Do halo cars actually work? The idea that a car manufacturer can produce an incredible aspirational car that brings buyers into dealerships to gawk at only to then buy something more practical off the showroom floor seems a bit farfetched. But if just enough of that magic from the halo car can trickle down through to the rest of the lineup, maybe it can work. Case in point, Lexus has the incredible flagship LC 500 (and the LFA previous to that) and at the other end of the spectrum the 2023 Lexus UX 250h Elegance.
Don’t let photos fool you, the Lexus UX may be styled like a sport utility vehicle but in person its dimensions aren’t much greater than the compact hatchback it replaced (the CT 200h). The diminutive size isn’t a detriment though – after all the UX does stand for “Urban Crossover” and its size probably better suited to tackle the rigors of urban life than some hulking behemoth of an SUV.
The UX’s exterior design is unmistakably Lexus – from the signature spindle grill, the two toned side mirrors, and the beautiful deep Eminent White Pearl paint. For 2023 the UX 250h gets color matched painted fenders that create a more elegant finished appearance over the black over fender treatment from previous years.
Speaking of elegance, our press car is equipped with the “Elegance Special Edition” package, which adds a plethora of LED lighting up front including the very sexy Premium Triple-Beam LED Headlamps. The chrome treatment of the grill gives the front end an overly monochromatic look and we think this package may be better suited to the Caviar black paint option that is also available with this special edition to add an extra element of contrast.
We are pleased to see the two toned silver engine cover under the hood adorned with the Lexus logo and accent trim nice enough to look at home in the interior. This is a rarity amongst the sea of boring black engine covers that have overtaken the industry, though we would prefer to actually see the engine if given a choice!
The cozy interior is where we really feel the compact hatchback origins but we do get an additional 80 liters of cargo room over the CT 200h. Luxury features are pared down for this entry level model but there is still enough here to get the gist of the Lexus experience starting with the signature NuLuxe material presented in Acorn (exclusive to the Elegance) and the LC 500 style metal door handles.
Power adjustable front seats are both heated and ventilated though with no memory preset functionality. The steering wheel is heated and leather wrapped with grey stitching, yet another added flair for the Elegance while the dashboard has a unique parchment-like textured look with brown stitch accenting. Fit, finish, and overall build quality are excellent as we expect from Lexus.
Lexus often does a great job melding physical dials and needles with TFT displays in the instrument clusters and the UX is no exception, featuring a seven-inch colour TFT display with a silver bezel and two analog needle gauges. Here we also find more trickle down design cues from the LC 500 with the short stalk dials for traction control and driving mode selection flanking the gauge cluster.
Though we weren’t blown away with the base sound system in our test vehicle we were very pleased to find Lexus’ latest infotainment interface as it’s one of the best available today replacing what may have been one of the worst. The design is sharp and intuitive with minimal menus to scroll through. Even the hybrid system energy flow screen has been updated, a cause for celebration after seeing the same one appear across Toyota and Lexus hybrids for over a decade.
The eight-Inch touchscreen display for infotainment is sharp and quick to respond, though we found the notification bar too large and obtrusive for a screen of this size. This made setting radio preset favorites a real chore. A 12.3-inch screen is available in higher trim levels which should alleviate this issue while also increasing the speaker count from 6 to 10.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is fully supported and works effortlessly. It’s quite the luxury to keep your phone tucked in your pocket as you enter the vehicle and have it instantly work with the vehicle’s infotainment, a feature we will surely miss in any vehicle moving forward should it not be included.
Under the hood of the UX 250h we find a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with Lexus Hybrid Drive, pushing 181 horsepower and 152 lb-ft. of torque. Initial acceleration is assisted with that trademark smooth electric push, though it’s not going to get the enthusiast’s heart racing. Mated to the engine is an electronic all-wheel-drive CVT shifted through a traditional button actuated lever with a beefy leather wrapped knob which we much prefer to the dials and floating mice like designs across the industry.
Fuel economy is clearly the goal here, especially in the UX’s intended urban environment where more often than not we find ourselves sitting in traffic. Rated at 5.7L/100KM in the city, 6.2L/100km highway and 6.0 combined, the hybrid powertrain is highly refined – seamlessly kicking over the gas engine when necessary. There is a dedicated EV mode engaged with a console button though the battery size restricts speed and range to stealthy parking maneuvers.
Handling wise the UX 250h has all the agility of a compact hatchback. Steering feel is light but not overly assisted, while the chassis maintains good body control through corners. It helps that the seating position puts the driver’s center of gravity low in the car – another trickle down trademark that permeates through the Lexus lineup, though we did find forward visibility a bit compromised. The on demand all-wheel-drive is a definite improvement from the CT 200h’s front-drive setup, which should give buyers extra confidence for their winter commute or errand runs.
After gawking at the LC 500 at the local Lexus dealer, could someone conceivably drive away in an entry level model? If you don’t need a big luxury vehicle with a big luxury price tag to match we’re not betting against it. Starting at $41,450 plus an additional $2,300 for the special edition, the 2023 Lexus UX 250h Elegance has the build quality, trickle down engineering and design in a package well suited to an urban lifestyle. It will give you a good taste of what the brand has to offer until you are ready for one of the more aspirational vehicles in the lineup.