Lexus UX 200: Luxury as (Too Much?) Technology
Published on Mon, May 18, 2020
By: Brian Kennedy
While the radio controls are shockingly troublesome and the tech is overwhelming, it begs the question: does luxury have to be complicated?
Check out our video review of the 2020 Lexus UX 200 on YouTube!
Luxury. The Lexus UX 200 has it—great interior, fantastic seats, ride just enough insulated from the road to be a bit Lincoln-like. And despite being behind other luxe brand competitors (Mercedes GLA-Class, BMW X1, Audi Q3) in power, it’s fast. Just mash the gas once, feel the subtle hints of torque steer correction nudging your hands left and then right, and you’ll know the company tried hard and mostly succeeded in building a car you’d be much more proud of than you’d be if you went full-boat on a Honda CRV with all the options they can throw at it for about the same mid-$30K money.
You’d be happy with the feel when you get in the UX 200. You’d love the seats and steering wheel. You’d be into the auto-manual shifter, which, if nothing else, made my mountain drive much more fun on the way up and much more controlled on the way down.
The Troublesome Tech
But then there’s the radio, and not to overstate the case: it almost erases all those positives. The company has put a touch pad at your fingertips to change various functions on the large central control screen, including Nav, climate control, and radio. Note that these functions can all be accessed in other ways, but the radio controls, especially, seem like they would work the best with the touch pad, if only the touch pad would work. Ideally, it allows a quick finger swipe to move a cursor field from function to function. Click one way to choose audio functions. Once there, move around to get to FM, or Satellite, then dial in a station from the presets.
Thing is, no matter how much adjusting you do on the sensitivity, you’re gonna overshoot what you were aiming to press about half the time. No, that’s not a scientific number, and yes, I got better at doing this as my week with the car went on, but even at the end, I was missing it way, way too often.
I dislike it so much that, if I bought one of these vehicles, I’d be frustrated and angry every time I got in to go anywhere, if my tank-emptying week with the UX 200 is an indication.
Before you protest, please know this: it’s not just me, and yes, I did search out help both in the manual and online. My tech-friendly videographer did better than I did in a trial of the system, but still had the trouble of the cursor overshooting or whizzing off the upper part of the display to access a function that she didn’t have in mind.
I’m pretty sure they’re aware of this issue, with this evidence: the company-produced video of the audio system available online shows the way to control it as being to use the wheels and buttons on the console rather than using the touch pad. Hmmmm.
What Is Luxury?
And that’s where we get to the real question about this car, which is to say, What is luxury? Is it being more whiz-bang with tech than lesser-market offerings are? That’s what got BMW so much criticism with its iDrive system, which was universally hated and panned. Why would Lexus risk similar censure?
The buyer of this car is used to having things his or her own way. They can afford to brush off an incompetent junior partner—they’re the head of the firm. So why give them a chance to dismiss such a nicely crafted car with a wave of the hand (or because of one)? This makes no sense to me.
But if you focus elsewhere, please know that this car is really nice. It’s comfortable. It’s upscale in a way that makes you feel taken care of. But regarding the tech, it’s just too complicated. Most functions can be done two or even three ways. Switches proliferate and are many times replicated in their function using the touch pad and 10.3-inch display. Why?
Lexus should have stopped short of loading all of this trickery into this car and just let the gorgeous, super-adjustable seats, the sporty steering wheel, and the nifty sunroof sell the UX 200 for them.
Exterior-wise, they could have counted on, for those who like the cut look of modern Toyotas, the styling to woo buyers. Edges proliferate, including the funkiest tail lights since vestigial fins took over from actual ones in about 1960. The grille is full-on huge, sticking out from the plane of the bumper, at least if that’s not an optical illusion. But that’s OK—compare especially the BMW competitor, and you’ll see that going out there a little sets the Lexus apart as bold.
The drive, too, is splendid. The vehicle seems fast. It literally gets up and goes, as in gives a slight lift to the front end when you hammer it from a stop sign. The head’s-up display is helpful, though the speed-limit indicator lags behind where you actually are when speeds change, and works a bit oddly in only turning on when you’re near the limit, rather, than giving you early warning. Cornering is sharp. Braking produces almost no dive and clamps you down to “stop” with confidence. The wheelbase is just about right for smoothness without the wallow of a truck.
And the other tech is cool. There are three drive modes, and, particularly at night, the eco, normal, and sport modes create interesting tachometer surround coloring when you switch into them. The auto-dimming headlights tip up or down exactly when you’d want them to. The 10.3-inch display can be configured to have a kind of 60/40 split, with, for example the air conditioning operation displayed while the fuel economy graphs are also visible.
In addition, there’s the possibility of finding out various and sundry information on the gauge face in front of you, as its left side is configurable with information like radio station numbers or other info. There’s also, as is the theme with all cars these days, prompts to help you with your “eco” driving, even when not in eco mode specifically. The primary of these is a tiny colored bar graph which displays your eco driving ratio. Mostly, this is a “How much did you smash the gas?” meter, but a useful reminder. I ignored it altogether, though, and still returned a nice 32 MPG in mostly highway use.
Outside, there’s an optional kick feature to open the hatch, though that didn’t always work as precisely as it could have either, and even when it got my request on first kick, there’s a pause and a warning beep, both of which I could do without. Just open the darned door already or let me do it myself!
To Sum It Up
And that brings us full circle. Luxury is excess—years ago, only the Caddy and Lincoln had such superfluities as power windows and door locks, or power vent-wing windows. But luxury should never come at the cost of functionality. The UX 200, as lovely as it is, overbalances on gizmos at the expense of usability in key areas.
If you’re OK ignoring the touch pad and using the finger wheels Lexus also thoughtfully provides to control your radio (switching amongst presets is not done as easily, note), then you’ll get along with the UX 200 just fine. If you’re the kind of customer who wants a luxury purchase to reward with perfectly precise interface, then maybe you should wait a year on this buy and hope that enough squawking gets the touch pad some refinement.