Hybrids are practical electric cars because they’re part-time electric cars. You’re not dependent entirely on hard-to-find or rather long-to-find electricity—either to get going or to keep going. If the hybrid’s batteries wilt, the gas engine automatically steps in. You keep going.
No waiting hours to charge it up.
These facts make the new Lexus UX250h an interesting counterpoint to the Tesla3, a fully electric car that’s about the same size and entirely dependent on electricity, both what it carries and where and how long it takes to get more of it.
Both models are also their respective brands’ entry-level models though the Tesla costs almost $6k more to start than the Lexus, doesn’t come standard with all-wheel-drive (as the Lexus does) and only goes 220 miles, maybe, before it runs out juice while the Lexus can go twice as far on its combo of gas/electric power.
What It Is
The UX250h is the hybrid version of the UX200, Lexus’ new subcompact-sized five-door crossover.
It’s one of the few new hybrids on the market due to the government forcing electric cars onto the market.
In addition to the advantages it has over electric cars, it’s also got a leg-up over the non-hybrid version of the UX which is less powerful, not as quick and isn’t available with all-wheel-drive.
Lexus reasons that people who buy luxury cars want more than just good gas mileage and won’t accept less power and lower performance.
Prices start at $34,150, exactly $2k more than the price of the non-hybrid (and FWD-only) UX200.
Lexus also offers F-Sport ($36,150) and Luxury trims ($39,350) which are also priced exactly $2k higher than their non-hybrid (and FWD) UX200 equivalents.
A Tesla3’s base price is $39,000.
All-wheel-drive is available, but it boosts the Tesla’s price by a wallet-lightening $10k to $49,000.
That’s almost $15k more than the price of the already-AWD UX, which also has more cargo room (17.1 cubic feet vs. 15 for the Tesla) and a smaller footprint.
Without a larger “carbon footprint,” by the way.
Both versions of the UX are new models for 2019.
The hybrid UX is the only model in this class that can go more than 40 miles on a gallon of gas while also getting to 60 in about 7 seconds without waiting for hours to get going again.
Exceptional mileage and range.
More power than non-hybrid UX.
What’s Not So Good
A bit less cargo space than non-hybrid UX.
Not much backseat space in either UX.
Trackpad control for infotainment system is awkward to use.
Under The Hood
Lexus (which is Toyota) pioneered hybrids, so it’s no surprise they’re not ready to give up on them. Which is sound policy because they solve the electric car problem. They’re not too expensive, and they don’t cost you time and hassle.
But the hybrid layout is fundamentally an economy-car layout, and that creates a problem for a luxury car maker: People who buy a Lexus expect it to outrun a Prius.
How to deliver the increased performance luxury car buyers expect?
Add three high-torque electric motors to goose the power of the UX’s 2.0 liter engine which only makes 169 hp in the non-hybrid UX200.
Output rises to 181 hp and the 0-60 run decreases to just over 7 seconds.
The third motor powers the rear wheels when the front wheels break traction.
So you don’t get stuck when it snows.
The Tesla3 is rear-drive as it comes, which means it doesn’t go in the snow. It also doesn’t go very far. The advertised range, 220 miles, should have an asterisk beside it that leads to fine print explaining that the range of an electric car will vary dramatically depending on how fast (and hard) you drive as well as how hot or cold it is outside and how much you use electrically-powered accessories such as the heater, headlights, and AC. The advertised 220 miles might be a real-world range of 175 miles.
What never varies with an EV is the certainty of long recharge times vs. how quickly and easily a hybrid can be refueled.
When the Tesla3 runs out of range, you will be stuck for a minimum of 30-45 minutes, which is the amount of time it takes to recharge partially (to avoid damaging the battery) at what is hilariously styled a “fast” charger. This assumes no one’s ahead of you at the “fast” charger.
If there is, you’ll also wait for him or her to “fast” charge before you do. Half an hour just became an hour.
The UX250h refuels (fully) in just a couple of minutes and once fueled, it can travel 434 miles in city driving and 402 miles on the highway no matter the weather and with the accessories running full blast.
It’s not quite as quick as the Tesla which can get to 60 in about 6, but if the race exceeds the Tesla’s range, the Lexus wins by miles and time.
It would take you at least 30-45 minutes longer to go 500 miles because of the Tesla’s need to take at least one extended pit stop en route. Probably two. If you drove the Lexus instead, you’d already be there, unpacked and having a drink by the time the Tesla finally showed up.
On The Road
In stop-and-go city driving, the UX250’s gas engine is often off, but the UX itself is kept moving by its electric motors and the battery pack which provides the juice. It functions exactly like an electric car in this mode. There’s even a button (EV) for this mode.
This is why the UX250 is capable of 41 MPG in the city while the non-hybrid UX200 only manages 29 MPG.
It’s actually capable of more the longer you operate in EV mode. This will require slower driving, of course, but the same goes for the full-time EV. The difference is you can roll on the throttle whenever you like and not have to sweat the range or the time.
On the highway, the UX250’s fuel efficiency is about the same as the non-hybrid UX200’s, 38 MPG vs. 37 fMPG, because the gas engine is running pretty much always, which is necessary at higher speeds to maintain those speeds.
But there’s a perk: Torque.
The hybrid’s three electric motors give instant and stronger acceleration.
