This hybrid subcompact luxury SUV is in a class of its own, but does it tick more boxes than its German competition?

The subcompact luxury SUV market is a growing category. A decade ago, the Germans dominated this segment, but fast forward to the 2020s and isn’t so clear cut anymore. Six years ago, Lexus added fuel to the fire with the UX, presenting a petrol UX 200, the hybrid UX 250h, and the fully-electric UX 300e.

Acting as somewhat of a bridge between petrol and electric power, the 2024 UX 250h Luxury 2WD tested here is priced at $54,320 before on-road costs, undercutting most of its German competition by a sizeable margin. For a car based on the TNGA-C platform that also underpins the Corolla, both the old and new C-HR, and the Corolla Cross which this shares a similar drivetrain to, it would need to be a fair improvement over the latter to justify its price. After getting behind the wheel of one for over a week, it’s clear to me that the UX 250h is far from just a paper tiger Corolla.

Immediately, you’ll notice the ride height is elevated, allowing for more ground clearance than the hatchback it borrows its platform from. The striking ‘spindle’ grille adorns the front in typical Lexus fashion, while the rear adopts the latest light-bar style lighting trend. The fenders are protected by large plastic wheel arches in a typical crossover fashion, but if you opt for the F-Sport they’ll be switched out for painted body-colour guards, while sportier front and rear bumpers are also added. Five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels come standard on this Luxury grade, while Sports Luxury and F Sport models gain 18-inch alloys instead.

2023 heralded the arrival of a fairly comprehensive and much-needed interior refresh for the UX. It’s not like the pre-update UX had a bad interior; it’s largely identical design-wise, and it beats the competition for build quality hands down with every interior part feeling completely solid with absolutely zero creaks and rattles at all. So, what’s the big deal with needing a refresh then?

Have you ever tried controlling a display with a touchpad while driving? It’s a system that responded about as well as that touchpad found on that one budget laptop you bought for a work trip. For years, the ‘Remote Touch Interface’ has been the Achilles’ heel of every Lexus model. It was simply never a good experience fiddling around trying to get the mouse pointer exactly where you needed it while driving, often leaving drivers frustrated enough to not bother using the screen entirely.

Finally, that system has finally been replaced with a proper 12.3-inch touch display, and it’s a good one. It’s super responsive, user-friendly, and easy to follow. The integrated sat nav system with live traffic information works brilliantly, and I found genuinely little need to delegate navigation duties to the mobile phone. If need be however, wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay comes as standard, with a wireless phone charger on hand to keep your phone’s battery topped up. There are also two USB-C ports are available in the front for device charging.

Heated front seats come standard on all UX models, with ventilated seats available in higher trim levels. The driver’s seat is 10-way adjustable and the passenger seat is eight-way adjustable, making it easy to find a comfortable seating position. The seats themselves are soft and hold you in well with sufficient bolstering to prevent rolling side to side. Most of the interior is trimmed in what the brand calls ‘NuLuxe’ synthetic leather. It’s supposedly more damage-resistant but somewhat lacks the premium look and feel of real leather, although it is very soft to the touch and well-padded.

Front legroom would have you thinking it’s a larger car than it is, but it’s clear that Lexus neglected other areas of of the interior to prioritise front passengers. The rear seats offer minimal space for rear passengers to get comfortable on a longer road trip, and it doesn’t get much better when it comes to storage either with a measly 368 litres of boot space. That’s around 100 litres less cargo than the equivalent Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz.

On the instrument panel, a centre screen shows a digital speed readout and a tachometer or energy meter depending on the drive mode. Apart from this, however, the rest of the cluster feels a little mediocre. The fuel and temperature gauges are analogue and the information screen is fairly comparable to that found in an entry-level Toyota, although I will note that the F-Sport trim level has an entirely different cluster where the centre dial physically moves to the right to reveal a more integrated information screen.

Above the panel sits the drive mode selection dial which allows the driver to select between three drive modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. The F-Sport trim also comes with two additional drive modes: Sport S+ and Custom. Sport mode sharpens up the response from not only the engine but also the electric motor, providing an addictive instant pedal response feel.

