I drove a $42,000 Lexus UX hybrid SUV to see if this offbeat, entry-level crossover is worthy of its luxury nameplate. Here’s the verdict.

The Lexus UX 250h. Matthew DeBord/BI
  • The 2019 Lexus UX 250h is a new subcompact luxury hybrid.
  • Lexus now offers hybrid versions of three crossovers in different segments, providing alternatives to sedans.
  • The Lexus UX 250h is offbeat, but I liked the small crossover quite a lot. A fuel-economy rating of nearly 40 mpg combined certainly helps.

In the world of departed luxury hybrid oddities, the Lexus CT200h wagonette seemed to have exactly one fan, and that fan was me. Understandable, as the CT200h was a slicked-up version of my own Toyota Prius.

That car is now gone, but Lexus hasn’t given up on offering customers a downsized hybrid. Enter the UX 250h, a subcompact premium crossover I recently sampled with an available “F Sport” package. A fully loaded infotainment system and some driver-assist tech helped add over $US5,000 to the base price of $US36,000.

Toyota’s luxury brand now offers hybrid versions of three crossovers: the midsize RX, the compact NX, and the subcompact UX. Each can achieve a combined city-highway fuel-economy rating of at least 30 mpg, with the UX naturally posting the best number, an impressive 39 mpg.

Some quick maths of the hybrid proposition

Lexus UX 250h
A hybrid set of wheels. Matthew DeBord/BI

In each case, the hybrid technology adds about $US2,000 to the price tag. So you have to do a little maths to determine how long it will take you to make back the money on gas savings.

Let’s say we round up to 40 mpg. With a gas tank that holds about 11 gallons, the UX 250h delivers a range of 440 miles on a fill-up. That’s 34 trips to the gas station a year, assuming a 15,000-mile total. According to AAA, the average price per gallon in the US right now is $US2.30, so you’re looking at spending $US860 annually (Lexus estimates $US1,000), and you don’t need to use premium fuel.

The non-hybrid UX has a 12.5-gallon tank and a combined mpg rating of 33 – so about 412 miles on a tank, about three more fill-ups, $US1,060 in yearly fuel costs. The difference is $US200.

So, yeah, 10 years to make up the additional cost. But – and it’s a big but – emissions could be 30% lower for the hybrid, and really more, given that the UX has to burn about two fewer gallons of gas to cover a longer overall distance. (And of course, you could always compare the UX 250h’s gas costs with a less fuel-efficient luxury choice and make back your $US2,000 faster.)

Lexus UX 250h
Nicely designed. Matthew DeBord/BI

Would you pay two grand to lower your carbon footprint and drop an entire month of gas-ups during a year? And don’t forget, if you buy the UX 250h new, you don’t have to own it for 10 years – but if you keep it for five, then trade it in or sell it, it will remain on the road for at least another 10 years and probably more, given Toyota’s reputation for reliability.

Boy! That was a lot of thinking, wasn’t it? But such is the world of hybrids. In many ways, their higher costs represent an investment in two things: long-term emissions reductions, and fewer trips to the gas station. The overt what-will-I-get-back economics are more challenging.

I think if you would like to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, buying a hybrid is a good way to go, especially because you’re probably going to finance the purchase and can somewhat mitigate the extra cost that way, assuming you have the means (and by “mitigate” I don’t mean “pay less” – I mean you’ll submerge that extra $US2,000 in a five-year loan).

A nicer, beefier, crossover Prius

Lexus UX 250h
An all-black interior, save for some red topstitching. Matthew DeBord/BI

All right, back to the car-review portion of the program.

You can think of the Lexus UX 250h as a nicer, beefier, crossover Prius (though the drivetrain technology is different). The Prius is a good car, but Lexus adds the luxury touches that make for a more upscale experience. The brand is also one of the Big Four luxury marques in the US, alongside Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

In that company, Lexus isn’t exactly thrilling, though it does make some snazzy rides, such as the 471-horsepower, V8-engined LC. Rather, Lexus deals in exceptionally quality – its cars aren’t supposed to give you any trouble.

