The NTT IndyCar Series ended its 2019 season at one of the most wonderful circuits in North America this September, as the Indy cars returned to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for a double-points race.
That meant a road trip from Long Beach to Monterey to cover the festivities. Lexus offered an Atomic Silver 2019 UX200 Premium, their smallest, front-wheel-drive crossover vehicle for the trip. It was just the right size, has just the right amount of power, is full of just the right number of luxury items and scoots down the road with joyous abandon.
To make this trip more interesting, I elected to take mind-numbing I-5 to CA 198, which wends its way through back country from Coalinga to CA 101 just south of King City and then took 101 to Monterey. That was when I realized the Lexus UX200 might be one of the best road-going vehicles I’ve driven in a long, long time. The Lexus’ chassis is stiff but not jarring, its engine is hospitable from low to high range and the 10-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT), while not optimal for a sporting drive, is delightful when placed in manual, direct-shift mode.
The 2-liter inline four-cylinder, double overhead camshaft engine has direct injection, good for both power delivery and enhanced economy. What might seem meager specs: 169 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 are totally workable. Redline is at 6,500 rpm. While CVT transmissions deservedly get a bad rap for their hunting and pecking for a gear, using the manual shift and sport mode transforms the Lexus UX200 into a fun machine.
It helps to have good underpinnings like independent MacPherson struts and multilink suspensions front to rear. Even the electric power steering isn’t vague like so many and the 34.2-foot turning circle on the UX200 is just right. The built-in balance of 3,307-pound Lexus allows it the agility necessary to tackle switchbacks and mountainous passes appropriately. Braking is excellent and fade-free. The five-door hatch rides on 225/50R run-flat all-season tires mounted on 18-inch five-spoke polished and black aluminum wheels.
Lexus tackles passive safety – the UX200’s active safety is through its agility – with requisite 10 airbags, the Lexus Safety System of pre-collision warnings, excellent radar cruise control, lane-tracking assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, intelligent high beam headlights and road sign assist within the navigation systems’ maps. The backup camera is clear and crisp.
Pricing isn’t jaw-dropping with an entry fee, including freight of $33,025. There are several options fitted to this vehicle, including blind spot monitor at $500 (why this isn’t standard, I don’t know), handy wireless charger for $75, a great head-up display for $500, triple beam LED headlamps with auto leveling, washers, LED fog lamps and cornering lamps at $1,660.
The UX200’s navigation system with all of its assists (Lexus Enform dynamic navigation, dynamic voice command, Enform destination assist) sits on a 10.3-inch color screen. Also in this package are the eight-speaker Lexus premium sound system, auto-dim inner mirror with Homelink and power tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel. The package lists for $2,200.
Lexus also fits parking assists, rear cross traffic alert with braking for $565, power rear door (hatch) with nifty kick sensor at $600, the premium package of a good-sized, dual action moonroof, rain sensing wipers, heated and ventilated seats for $1,175 and heated steering wheel for $150. The grand total is $40,450 and all the options here work in tandem to make for a driver’s feeling of security and enjoyment.
Lexus’ multimedia interface has a tendency, in some of its offerings to be difficult to work with but in the UX200, the touchpad is excellent. Navigation is excellent, even on very desolate roadways and we were able to find destinations easily. Simple toggle switches adorn the central command area and are easy to use. The steering wheel has an array of system info, phone and audio volume on the left, while the right side handles audio mode, cruise control, radar distance and lane departure. This is one of the best radar cruise controls I worked with.
There’s access to SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, together with 4GB Wifi with a year’s service included. Siri Eyes Free, Google Voice Control are also on the standard features list. Even Alexa Skill integration is standard on this vehicle. The seating – power for both front seat occupants – is truly comfortable for long-distance hauls and the ability to adjust lumbar on the fly is welcome.
The 2019 Lexus UX200 is federally rated at 29/37/33 mpg from its 12.4-gallon tank. Using only regular fuel I achieved more than 38mpg on the drive back to LA – and in Sunday night brain-dead traffic, even with the 21.7-cubic-foot, well-finished and covered hatch loaded to its gills. A single occupant in the rear seat found the environment to his liking, with the availability of air conditioning and dual USB plugs. There’s the ubiquitous pull-down armrest with cup holders available.
Everyone loved the looks of this smaller crossover vehicle but join me in worrying about the protruding tail lamps and their replacement costs when an accident occurs. The looks are elegant even as they promise a fun ride. And a fun ride it was, for just over 850 miles in seven days. The 2019 Lexus UX200 Premium is definitely a vehicle worth recommending for anyone looking in this hatch’s category.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit