2021 Lexus UX 200 F Sport is a Missed Opportunity
Despite the F Sport name and the charismatic color and creases, the UX 200 F Sport is far too slow to be the compelling hot hatch substitute it could be.
I had high hopes for the UX 200 on first arrival. With the F Sport badging on its rear, and wearing the now-signature blue Lexus F paint, I was hoping for something fun. Following in the vein of such creations like Mercedes' GLA, the UX isn't quite an SUV/crossover, but it's larger and higher than a hatchback. Maybe call it a crossback or crosshatch? Anyways, while it certainly tries to look the part and with 'F Sport' adorned all over it, it's far from the 'hot' crosshatch it aspires to be.
Now, Lexus has always played the luxury game well; try to think of any recent Lexus that didn't feature a quality and luxurious interior because you won't. But, luxury is only one part of the game here, as an as-tested price of $42,250 plus the provocative looks and name should have certain implications and expectations. Whereas the handling is actually quite decent and honest, the biggest culprit is in the weak engine. While I'll always be a proponent of the naturally aspirated motor, this is a case where naturally aspiration just isn't the answer. Two-liters in this instance only nets you 169 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque. In something like a Miata, this would be perfectly adequate for fun, but not nearly enough for the Lexus' mass, which is still not entirely immodest by any means at an estimated 3,300 pounds. Sure, F Sport is more a trim package and not a full-fat F model like the RC F, but there should be more oomf than this severe disappointment, even from the standard UX 200 models.
With such little motivation, 0-60 MPH happens in a blood-blisteringly slow 8.8 seconds. There's no other way to look at it; it's dreadfully slow. Transmission duties belong to a CVT with ten simulated ratios that still are somehow not enough to instill any level of spark to the UX, as all ratios feel strangely still wrong. Here's a comparison that particularly sinks the UX: a BMW X1, with its base and only engine, is over TWO seconds faster to sixty. There'll be more comparisons to BMWs smallest crossover, don't you worry. At least the fuel economy is moret than decent, averaging 27 and pulling 35 on the freeway. For all the lack of power though, I would have expected even more. I reckon this I-4 is the same powerplant that can be found in Toyota's Corolla Hatchback, as they share same power ratings and capacity. It's barely enough in Toyota's most aggressive Corolla, but in a larger shape like the UX, it falls completely flat. Here's an idea, Lexus/Toyota, put the new GR Yaris' turbo three-cylinder under the UX's bonnet...
Handling, like other F Sport models I've recently sampled, luckily remains good. The steering wheel is a little fat, but still feels good in the hands with satisfyingly perforated leather, and gives thorough control over movements when the road starts to bend. The weighting has a surprising heft to it, which is all for the better as it gives a sense of purpose and refrains from feeling like a fragile toy. And this is where it's such a shame because the UX does handle rather well. The balance is there as is more grip than you'd ever require on the street, which allows a rapid pace through winding turns. While it isn't entirely playful in corners, there is a precision that's readily present and available as the front-wheel driven chassis digs into the pavement. Yes, it's front-wheel drive, but with the lack of power you'd never know it or need it. Furthermore, the ride quality isn't bad either, as the dampers do their best to shrug off imperfections in the road. It's a good performance here and is the shining light of the UX, but it's the sole shining light.
So it's not all bad, but now we have come back to more troubling parts. While the interior feels well made with generous amounts of leather, I didn't particularly like the design inside; One of my passengers said it even gave her anxiety. The door panels are rather bare, but then in the middle you're attacked by an onslaught of buttons and a screen that's too far away. It just doesn't appear cohesive and feels like important bits were just slapped here and there like sticky notes. I like dramatic interiors in cars, but this isn't dramatic, just odd and out of place. A good example are the media controls, which besides the terrible infotainment system that continues to infect all new Lexuses, is a strange volume wheel placed on a bulbous shape that extrudes from the center armrest. It's awkward to use and raises questions like, "who the bloody hell thought this was a good idea?"
Then there's yes, the infotainment screen, controlled by a mousepad that's too sensitive and inaccurate and most vital tasks are buried in endless menus, including even climate control options. Look, I've gotten used to it from other Lexus cars now, but nobody else comes close to it in terms of the labyrinth of confusion it endlessly imposes. The leather F Sport seats are comfortable and provide great support, but were not the best for longer hauls. Also, the head restraint pushes your noggin too far forward. But they're wonderful too look at and the leather is exquisite.
The other glaring issue inside is the lack of space. Now the front seats, they're mostly exempt in this regard. But, the second row is entirely too cramped. The compact Hyundai Elantra sedan I had the week prior had miles more space arears. A friend spent two hours one trip in the back and was not happy about it at all. The sloping and low roofline contributes to a rear cargo hold that is also less spacious than alternatives. Not saying it's small, but others have noticeably more. It comes as no surprise as the UX shares the same wheelbase and underpinnings as the compact Toyota C-HR. What's funny though is that in isolation I would have sworn the UX is massively larger than the C-HR based on the looks alone, but the overall length is just six inches more due to longer overhangs and just an inch wider. In the end of the day though, is this worth over $15,000 (60%) more than a C-HR that isn't that much slower? That's where the asking price here of $42,250 starts to seem like a bad deal, even with the luxury touches.
It's a conundrum to think about the UX 200 because on one hand it is a convingly premium product owing to flashy looks (you either like the looks or you don't, but either way they are flashy in the same way expensive watches can be flashy and vulgar) and a luxury leather-clad interior, but practicality is severely lacking and so is any trace of performance. And that's a shame since the handling and steering are both good and could easily handle extra grunt. Simply, there are too many compromises. If it was at least fast then you can forgive the lack of space, but it's both slow and impractical. While I applaud Lexus for taking risks again and again with the in-your-face designs that do thoroughly stand out, it's just frustrating to see models held back by a lackluster powertrain. Give it a powertrain that works, and this could be a compelling hot crosshatch. Until then, for similar money, a BMW X1 drives exceedingly well, is more spacious, and absolutely kills it in performance.
2021 Lexus UX 200 F Sport
UX 200 base price: $34,900
F Sport As-Tested Price: $42,250
Pros: luxurious interior, honed chassis
Cons: Slow, cramped rear seats, too expensive, the infotainment controls
Verdict: Well made, but too many compromises