TEST DRIVING THE 2020 LEXUS UX200

Entry-level. Lexus. The 2020 UX200 crossover is both of these things, and carries forth the traits one associates with both terms. But at the end of the day, the 2020 Lexus UX200 is an intriguing package, and is probably the cheapest, most reliable way to buy your way into a luxury brand. Well, in terms of a new car, at least.

Cheap. Reliable. Two perfect descriptors for something like the Toyota Corolla. And whatever you think about the Corolla, go ahead and apply those thoughts here, as the 2020 Lexus UX200 is the 2020 Corolla’s prettier twin. Both vehicles ride on the same TNGA/GA-C platform, have the same wheelbase, and aside from the ever-so-slight height difference, ride on the same suspension components. Engines are identical, meaning a 2.0-liter inline-four rated at 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Both vehicles are also equipped with the same transmission, though dubbed “Direct-Shift CVT” in the Lexus, which offers a proper first gear for better off-the-line performance, before shifting over to a more traditional continuously variable transmission.

So basically, the UX200 is a Corolla in a Lexus suit. But as the current Corolla itself is now a fairly refined machine, this statement only further confirms that the UX200 is one of the more sensible vehicles in this class you can buy.

And with that, let’s start with the drive. Driving the Lexus UX200 is… okay. There’s nothing wrong with the way it drives, but there’s nothing phenomenal about it, either. Its chassis tuning is phenomenal, offering a smooth, compliant ride and confident handling. Things aren’t racecar-sharp here, but for this package, and the market it’s intended for, it’s more than alright. 

But the powertrain leaves a lot to be desired. It’s that Corolla powerplant; it’s adequate for a budget car, but lacks the power and refinement one expects when stepping up to a luxury brand. That CVT only further exaggerates the engine’s shortcomings, where laying on the gas creates just a loud groan versus anything resembling forward momentum. There is a slightly more powerful hybrid version of the UX available, and while we have yet to drive it, we imagine that its electric assist would help smooth out some of these issues. That said, we’d love to see a dual-clutch automatic transmission, similar to what one would find in an Audi.

Styling is a bit of a mixed bag. We’re gonna drop that “C” word here again, but the UX200 looks like a Corolla Hatch with some Lexus-y bits tacked onto it. That said, it is a clean interpretation of Lexus’ design language, and we love the elegance of the rear taillight treatment. Those black-plastic wheel well arches try to fool people into thinking this is a proper SUV, but when viewed in person, it’s low ride height and front-wheel drive architecture remind everyone that the wildest terrain this thing will be traversing is a slightly dusty Starbucks drive-through. 

The interior is hit-and-miss as well. If you can, ignore the door cards, as those are finished in simple black plastic, an obvious move to help keep costs down. But from the seats inward, the design becomes incredibly eye-catching. Much is borrowed from the Lexus LC, from the driver-centric dash design, to the two little protrusions on the gauge cluster hood. Material choice and finish is excellent, and sitting inside, one really does feel like they’re in a proper luxury car. Well, unless they associate “luxury” with “space.”

Things are cramped inside the Lexus UX200, with one persistent issue being our inability to find a good seating position where the steering column isn’t hitting our knees. An extra inch of adjustability – either on the power-adjustable seat or the steering column itself – would go a long way here. These tight quarters also create a sharp learning curve for some of the controls, as compromises had to be made to fit everything inside. 

If you want to turn on those seat heaters, you have to peer under the HVAC and find the tiny buttons hidden underneath. Interacting with the main control screen has you using the finicky Lexus-standard touchpad. Adjusting the audio has a palm rest with a bunch of little rotary dials to control various features, like the volume or station tuning. It’s worth the effort to learn, as the sound system is phenomenal. We’re sure that, after enough time with the car, the motor memory will get there. But when the Corolla can offer the same types of features with a simpler control scheme, there’s no reason Lexus can’t do so either. 

And so we leave the Lexus UX200 with mixed feelings. Objectively, it’s a fine car, offering most of the styling and features we’d want from a Lexus, plus the robustness of its Corolla-based underpinnings. But it’s a hard car for us to recommend. The practical side of us would say to just buy the top-spec Corolla; it’s over $10k cheaper, and if we’re honest, provides a near-identical experience in terms of performance, and interior and exterior features. But if your heart is set on a Lexus, scrape a few more pennies together and get an NX. It fixes everything the UX misses the mark on, and comes in a right-sized package, to boot.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.