Under the bonnet of the UX250h Luxury 2WD you’ll find a 2.0-litre ‘Dynamic Force’ naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine which pumps out 107kW at 6000rpm and 188Nm of torque from 4400-5200rpm, and an electric motor that provides an additional 80kW and 202Nm. As neither maximum outputs can be produced concurrently, this results in a combined system output of 131kW.

I’ve never been a fan of CVT transmissions, but Toyota’s e-CVT ditches conventional belt drive for a sophisticated system of gears and electric motors, allowing for seamless transitions between electric drive and engine operation while reducing the ‘rubber band’ feeling conventional CVTs can display.

Upon starting, the only audible confirmation that the car is switched on and ready to go is a single beep. The sizeably powerful electric motor allows for cruising nimbly up to metropolitan speed limits without the need to fire up the engine. Exceeding such speeds or more throttle input will start the engine up but, unlike some hybrids, the transition between engine off and engine on is extremely coherent.

The instant electric torque from a standstill is excellent and makes the car feel like a real performer at low speeds, but accelerating up to higher speeds will start to feel a little sluggish. Lexus doesn’t specify how quickly it will hit triple digit speeds, but I measured a reasonable if relaxed 0-100km/h of 8.66 seconds. Around town, however, the car’s acceleration is more than adequate. Even on the open roads, the electric torque paired with its responsive e-CVT make overtaking fairly confidence-inspiring. Just don’t expect it to feel truly fast.

The shared architecture that underpins Toyota and Lexus vehicles has improved handling significantly since a decade ago. The newer equivalent Corolla handles superbly well for what it is, but at its cornering limit it tends to get a little skippy. The UX, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from any of the same drawbacks. The handling is impressive, showing little sign of understeer, while the ride is firm but comfortable and the steering is precise and refined, albeit a tad on the light side. Where this sacrifices steering feel and involvement on technical roads, it does make the car an easy city commuter.

The petrol engine runs on a high-compression Atkinson cycle, sacrificing power figures to improve smoothness and efficiency. In a bit over 1000km of testing, I saw a consistent return of 5.5L/100km with varying driving styles which, although doesn’t quite match the factory claim of 4.5L/100km, remains a rather economical number. Unlike most of its rivals, the UX 250h will run on 91 RON. This adds a further element of cost-saving to any prospective buyer.

All UX models receive a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with many safety features included as standard including a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians and cyclists, lane keep assist, speed sign assist, blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control, and automatic high beams.

Across the Lexus range, you get a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and a three-year membership to the Lexus Encore program, which gives you access to exclusive offers including Ampol fuel discounts and invitations to exclusive golfing, cycling and track day events. In addition, servicing is capped at $495 for the first three services at 12-month/15,000km intervals.

If fuel economy, comfort, and build quality are your thing and you’re willing to sacrifice rear legroom, boot space and sporting prowess, there’s not much you’re going to dislike about the 2024 Lexus UX 250h. It’s an extremely well-rounded package and with this new update model, they’ve fixed all the technological complaints with the earlier versions. Although the CVT and paltry four-cylinder engine do compromise on outright driving enjoyment, if you’re looking for a luxury subcompact SUV that is in essence faultless for daily driving it may well tick many more boxes for you than the equivalent Audi Q2, BMW X1, or Mercedes-Benz GLA.

If you’ve narrowed your search down to the Lexus UX range but are unsure of which model to purchase, let me tell you. The UX 250h is the one to go for.

2024 Lexus UX 250h Luxury 2WD List Price: $54,320
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Impressive fuel economy, comfortable interior and ride, exceptional build quality, surprisingly tidy handling
Cons: Limited rear legroom, less boot space than competition, not a particularly exciting drive

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Lexus Australia for eight days with a full tank of fuel.

A special thanks to Aqiella Azhar for joining the author for this extensive road test.

Shuqi Yu
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