Subcompact SUVs make sense for many customers. Their small size means they're easy to park, while their taller height makes access simpler and creates a commanding view of the road. Along with decent fuel economy, the luxury models offer advanced tech innovations and that all-important brand cachet. The 2019 Lexus UX, which debuted today at the 2018 Geneva Auto Show, aims to deliver on all of these traits.
The design quickly separates the UX from the subcompact norm. There are exaggerated fender flares, a complex and enormous grille, and full-width taillights that accentuate the vehicle's width. Underpinning that design is a chassis and body shared with other Toyota and Lexus models such as the Prius and C-HR. An advantage of this particular structure, according to Lexus, is a center of gravity that's lower than any competitor's, which generally returns agile handling. More importantly, while the UX is about the same size as most subcompact luxury SUVs, Lexus says its 34-foot turning circle is the tightest of them all, which helps when you're navigating a snug parking lot.
The interior shows a wide entertainment display and digital gauge cluster that evokes the look of the top-of-the-line LC. Lexus has employed a few neat ideas to make the interior a more comfortable space. The design of the dash aims to give an impression of greater forward visibility, while the stereo volume and tuning controls sit ahead of the center armrest because that's where your hand is more likely to rest. Each air vent has one controller for direction and intensity adjustments, which allows for larger vents.
The Lexus UX will be available in two variants. The UX 200 has a 168-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that's connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while the hybrid UX 250h adds an electric motor and battery to that formula, netting 176 hp. The 250h also offers electrically assisted all-wheel drive, with an additional electric motor powering the rear wheels for more traction under 43 mph. It's mainly to help you get moving in slippery stuff like snow.
Speaking of getting moving, Lexus sought to address the nonlinear acceleration that plagues most CVTs, whose seamless shifting can feel strange. The CVT in the UX essentially has a first gear that changes into the variable gearset, so accelerating from a stop should be smoother. Lexus also says that the CVT part is more efficient now because its components don't have to deal with low speeds.
Most interesting yet is the UX 250h's ability to predict your driving and adjust to improve efficiency. For example: Once the UX 250h recognizes you're approaching an intersection on your commute where you normally stop, it increases the amount of regenerative braking so you can recover more energy as you slow down. When you're using the navigation system, the UX 250h looks 6 miles ahead to adjust the battery's state of charge to account for traffic and hills. But if you're worried about Big Brother, Lexus says you can turn this monitoring off.
The UX examples pictured here wear the F-Sport package, which is available for both the UX 200 and the 250h models. Along with more aggressive exterior bodywork and interior treatment, this package also adds sportier suspension that can be further augmented with Lexus' adaptive variable suspension, which adjusts in conjunction with the anti-roll bars to reduce roll in corners and improve comfort on straightaways. To emphasize the "sport" part of the name, a feature called Active Sound Control fakes the sound of upshifts and downshifts, which CVTs don't make.
Pricing will be announced later this year, but we suspect it won't stray far from the low $30,000 asked by most of its competitors. (For reference, the larger Lexus NX starts at close to $37,000.) With rivals including the Audi Q3, the BMW X1, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, and the Infiniti QX30, the Lexus UX's striking design should help it stand out when it goes on sale in December 2018.