Lexus UX: Is this Compact SUV the Perfect Car for City Life?

Lexus Ux

When you need it, you need it to be good. Right?

It’s the conundrum car owners who don’t drive every day have: If I only need a car on the weekends, should I really go all in on a car that I love? Should I splurge on luxury? Can I compromise on features I’ll only use a few times a month?

I recently spent a week with the Lexus UX Hybrid. It’s a luxury compact SUV crossover that is ideal for both occasional and everyday drivers. But I really liked it for drivers who might be able to skip the traffic during the week and focus their drive time on weekends, road trips and excursions to places both fun (like hiking trails) and necessary (like Costco).

As the darling of the luxury crossover world — the Lexus RX is the original and still one of the best-selling crossover SUVs— Lexus has been carefully expanding the formula to tailor cars for specific buyers. The NX is for drivers who want a smaller SUV. The RX L is for drivers who sometimes need a third row. Now, the UX is for people who drive and park in heavily populated urban areas or simply want a smaller SUV.

Priced from $32,150 to about $40,000, the UX might be the best looking of the group. The size and scale of this car are comfortable. Additionally, the design is Lexus’s most modern. Inside, the UX shows off the new Lexus look: Modern, thoughtful and full of details, including a new infotainment system (keep reading for what I thought about this).

Just the Facts: Lexus UX pricing, key details and more 

Lexus Ux

A side view of the Lexus UX. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Small Enough for the City, Big Enough for the Country

The Lexus UX is perfectly sized for city driving. It’s a compact SUV, not overly tall or long, plus it’s agile for getting in and out of city parking garages or tight parking spots.

But it also has roof rails that are easy to reach (since it’s not so tall). The UX is not so high off the ground that it’s a stretch for four-legged passengers to hop in. It has lots of interior space for your gear, groceries and guests. Also, the rear seats fold flat for hauling larger things like furniture or building supplies (why have it delivered if you can bring it home yourself?).

Coordinated to serve owners who mostly either drive alone or with a significant other, the UX is designed to make time together high-quality:

  • The media system features a point-and-tap or swipe-to-scroll touchpad for operating the infotainment screen
  • Scroll and  toggle buttons also offer quick access to functions
  • The center armrest opens to either the driver or front seat passenger, and it holds two USB ports
  • A wireless charge pad sits under the dashboard, so you can charge a phone while you drive
  • Apple CarPlay connects an iPhone right to the infotainment system; Amazon Alexa also connects to the Lexus UX
  • Premium sound for singing out loud (because Beyoncé needs all the help she can get, right?)
  • Driver-assist features mean the car takes on some of the stress of city traffic, allowing the driver to relax a bit more behind the wheel; these include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane trace assist (which keeps you centered in your lane), pedestrian detection, pre-collision detection, road sign reader assist (this reads and displays the road signs!)

Related: Need a bit more space? We took the Lexus NX for a spin and this is what we thought

Lexus Ux

The Lexus UX has a wide infotainment screen alongside Apple CarPlay. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Lowdown on this Redesigned Infotainment System

This has been a controversial topic among car critics and buyers. After using this system for a week (as well as similar ones in other cars) I have to ask: Are they just being cranky holders-on, comfortable with older technology?

The goal among infotainment system designers is to get your eyes off the controls and keep them on the road. The more they can implement systems that are second nature, the less we have to look at our hands and not at the road.

Related: Lexus added a third row to their most popular SUV. This is what the RX L is all about

Lexus Ux

The media touchpad in the Lexus UX. Photo: Scotty Reiss

These touchpad systems are designed to be more like our computers and phones. And, they are! After a week with the system—and after spending a significant amount of time learning to use it, finding the right balance of touch sensitivity and getting used to NOT looking at my hands, I got it. I could find my radio stations, click to navigation and flip through Apple CarPlay without looking away from the road or the screen.

We automatically reach for the power or volume buttons on our cellphones without even looking. For similar convenience and safety, this infotainment system is great if you’re willing to take the time to learn the buttons. With time, it becomes muscle memory.

Lexus Ux

The rear seat in the Lexus UX. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Transitioning to Suburban Life: Yes, a Child Car Seat Will Fit

While this car is great for city dwellers, it’s also great for the suburbs. For people transitioning from one place to another, the UX will accommodate. Again, those fold-flat seats are great for bringing home all the things you’ll need to fill your new, larger space. When baby makes three, there’s room for the car seat (though it’s a tight fit), the stroller, the pack ’n’ play, the diaper bag and even for *someone* to sit in the back and keep the binky in place on a long drive.

Lexus Ux

The Lexus UX model we test-drove was upholstered in Glazed Caramel. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Long Distance Drivers, Lexus Sees You, Too

One of my favorite features of this car is the hybrid engine option. Near zero emissions, 39 MPG on average (41 in the city!) and all the driver assistance features, most especially adaptive cruise control, add up to a great car for drivers who have a long commute.

After driving it, I was surprised to find the UX has a smallish 169 horsepower engine. Still, the drive experience was capable and comfortable. The engine didn’t strain or even sound like it was, as a CVT transmission often can.

Harnessing its power in Sport mode helps the UX to feel more powerful than it is. In normal mode, it’s just that: normal. In eco mode, the performance is more sluggish, but there are times when eco mode is perfect, like in crawling Friday night traffic.

Lexus Ux

The sunroof and ample glass makes the cabin in the UX feel open and airy, even though it’s a smaller SUV. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Yes, Big Things Come in Small Packages

More than many other cars I have test driven, the UX garnered a lot of compliments. People loved the human scale, the modern look, and the pampering details and technology inside. I liked how comfortable and capable this little car is and the fact that you don’t need to go big to have everything you love in an SUV. 

What We Listened to in the Lexus UX

The Mark Levinson sound system is a great thing to have on long drives or when sitting in traffic. This is what we listened to in the Lexus UX.

Lexus Ux

The Lexus UX (left) is smaller and sharper than its sibling, the NX. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Disclosure: Lexus provided the UX for this review; all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss