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The Threat Is Coming From Inside The House: The 2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT Handling

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT front 3/4 view

I've always had some level of ambivalence about the Lexus UX. Was it too small, too underpowered, not special enough to properly uphold the Lexus image?

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT rear 3/4 view

I've always come down on the side of what works---the size is fine, the power may not be there but the handling is, good things, small packages, etc. The thrust here, as regular readers know, is more impressions of the cars. We don't instrument test, we don't do shootouts, we don't see what they'll do at 10/10ths of their capabilities.

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT hood up

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT engine

But recently, in writing about the UX 250h for another publication, one where data is paramount and comparisons to direct competitors are key to the evaluations, I was forced to face some facts. The UX 250h's 2-liter four-cylinder hybrid (the only engine available now that the entire UX line is hybrid) is, at 181 horsepower, outgunned by most of the cars it would be cross-shopped against. Zero to 60 in 8.4 is slow. Especially when the BMW X2 can do it in 6.4 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 in 6.8 (6.6 with AWD). Yes, the payoff is an EPA-estimated 40.5 mpg combined city/highway to the BMW's 27 and the Mercedes' 25. But is that the key selling point of a luxury vehicle?

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT rear liftgate open

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT rear seat

It loses in cargo space to the Benz and the Bimmer, and rear seat leg space trails the GLA by nearly five full inches.

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT front seats

2022 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT instrument panel

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT front seat design

By compact standards, the driver and front passenger get more than adequate room. The materials are mostly up to Lexus standards. A redesign has provided a 12.3-inch touchscreen and banished the much-despised touchpad on the console that was used to control the infotainment system for far too long.

And in F SPORT Handling trim like our test vehicle, with those two-tone red and black seats, you feel like you've got something that could be fun. While the handling (enhanced by the F SPORT Handling's adaptive variable suspension) is a strong suit, aided by the fact that the UX is low to the ground, there's not enough oomph from 181 horsepower nor enough control of that power from the Continuously Variable Transmission to actually deliver on that promise. The base price of the 2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT is $43,605 and that comes with a lot standard---all-wheel drive, a complete suite of active safety features, the aforementioned touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a ten-speaker Lexus Premium Sound system, four USB ports, heated outdoor mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control, power front seats, 18-inch F SPORT wheels, rain-sensing wipers, and LED fog lamps and cornering lamps.

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT steering wheel and gauge cluster

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT touchscreen

If that sounds like a lot, it absolutely is. There were some extra-cost options---$75 for a wireless phone charger, $900 for a head-up display, $565 for intuitive parking assist, $550 for a power rear door with kick sensor, and $595 for the premium Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint with Obsidian Black roof. With $1,150 delivery, processing and handling fee, the as-tested price of the 2023 Lexus UX 250h is $47,440.

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT front view

2023 Lexus UX 250h F SPORT side view

Ultimately, it's not even the competition from Mercedes-Benz and BMW that dooms the UX 250h, though. The threat is coming from inside Lexus' own house. It's Toyota's RAV4 Prime. It's within a few inches of the UX in every external dimension.

It's also a hybrid, delivering roughly the same fuel economy (38 mpg combined) at roughly the same price (depending on your choice of optional equipment), with more passenger room, more cargo room and 302 horsepower delivering 0-60 sprints in 5.8 seconds---in addition to all-electric range of 42 miles per charge. The next UX should be a Lexusized version of the RAV4 Prime. And it can't come a moment too soon.

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