Trouble-free carbon-footprint reduction in a sharp, subcompact luxury crossover livery. Sound like what you’re in the market for?

Lexus UX 250h
Our tester had the ‘F Sport’ treatment. Matthew DeBord/BI

If so, you’re going to love the UX 250h. I certainly did. Bottom line: splendid car. I’d take it over the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1. (If the hybrid option were unavailable, I’d think about the UX 200.) I’m not a big fan of the name, but you can’t have everything, and Lexus has never really done old-school monikers.

Lexuses are stupid easy to live with. All of them. The whole point of the brand is unconscious luxury, the type that allows you to get on with the rest of your life. Lexus has slightly threatened that legacy of late with some flamboyant exterior styling, notably a controversial “spindle” grille. But under the skin, Lexuses and Lexuses. And to be honest, Toyota and Lexus’ more-attention-craving designs have productively ended the era of the Japanese automaker’s cars resembling transportation appliances.

Outside, the UX 250h presents a dynamic package: a shapely wedge with expressive contours that with the F Sport setup adds an integrated spoiler to the rear roofline. As wee crossovers go, it looks downright awesome, and my tester popped on a snowy day in a “redline” paint job. A set of 18-inch F Sport wheels added to the effect.

Under the hood, the UX 250h has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that when yoked to an electric battery mounted over the rear axle serves up 181 total horsepower. That mill, matched to a smooth continuously variable transmission with a sport-manual mode, can propel the crossover from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable if not exhilarating 8 1/2 seconds.

CVTs have their critics, but they do help with the miles per gallon. And the UX 250h is so solidly assembled with pride in Miyawaka, Japan, that when it’s time to pass a semi on the highway, the dreaded CVT buzz is quite subdued.

The infotainment system is not a strong point

Lexus UX 250h
The infotainment screen is nice. Matthew DeBord/BI

The seats lean sporty, so if that mushy Lexus saddlery is what you’re expecting, look elsewhere.

On my tester, the fronts were heated and cooled, and the steering wheel, wrapped in perforated leather, was also heated. The rear seats are cosy, so bear in mind if you intend to transport grown-ups.

Cargo capacity is meh, but this is, after all, a subcompact SUV. The fact that a battery lives beneath the cargo area doesn’t help.

A genuine weak spot is Lexus’s flatly awful infotainment system, which uses an attractive, central landscape 10.3-inch screen, operated with a maddening trackpad plus some knobs and buttons near the shifter, between the front seats. It was the most difficult system to use of any we’ve tested from luxury brands. Once you learn it’s many quirks, however, navigation, Bluetooth pairing, and device integration work as they’re supposed to.

Lexus UX 250h
But using the infotainment system is difficult. Matthew DeBord/BI

The driving dynamics are middle of the road. An electric-vehicle mode can be activated to creep along on battery power alone. Normal mode is for highway cruising, and eco mode maxes out miles per gallon at the expense of performance. Sport mode transforms the instrument cluster to a red-tinged display and peps up acceleration while tightening the steering. The suspension is firm without being stiff.

And the UX 250h, thanks to the electric motor, can provide all-wheel drive, which I assessed on a snowy, slushy, icy day. I wouldn’t say it filled me with confidence. But the vehicle wasn’t struggling either.

Lexus UX 250h
Cargo capacity is a mere 17 cubic feet. Matthew DeBord/BI

My time with this new Lexus hybrid was, for the most part, pleasant.

As with pretty much every Lexus we’ve tested at Business Insider, the brand’s manifold competencies add up subtly. Even if we can isolate some issues, nothing is ever major enough for us to not wholeheartedly recommend the vehicle. “Really good car” is a typical verdict.

The Lexus UX 250h is no exception. And as Lexuses go, it’s reasonably priced, even with the hybrid drivetrain. Crossovers are the hottest vehicle segment in the US, so Lexus was wise to bring the UX to market. And if you’re shopping for a modest luxury SUV, you’d be wise to check it out.