Tested: 2023 Lexus UX250h F Sport doesn't compute
The asking price does not match how small this odd hatchback is
2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
For every car that makes sense, there are others that do not. If you're interested in the latter, you would probably expect uncompromising supercars like a Lamborghini; something you couldn't fit more than three bags of groceries in, is uncomfortable, but crazy fast and capable on a racetrack. However, Lexus wants to join this elite club, but not with what you'd expect (and definitely not a successor to the LFA): the UX 250h F Sport. In a world of practical and reasonable hatchbacks and crossovers, Lexus has given us one that forgoes sensibility by producing a car that, in return, excels at almost nothing. Overpriced, slow, and cramped, this odd and expensive hatchback makes almost no sense at all.
For one, let's examine the price of this UX 250h F Sport: $47,440. This may be the most highly-optioned UX available, but still, nearly fifty grand is a hard pill to swallow for a car this small, with the UX sharing the same platform and short 103.9" wheelbase as a $25,000 Toyota C-HR that affords almost no space in the rear seats. Shoot, a Corolla has a longer wheelbase even! The shocking sticker price of this vehicle will be looped back in again later.
You might expect the aggressive and low-slung, pointy styling must mean this UX has some speed, but it does not. With a hybrid powertrain serving up a combined 181 horsepower through all-wheel drive, acceleration is leisurely, taking 8 seconds to dispatch a 0-60 MPH sprint. There is a lot of fake engine noise that does sound okay, but it's a flat out lie and misconception that's done in bad faith to make you think you're in a more serious machine than you are. Appearing as if to resemble some kind of spicy hot crossover hatch like Hyundai's Kona N, it's so far from a hot hatch on a performance front. It is at least vastly faster than the lethargic, non-hybrid version they used to sell, which needed a full 10 seconds to reach 60 MPH. For frame of reference of what a benchmark and actual hot hatch can do, a new Golf GTI does 0-60 MPH in a brisk five seconds flat. The looks and aggressive fake engine sound are misleading at best, and deceiving at worst.
The good news is the UX has a capable chassis, but one that only wishes it were given more freedom. The steering is nicely weighted and accurate, and the leather wheel itself makes for a confident and comfortable great grip in the hands. The chassis itself shows promise through a combination of a controlled and comfortable ride quality at speed, only showing some choppiness on slow and rough residential roads. While the overall handling and balance impresses at moderate speeds, yet it's a shame the tires and electronic nannies hold back any possible amount of fun; Turning sharply and aggressively into a 90 degree turn yields tire squealing and understeer. We're left with nice control in usable conditions and scenarios, but it's restricted from any potential of a hot hatch-lite persona. Remember the previously mentioned Kona N? It's an absolute riot in the bends, possessing a willingness to play that is unfortunately restricted here. It's basically like Footloose, but still in need of Kevin Bacon saving us. Despite the F-Sport name and styling, this is only an F-Sport in name only.
An area the Lexus inspires is the cabin itself, with a well-crafted and luxurious interior (the red seats look cool and feel great) that lives up to the Lexus name. I don't believe the seats are leather, but you wouldn't be blamed for thinking they're real hide. The infotainment is updated and definitely an improvement over the outgoing monstrosity, though I do think the interface is too stark in color, especially in the day mode. There's a setting for the color to automatically change from day to a dark and soothing night mode, just like your smartphone, but at times I noticed that, upon startup in the evening, it would briefly flash a bright and piercing white before reverting to dark, a glitch that frankly should not exist nor ever happen.
The finishing throughout is typical Lexus and of a convincing luxury, and the seats are comfortable, but the real problem here, and the main compromise of this car, is the size, or lack thereof. With that diminutive wheelbase, back seats are highly restrictive for space, making for cramped and unhappy travel companions, but the worst is the hilariously minuscule cargo bay. Going away for a wedding weekend in the UX 250h resulted in the rear being completely stuffed, so much so that, when a friend asked to ride with the two of us home, we had to decline. It's not that the rear cargo isn't deep enough, but rather it's far too shallow, with the floor being objectively too high to boot. Like I said, it's hilariously tiny for a vehicle of this price. If you have kids and are going on a trip, even a short one, you will find yourself playing Tetris to make things fit, likely having to unpack and then just leave things at home.
Being a hybrid powertrain, I did average a respectable 35 MPG in the UX 250h, but that's also no better than a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, a more powerful and larger crossover. That also only just matches the Lexus NX350h, another larger and more powerful crossover from the same brand. Which really begs the question with this car and why the figures and facts just do not add up: Why would you choose this car? Maybe you just love the looks. I find it sorta interesting, but it's definitely not a pretty car per se. You can also have a decently equipped NX 350h for the same price, which drives mostly the same, but has extra oomph, is vastly more spacious, and gets the same economy. You can save a few grand and have either Toyota's Venza or RAV4 Hybrids, which have the same economy, while offering leagues extra interior volume and everyday usability.
This is a car that would make sense if it were cheaper, but is instead a vehicle that exists in a class of practically, yet foregoes reason with so many sacrifices while having no bragging rights in any metric. If it were, say, $40,000 as equipped, then it could operate in a unique space for those wanting a small, but luxurious and well-made vehicle. However, it's just so expensive that if you actually were to buy one for this money, spending over fifty grand out the door when all is said and done, you might be in need of a CT scan. If you love it, then that's great, I'll be happy for you, but just remember this a glorified Toyota C-HR for $20,000 extra. There are easily better financial choices to be made in this sector, and ones that also could save you money in the end.
So, what's the solution then? Either wake up and grab the Lexus NX or cheaper Toyota alternatives, or skip this top-of-the-line flashy F Sport trim (which comes across very poser-like anyways given the considerable lack of performance) and get into the Premium version for $5,000 less, and at least then you will have less explaining to do when you tell your friends how much you spent. Look, it's not that the UX is a bad car, but it is one that doesn't make any sense given its lack of attributes and the swollen MSRP on this test example that's nearly double the price of the C-HR on which it's based.
And it's not like it's a classic case of, "oh, well at least it does this." That this car does nothing special is the harsh truth. If it were weirdly fast, like an actual hot hatch in the vein of a Golf GTI or a fancy Kona N, at least then you could say, "well, at least it's quick and fun," but neither is true. Instead, it's just too small, no economical benefits over other larger Lexus and Toyota hybrids, slower, and too expensive given all those limitations. I'm all for small cars, and a luxury small car has appeal in theory, but this is one equation that refuses to add up.
2023 Lexus UX 250h F Sport
As-tested price: $47,440
Pros: Typical Lexus quality
Cons: Overpriced; Tiny inside, Could be more efficient