard F Sport garb and blacked-out trim.
HIGHS: Stunning curb appeal, tasteful interior, comfortable seats.
While the IS's looks will please your optic nerve, the segment is one that emphasizes performance. Beneath the hood of the rear-wheel-drive IS350 F Sport is Lexus's familiar 3.5-liter V-6 producing a naturally aspirated 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Against turbocharged fours and sixes, the V-6 seems a step behind the times. The engine lacks the low-rpm shove that comes from most turbocharged mills, and the eight-speed automatic delivers lackadaisical shifts. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.6 seconds, and the quarter-mile is gone in 14.2 seconds at 100 mph. While those numbers would have been good a decade ago, today the IS350 F Sport finds itself competitive with the base turbocharged inline-fours offered in its class. For a sedan with such seductive looks, it deserves an updated V-6 with more power.
In an effort to improve handling, Lexus has also retuned the chassis. There are additional welds in the unibody to strengthen the structure, aluminum control arms replace steel ones, springs and anti-roll bars have been lightened, and a switch to lug bolts instead of nuts saves two pounds. Our test car arrived with the $4200 Dynamic Handling package that includes lightweight 19-inch BBS wheels that shave a claimed 16 pounds, adaptive dampers, and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential.
LOWS: A naturally aspirated V-6 in a world gone turbo, chassis shows promise but is held back by an overly vigilant stability control system.
All of the changes sound great on paper, but on the street there's still some structural flimsiness and the steering isn't as precise as the CT4-V's or the G70's. Lexus fits Bridgestone Potenza S001L summer rubber that seems tuned more for comfort than all-out grip. There's also the matter of a stability-control system that reactivates itself above 30 mph. This car's 0.89 g of stick on the skidpad is far from noteworthy. A Camry TRD outgrips the IS350 on the skidpad. Standing on the left pedal at 70 mph stops the IS350 in a competitive 155 feet, but the force of the stop seemed to trigger a low-oil pressure alert. This isn't something we've experienced with this engine before, so it may be a pre-production bug.
We found few problems with the tastefully appointed cabin. Supple leather and wood trim dress up the revised dashboard. The seating position and comfort of the bucket seats is spot on, but our enthusiasm wanes when we start using the infotainment system's touchpad. Though Lexus remains dedicated to fitting the haptic pad to operate the infotainment system, it's easily avoided by using the standard 8.0-inch or optional 10.3-inch touchscreen. Mounted nearly six inches closer than before, they're an easy tap away. Technophiles will find solace now that Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility are standard.
The good news for IS350 buyers, is that its $43,925 starting price is $2475 less than last year's IS350 F Sport. A looker inside and out, the low-stress V-6 could definitely use more muscle and the handling could be more engaging and fun. Add in our car's as-tested $55,200 price, and we were in a less forgiving mood. A new engine would go a long way toward helping the IS sedan stay off death row.