The Tesla3’s motors do the same, but with “The Catch.” The faster you go, the shorter you go and the longer you wait.
Tesla touts the ludicrous speed of its EVs, but if you have to go slow to go then what’s ludicrous is speed you can’t use. It’s like looking at a steak dinner (and paying for it) but eating oatmeal.
The UX has performance you can use.
It’s true, of course, that if you use it frequently you won’t go as far. But you’ll still go a lot farther than the Tesla3, and it won’t take nearly as long to get going again. The elimination of recharge anxiety is the hybrid’s ace in the deck—almost all of the benefits of going electric including nearly zero emissions, if that’s a concern for you, without all the downsides.
And if emissions are a concern, then the last thing you should be doing, if you’re serious about your beliefs and not a virtue-signaling poseur, is driving a high-performance electric car like the Tesla.
High-performance batteries and motors consume more electricity, and that means higher-than-necessary carbon dioxide “emissions” (in quotes to emphasize the stupidity). If you are really “concerned” about C02 “emissions,” then you should be driving a minimalist EV like the Nissan Leaf that operates at Prius Speed and even it may “emit” more C02 in the aggregate than the fuel-sippy UX250h, which “emits” such a negligible quantity of C02 that the whole discussion is fatuous.
But the UX does emit something the Tesla3 does not. Something good for the environment— yours.
A performance sound. This is enhanced in F-Sports with an acoustic resonator that works like a volume control. Rotate the knob on the top right of the dashboard to select the most aggressive (sport) mode, and the sound wicks up the more you push the gas pedal down. The sounds of air being sucked into the vortex; of mechanical things happening. EVs produce the sound of the morgue—silence, which is great if you’re dead.
Electric cars are like waiting rooms that move until they don’t.
There’s also more to do in the UX because the Lexus has a transmission. It’s not a manual transmission (the UX comes standard with a continuously variable automatic), but it does have driver-selectable modes and (in F-Sport trims) paddle shifters that let you toggle through (and hold) the transmission at whatever spot in the powerband seems and sounds right.
EVs have direct drive, like an electric drill which is basically what they are and just as homogenous.
DeWalt vs. Makita. And just as interesting.
The UX isn’t ferocious, but it’s surprisingly fun. You put this car on, like a personal driving suit. It’s not tight, but it is form fitting. You survey a UFO-like dash with glowing displays set back here and forward there. If you’re a fan of the Alien/Prometheus films, the best way to convey what it’s like to be inside the UX is to imagine yourself one of the Space Jockey/Engineers powering up his ship.
It also corners excellently; something hybrids aren’t usually known to do. Extremely neutral up to the grip limit of the tires, which is lower than the grip threshold of the car. This makes the UX even more fun to drive, though, because you can play around with a greater margin of safety.
Tire screech/slip is easier to pull back from than the car letting go.
F-Sport trims get a firmer-riding (but not harsh) suspension and more aggressive (18-inch) wheel/tire package, plus a racier-looking dash display, sport bucket seats, and that sound-enhancer system.
At The Curb
Toyota (which is Lexus) is conservative when it comes to engineering—a good thing, if you esteem longevity and few repairs along the way—but the styling of the UX isn’t.
If you go for the F-Sport, there’s lots of interesting angles juxtaposed with curves and cladding: Swoosh LED cat’s eye headlights and a Cylon Centurion grille.
Just like the RX350, just on a smaller scale.
This includes the trackpad interface for the apps/audio system which you’ll also find in the RX and other Lexus models. It’s not the easiest system to use accurately while the vehicle is moving but Lexus, ever thoughtful, addresses this potential problem with redundant secondary controls. You can control the volume, change stations and so on via more traditional steering wheel-mounted buttons or use the trackpad, as you prefer.
The main cluster is a cozy and racy LCD pod; you can change how it looks and the info it displays by toggling through the various modes (F Sport trims get a red backlit Sport mode with a tachometer in addition to the blue Eco and the Normal modes).
You also get a surprising amount of room given the footprint.
A Tesla3 is nearly a foot longer overall but only has slightly more backseat legroom (35.2 inches vs. 33.1 for the Lexus) and less cargo room (15 cubic feet vs. 17.1 for the UX250; the non-hybrid has 21.7 cubic feet).
The center console storage cubby, however, is pretty small as are the two cup holders built into the center console. But the main worry here is the possibility of spilling something that will fritz out the probably very expensive trackpad. Make sure the lid on your coffee cup is on tight.
Another manifestation of Lexus’ conservative approach is that the UX isn’t a plug-in hybrid.
These have a few advantages—chiefly that you can usually drive farther (and faster) on just battery power. But the disadvantages include much higher buy-in cost, which renders the gas savings irrelevant.
All trims come standard with AppleCarPlay but not Android Auto. The Luxury trim comes standard with a huge (10.3 inch) LCD touchscreen; the base trim has a smaller (7 inch) display.
A nice touch is the available “washi” interior trim, which emulates Japanese fabric paper. You can order this with the base trim. Lexus doesn’t restrict availability to the higher-cost Luxury and F-Sport trims.
The Bottom Line
In a saner world, there would be more hybrids like the UX and fewer ludicrous electric cars like the Tesla3.
Kudos, Toyota, for keeping a grip.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.