BOSTON — The first thing I noticed about my 2019 Lexus UX was the color. Nori Green Pearl. Usually I don’t notice a color unless it’s a bright orange sports car or something. Car colors are usually so boring. This one is a brilliant, deep, dark green that sucks you in. Nori is a delicious type of Japanese edible seaweed and it’s perfect for this color. We’re off to a good start, little Lexus.
New for 2019, the UX is Lexus’ answer to the fast-growing subcompact luxury crossover segment alongside things like the Volvo XC40, BMW X1, Audi Q3, and Cadillac XT4. Pricing tends to start in the mid-30’s and run up from there, with my UX 200 Luxury dropping in right at $41,200.
Lexus says the UX stands for Urban Explorer, and it’s a great little city car. Large enough to haul your groceries but small enough to parallel park almost anywhere. For the coupled-up with no kids, there’s enough room in the back (ish) to fit another couple for a double date night, but don’t plan on throwing skis or a ton of luggage in the back. It’s a tight fit unless you fold the seats down.
I love Lexus vehicles. They’re always solid, with smooth engines, comfortable and quiet rides, and a wildly-annoying touchpad to control the infotainment system. The UX is no different. It has a 169-horsepower two-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a “ten-speed” continuously-variable transmission that doesn’t actually have ten speeds. But you wouldn’t know it to drive it, which is good enough for me. Some people hate CVTs, but I think this one gets the job done just fine.
It has the full Lexus safety suite, with adaptive cruise control, lane centering (so you can take your hands off the wheel for a moment on the highway and it’ll still keep you in your lane), auto high beams, a heads up display ($500), a gigantic 10.3-inch display that looks great when you’re using Apple CarPlay and terrible when you’re using Lexus’ built-in infotainment system. Android Auto isn’t here, but will be for 2020.
As you would expect with a Lexus badge, the UX is a comfortable place to be. The seats are supportive and visibility is excellent. A four-hour, early-morning road trip out to the Catskills from my home in New Hampshire passed by with ease. Lexus deserves special praise for its steering wheels, which are particularly lovely across the range. The weight is nice, the size is nice, the whole package is excellent — and, it doesn’t have the weird Toyota/Lexus cruise control stalk sticking out of the bottom right. Thank goodness they got rid of that thing.
I especially like that the Heads-Up Display can display road sign information. Forward-looking cameras located above the rear-view mirror are constantly scanning the road ahead and are smart enough to pick up speed limit and stop signs, among others. If you’re coming up on a stop, the sign appears in the heads-up display. It might seem silly and redundant — who can’t see a stop sign? — but it only needs to save you once for it to be incredibly useful.
Speaking of saving you, make sure to opt for the Parking Assist feature ($565) which includes Rear Cross Traffic Alert with braking. This will warn you of oncoming traffic when you’re backing out of your driveway or from a parking space, and will even automatically brake for you if a collision is imminent. I’ll always opt for a feature that can help save me from myself, no matter how diligent a driver I think I am.
The tiny engine might give some pause, but this is not a big vehicle and it’s got plenty of pep. It delivers terrific fuel economy: 29/37/33 city/highway/combined, which was about right in my testing. Even better, it doesn’t require premium fuel like some cars in the segment.
You can get larger cars for less money. The average new car is somewhere around $36,000 and $41,000 can get you a lot. But if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel — or you just don’t need all that space — these small luxury crossovers are the perfect entry into the luxury world. And once you discover all the little pleasures of a very nice car, you won’t want to go back. Sort of like when you first try Nori.