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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Review

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Mark Savage
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The 2020 Lexus UX 250h blurs the line between hatchback and crossover. This hybrid comes packed with power and excellent gas mileage but handling leaves drivers wanting more.

Determining if a vehicle is a hatchback or a crossover can sometimes cause consternation. Take the case of Lexus' small hatch/crossover, the UX.

That name provides no clue as to what this is, other than there’s an X in the name, so the vehicle designers probably considers it a crossover. Most of the time crossovers offer AWD or 4WD and again, the UX sort of splits the difference.

READ: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL Review

In its hybrid form, the tested UX 250h comes with limited AWD, meaning it sometimes drives all four wheels, but mostly is front-wheel drive. OK, that’s not all that different from some crossovers, but when dealing with Lexus, I expect more of a commitment to being one thing or another.

I drove the gas-only powered UX 200 about 18 months ago and indeed, find the hybrid just as cute as that model, mainly because they look identical, other than the “hybrid” badge on the car’s lower side body panel.

But I prefer the hybrid as it offers both more power and superior gas mileage. One would expect the latter.

The UX is basically a two-person crossover with a back seat for infants as there is minimal legroom in row two, and this comes from a family of shorties where our seats are often near their forward-most settings. Plus the driver’s seat powers back automatically once the ignition is off, which could trap the feet of a less than observant rider sitting behind the driver.

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Credit Mark Savage
The UX 250h gets a rated 41 mpg on city streets and 38 mpg on the highway. On a split of 70/30 city to highway driving, the test vehicle got 44.8 mpg.

Yet the UX is cute with stylish, edgy exterior lines and snazzy finned taillights that are a reminder of 1950s cars, but with fins that are clever, not garish. This hybrid version also delivers gas mileage that could make a tree hugger swoon.

I got 44.8 mpg in more than 300 miles of city and some highway driving, about a 70/30 mix, heavy on city. The EPA rates the hybrid UX at 41 city and 38 highway. It’s rare I beat the EPA guesstimates. So the hybrid is to average 39 mpg while the gas-powered UX averages 33 mpg. Yet the hybrid only costs about $2,000 more than a gas-only model.

Power also is better for the hybrid, as is often the case as electric motors feature instant torque while gas-powered engines must build their power more gradually. In the 250h the gas and electric systems create 181 horsepower vs. 169 horsepower for the UX 200 powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.

So power and fuel economy are solidly in the hybrid’s favor. Otherwise the cars feel about the same.

While power is better here it’s still not neck stretching. Even with its electric motor the 250h feels a little low on power in Normal mode, which is what the car defaults to. A handy knob atop the instrument cluster hood allows a driver to select Sport or Eco. Sport delivers a touch more low-end power and slightly stiffer steering effort, while Eco is rarely needed unless you’re purposely trying to see how high you can push your fuel economy numbers and don’t mind all that honking behind you.

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Credit Mark Savage
The UX 250h struggles when it comes to uneven streets and the safety lane assist is so sensitive that is rarely helpful.

Handling is quite good, which gives the car a slightly sporty edge. Steering is precise and made even better in Sport mode. UX turns into tight corners well and is extremely easy to park.

Ride, well, I wasn’t as wild about it. Seems the car takes a bit of a jolt on pot-holed side streets and I found myself playing dodge ems with the many sunken manhole covers in suburban Milwaukee streets. Luckily, the car handles well enough to miss most of them.

Another note on handling. The UX has all the expected safety devices thanks to Safety System 2.0 being standard. But the lane assist feature was way too sensitive on the test car, giving it a bit of a pinball effect as it bounced back and forth between a road’s centerline and side markers. I turned it off and handling was much improved.

I liked the test car’s Nori Green Pearl exterior, a dark metallic green that several observers said looked like the Army decided to go with a metallic paint scheme. It’s a deep, rich green and sets the car off from all the gray models in parking lots.

UX’s interior was equally rich with light gray perforated leather seats featuring black trim along with a black dash and door panels, with gray armrests. The heated steering wheel ($150 extra) also was black leather and the console matte black, which kept it from being too reflective. Bravo! Air vents were a matte chrome to complement the interior’s modern motif.

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Credit Mark Savage
UX 250h’s interior comes with light gray perforated leather seats featuring black trim along with a black dash and door panels, with gray armrests. The infotainment system is very busy and makes it clunky to get used to.

But as modern and stylish as the UX’s interior looked, it also seemed busy. There’s a huge infotainment screen atop the dash, yet it includes an analog clock in the left corner, which seemed out of place among all the digital readouts. Plus Lexus sticks with its awkward touchpad system to adjust the screen. I’ve been on record despising this clunky system, and still am.

Yet I could find everything for the heated and cooled front seats, plus all the climate controls which are managed through large toggles on the dash.

Seats also are quite comfy with fairly flat bottoms giving modest hip support and better seat backs giving more substantial kidney and lower back support. Naturally the driver’s seat has a power lumbar adjustment, and three seat memory buttons are located on the driver’s door.

The steering wheel is power tilt/telescope with oodles of buttons on the hub, plus smart cruise control, which worked well. Overhead is an SOS button and HomeLink controls on the rearview mirror, plus a power sunroof is standard.

Not standard is a wireless phone charger, but it’s only $75 extra. Yet the charger is under the center stack and your phone virtually disappears when you slide it in the charger. Very easy to forget when you get out of the car!

There were a lot of other options here that pushed the UX’s price a bit higher than I’d expected. Base for the 250h Luxury model, the top line, is $40,575 including delivery. But the options bumped that to $44,555. There are a lot of other small yet roomier crossovers or hatchbacks at that price, or lower. Think Honda CR-V for one.

A base UX 200 with gas-only power starts at $32,300, the least expensive Lexus and a reasonable price if you want the nameplate and luxury look the UX delivers. An F Sport model goes for $35,325 and a 200 Luxury model for $38,525. A base hybrid lists at $35,375 while an F Sport hybrid bumps that to $37,375.

Note that the hybrid UX offers less cargo space than the gas-only model at 17.1 cubic feet vs. 21.7. Many hybrids offer less trunk space as batteries eat up a little cargo room.

Of the many options on the test car I’d only question the addition of head-up display for $500. I find I rarely need it, or use it.

The UX 250h is a fine hybrid if you rarely need to carry anyone in the back seat that won’t fit in a child’s car seat, and if the ride suits your tushie!

Overview: 2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury

Hits: Cute hybrid hatchback/crossover, excellent mpg, good handling with limited AWD. Packed with features, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, sunroof, smart cruise and 3 drive modes, full safety equipment, comfy seats, large dash buttons, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, driver’s seat powers back, wireless phone charger.

Misses: Rough ride, minimal rear seat legroom, touchpad operated infotainment screen, modest power/slow acceleration, wireless charger well hidden.

Made In: Japan

Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder hybrid, 181 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,605 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Length: 177.0 in.

Cargo: 17.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 41/38, 44.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,575 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,165

Major Options: Wireless charger, $75

Windshield deicer, $100

Head-up display, $500

Triple beam LED headlights, auto-leveling, washers, LED fog lights, cornering lamps, $1,660

Parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert w/braking, $565

Heated steering wheel, $150

Carpeted cargo mat, $110

Door edge guards, $150

Rear bumper applique, $85

Illuminated door sills, $425

Mudguards, $160

Test Vehicle: $44,555

Sources: Lexus, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

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