2020 Lexus UX250h

Is this the best Lexus yet?

Well, no, that would be the LC500. Ha! You see what I did there? This is me demonstrating my gift for disingenuity, my friends, by pulling the ol’ bait-and-switch. Aren’t you glad you started reading this?

No, what I should have said is: is the 2019 UX 250h the best choice in a Lexus, from the standpoints of practicality, price and all-round usefulness for real people?

And yes, is the answer to that. Yes it is.

Introduced in January of this year as the newest Lexus utility vehicle, and priced with an entry-level buy-in (or at least, entry-level by Lexus standards), the UX is at the smaller end of the ever-expanding lineup of Lexii, which runs, with nameplates in order of size, GX, LX, RX and the just-slightly-bigger than this one, the NX which we saw here on the world’s finest website last year.

It is suitably ‘right-sized’ for urban use, with a footprint similar to a family sedan; but brings the higher ground clearance (you know how I loves me some ground clearance, living as I do in the land of curbs and speedbumps), as well as being an appropriate height for ease of entry/exit.

The body style of the UX allows for decent, if not enormous, cargo capacity, oh and hey!

It’s a hybrid! At least the one we’re looking at here is, pairing a 2.0L gasoline engine with possibly the best-regarded electric motor system in the world. The system outputs 175 net horsepower and put it to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, as it is an AWD ute) via a CVT transmission.

(I’ll just interject here, that the one we’re are looking at here is a 2019, and being as it is all-new don’t expect huge changes for the new year, but I’ll point out that Lexus appears to have boosted the horsepower slightly – to 181hp – and added a couple of connectivity features. Here’s the deets).

The UX rides beautifully (and quietly), as anyone would expect from anything from Toyota’s luxury brand, and brings solid performance. It isn’t a sport machine, of course, but it the vehicle doesn’t lack or lag. Everything is easy to get used to from a driver’s standpoint, but where the new hybrid captures attention is the quality and feel of all the materials and surfaces.

It is quite a fashion statement, as well – check out the eye-catching upholstery. ‘Circuit Red’ leather adorns the seats contrasting with the black/dark dash treatment and futuristic look of the digital gauge cluster.

My test vehicle fleshed out the trappings with an F Sport 2 option group (and no, I don’t know what the F Sport 1 group might be). The option tacks another $8,800 to the bottom line, but truly finishes the package with everything one needs to call it a true luxury ride.

Among the major inclusions are a 3-Spoke F Sport steering wheel, (and for that matter, F Sport badges all over everything, everywhere), 8-speaker Enform 2.0 premium sound system, embedded navigation with three years of map updates included, a larger central information display (10.3”) parking assist, heated and ventilated front seats, smartphone charger and power tailgate.

The only downsides with the 2019 UX250h might be its overall size, but as mentioned, if you need a bigger premium utility vehicle, Lexus has a houseful of choices. There’s also the central interface touch-pad thing, which… well… you either like it or you don’t. Lexus gets a little better with their touchpad with every new generation of their vehicles, and at least the one in my test model now includes some buttons and a thumb-wheel for tuning the stereo.

The price is going to be a driver of sales for this vehicle as well. Don’t get me wrong, Lexus is never ‘cheap’ (in fact, if I were shopping for a ute like this, I’d probably opt for a fully-loaded RAV4 Hybrid, because money), but by premium-brand standards, this is not outrageous.

Starting at $39,700 for a base model, the one shown here, with F Sport 2 option package, came out at $50,697 and twenty-five cents, including freight and A/C charges and tire levy.

So, best Lexus yet? Maybe.

 

 

2019 Lexus ES 350

I admit I have a nostalgic love for the ES, as one of the first vehicle-launches I ever attended was for the gap-bridging sedans; way back in the rosy-colored days of yesteryear.

We squeezed our oil straight out of live dinosaurs with our bare hands back then, if I recall correctly, and it was a simpler time; unencumbered with the level of gadgetry and electronic user interfaces of today. I believe the year was 2001

It was also the first time I’d seen a Lexus up close (or any luxury auto, for that matter). I liked it then and I like the vehicle to this day, give or take a few minor points.

Renewed and revised from stem to stern, Lexus’ entry-level luxury sedan rolled out its seventh generation on a new platform, wrapped in good looks and incremental improvements inside and out.

The ES 350 still looks familiar, overall, with the familiar (and polarizing!) spindle grille fronting the car’s presentation of smooth lines and curbside appeal.

Performance tweaks and enhanced handling compliment a serenely quiet cabin, and if upgraded with one of the option packages available the ES does a great job of capturing the spirit of the luxury the brand.

Why, let’s take this one here, for example – an ES 350 (the 350 is the gas-only trim of the vehicle, not to be confused with the ES 300h, which is a hybrid) with the company’s ‘Ultra Luxury package’.

The basics are these: the latest generation is a front-wheel drive sedan powered by a 6-cylinder engine that brings a potential 302 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque, now channeled by an 8-speed automatic transmission (the outgoing gen used a six-speed).

Riding on the company’s GA-K global platform, the ES is slightly lower and wider, and made stiffer with the addition of more high-strength steel throughout.

My test car, wrapped in a paint job called “Nightfall Mica” showed off the exterior changes the new platform ushers in, slimmed-down headlamps and more angling of the A and C pillars enhance the car’s low and sleek appeal.

Driving the ES is a great combination of smoothness and performance. Lexus all about the ride, and I can’t say I’ve ever driven any of their marques that didn’t stack up any of their German luxury competitors, but the 2019 ups the ante with a revised suspension at both front and rear.

It handles deftly, with the suspension and overall rigidity contributing to a maneuverable and responsive experience on the roads and in the curves, and improved power steering setup.

Lexus says that the changes to the steering have also allowed more adjustability of the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, which is a good thing.

And! While we’re while we’re on the subject, check out the wheel. Strongly reminiscent of the steering in Lexus’ LC halo coupe, as is the cluster with protruding, machined knobs for the drive-mode selector.

The interior is as expected with the ES, nearly flawless and well executed throughout. A two-tone treatment for the leather upholstery in the test car called “Chateau” was genuinely pleasant to look at, and the seat comfort is very good, especially the front row (rear seat passengers also get some additional room as part of the GA-K platform).

Put it all inside a magnificently quiet cabin and top it off with a Mark Levinson premium audio system resonating from 17 speakers (part of the aforementioned Ultra Luxury package), and the ES stands out as it intended to, as an introduction to the brand.

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Overall, it isn’t hard to like most everything about the car, and really my big complaint is I don’t like the touchpad interface. I don’t know if I like the touchpad any less than the previous version of the company’s Remote Touch, but I don’t it more either; instead finding it fiddly and imprecise.

Also, entry and exit from the rear doors is a bit of a crunch for taller people, owing to the redesign.

While this isn’t the trim I would choose if I were buying (I’d get the hybrid ES 300h, because fuel econzo, know what I’m saying?) my test car made a solid case for itself.

Here’s the thing, though; while the price of the ES 350 starts under 50K, you’re going to want one of the option groups, to pull it up to the level of a true luxury machine.

The Ultra Luxury package on this one, which added everything I want for my entry-lux sedan, pushed that up by over ten grand, bringing the as-driven price of the test car to $61,701 (including freight and PDI)