The new UX subcompact crossover sure has a lot to prove.
Being the newest member of the Lexus lineup, the small crossover only made its global debut last 2018. Unlike other models offered by the automaker today, the UX name is completely new. Unfortunately, this also gives it the notion of being somewhat “unproven” compared to other models with nameplates that are already established.
That's why you don’t see a lot of UXs roaming around local streets as it seems to have been overshadowed by its larger siblings – the NX, RX, and even the LX.
Honestly, I’m quite surprised there aren’t more UX models on the streets. When I was in Osaka, Japan a few weeks back, the premium subcompact crossover was everywhere. It made sense, logically at least, considering its small size packaged with luxury goodies; something that should theoretically also work in the Philippines.
So when I was handed the keys to one, I wanted to find out what domestic customers were missing out on. I got to drive the UX 200 F Sport, which was the sportier and dare I say the "cooler" version of the crossover.
While it may be small in size, it certainly has presence with the signature Lexus Spindle Grill up front. The F Sport mesh grill and bumper certainly gave it a much sportier look, unlike most basic looking crossovers today. Despite being based on the Toyota CH-R, the body panels are completely different. From the side, it’s hard to see the similarities between the two as even the doors appear to be different.
What catches the attention of people (which so happens to be my favorite exterior styling cue) is the single-piece LED rear taillight. The UX features a new full-width taillight design seen in the newer Lexus models such as the ES, LS, and the upcoming LM. At night, the long taillight makes it easily distinguishable from other cars on the road even from a long way back. Being finished in a bright metallic orange color makes it stand out even more. As a result, I noticed a couple of heads swing around sharply as I drove by.
Now some of you reading this might say that the crossover is too small. But if you do consider how narrow most of the streets of Metro Manila are, then going small isn't bad at all. With the UX, you can easily squeeze through the tightest of spaces and fit in the narrowest of parking areas. This also gives it the feeling of being easy to drive on the road due to its inherent maneuverability.
There is a bit of a drawback because of its size, though, and that translates (in)to the cabin. Because it is a subcompact, the UX feels a bit cramped in the second row. Sure, you can sit quite comfortably but there is a slight issue with knee room. If you’re a bit short, then it’s fine. But if you’re tall (around 5'9" and above), then it does become an issue, especially with a cabin full of passengers. It’s the same story in the trunk as cargo space is a bit limited at 17.2 cubic meters, or about 487 liters. The UX wouldn’t be your first choice if you have to haul a lot of gear with a full cabin on a regular basis.
Though it might be a bit short on space, it’s still very much a Lexus inside. Up front is a long dashboard with all the bits and pieces that make it a Lexus - from the wide infotainment screen front and center, right down to the analog clock. There are lots of things that can be done with the center display. First-time users might have a bit of trouble navigating the system as it can feel a bit complicated. Once you do learn it, though, you’ll be able to manipulate and maximize it in no time.
The sound quality of the speakers is also really good considering this is an “entry-level” Lexus. It’s not a Mark Levinson system as found on the flagship LS and LX, but it does a really good job. No matter what choice of music you play, you can be sure you can hear it loud and clear. It also helps that outside noises are reduced to a minimum; good insulation materials, most likely.
As this is the sportier F Sport version, it also gets an LFA-inspired instrument cluster and sport seats with better bolsters. Some of you might not like the seats since they hug your body tighter but it does help keep you in place when going on spirited drives. Now if you’re stuck in traffic, playing with the gauge cluster is an amusing way to kill time; it can "slide" left to right and has various displays depending on the driving mode.
When you’re not stuck in traffic though, the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter mill under the hood of the UX which produces 170 PS and 205 Nm is more than enough for the city roads. Speed picks up easily even from low RPMs and can easily get you beyond the posted limits if you aren’t careful. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) "shifts" smoothly throughout. With a light foot, you can easily average around 8.5-9 km/L in the city, even with all the traffic.
As I mentioned earlier, there are several driving modes available with the UX 200 F Sport. Feel like going fast? Put it in Sport and Sport+ mode. Here, the CVT keeps the RPM high up the rev range and is paired with later shifts for the full driving experience. Bring it back to Normal or Eco-mode afterward, and you can just cruise through the city (or traffic) without having to worry about fuel economy.
While the UX F Sport does have cruise control, I was surprised to find out it does not come with Lexus Safety Sense and its suite of features. Considering, the new Corolla Altis, Super Grandia Elite and even the Alphard have Toyota Safety Sense, I was somewhat expecting the feature to come standard. Yes, it is the most affordable model in the range, but I still wished it came with it; that would certainly make the drive better, and safer.
On the road, UX 200 F Sport rides very comfortably when compared to the other F Sport models offered by Lexus Philippines. For comparison, it’s not as stiff as what you’d find in the NX F Sport. However, you do feel big dips and bumps on the road when you go over them. As such, don’t expect the ride to be on the same level as the standard IS and ES models. Despite being a crossover, it's quite nimble too. There's not much body roll when you toss it into a corner at a higher speed. The UX also feels stable when changing lanes or going over dips at speed.
While it may be the newest model in Lexus’ lineup, it sure has a lot to offer. The only drawback I can find (apart from the lack of Lexus Safety Sense) with this F Sport variant is the price. At Php 3,108,000, you’re around Php 100,000 off from the NX 300, which is a much bigger and more practical option. And compared to the standard UX 200, there’s almost a Php 600,000 difference. To some buyers, Php 600,000 might seem relatively “small”. But let’s be honest, it’s still big chunk of change.
I do see the appeal of the UX 200 F Sport though. You get the better-looking kits, upgraded seats, and the really cool LFA-style instrument cluster. If you're someone who doesn’t really care about practicality and doesn’t need to seat 4-5 people all the time, then the F Sport makes sense. It's a cool way to go around town. But if sporty styling isn't that important for you, then the standard UX 200 will probably fit your requirements better.