Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting…

Top 5 Subcompact Luxury Crossover SUVs: Audi’s Q3 still in the lead… for now

2022 Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic
Subcompact luxury cars, like this Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic sedan, are quickly being overshadowed by entry-level crossover SUVs, such as the same brand’s GLA- and GLB-Class.

Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting new luxury buyers.

Let’s face it, small luxury sedans and hatchbacks aren’t selling as well as they used to. Certainly, Mercedes-Benz has enjoyed recent success with its affordable new A-Class sedan and hatchback thanks to 2,355 buyers in Canada throughout 2020, plus a reasonable take-rate for its updated CLA four-door coupe at 1,085 units over the same 12 months, while BMW’s new four-door 2 Series Gran Coupe (redesigned for 2022) helped that three-model line stay relevant with 1,358 deliveries last year (the 2 Series Cabriolet will be discontinued for 2022), although Audi’s A3 (plus the S3 and RS3), that was doing decently with 1,720 sales in 2020, saw its numbers fall off a cliff over the first six months of this year with just 131 down Canadian roads, but this was more than likely due to an all-new 2022 model arriving in four-ringed dealers as “pen” goes to “paper” (the A3 Cabriolet was just cancelled, but an all-new 400+hp RS 3 Sedan is expected soon).

2022 Audi S3 Sedan
Audi’s A3 and S3 (shown) sport sedans remain popular options in the small luxury car segment, but its Q3 crossover SUV found nearly three-and-a-half times the buyers last year.

That’s a good sign for small sedan lovers, but the return of this now niche model is only possible because Audi does so well in the crossover SUV sector. The same goes for its German counterparts, plus Japan’s lone small sedan contester, Acura, that only sold 774 ILX sedans in Canada last year. They’d better get a move on with their long rumoured CDX subcompact luxury SUV, because as noted a moment ago, they’re missing out on an important gateway for Honda HR-V fans (and there are plenty of them) that want something a bit more upscale (will it happen when the soon-to-be nine-year-old HR-V gets a redesign for 2023?).

2022 BMW M240i xDrive_Coupe
BMW just came out with an all-new 2 Series coupe, with the updated four-door Gran Coupe expected to follow soon, but the X1/X2 pairing sold 2.3 times more examples in 2020.

To put things into perspective, last year’s best-selling subcompact luxury car was Mini’s Cooper with 2,739 units down Canadian roads (thanks to 3-Door, 5-Door, extended Clubman, and Convertible variants), while the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment’s chart-topping Buick Encore found 6,650 new buyers last year, plus that model’s stretched and modernized Encore GX sibling pulled in another 5,045 for a total of 11,695 units. Granted, some will find it another stretch to consider Buick a premium brand at all, this especially true in the smallest of SUV categories where the Encore is priced tens of thousands lower than most “rivals” at under $25k (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $10,000), but it does go to show how important this burgeoning segment is to luxury carmakers (and entry-level luxury brands).

Audi Q3 tops the subcompact luxury SUV list amongst desirable premium brands

2022 Audi Q3
Audi’s Q3 is once again the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment sales leader, with 4,224 deliveries as of Q2 2021, compared to the next-best Volvo XC40 with 1,829 new buyers.

No doubt, some of the dwindling Audi A3 buyers mentioned a minute ago have gravitated to the taller, more utile Q3 in recent years, noted by sales that have steadily grown from 1,566 units in 2014, when it first arrived, to 5,949 deliveries throughout 2020, making the Q3 the true best-selling model in the subcompact “luxury” crossover SUV class (sorry Buick). Even better, Audi sold 4,224 Q3s over the first half of 2021, once again showing every competitor how critically important this new category is to securing future growth.

Moving into the 2022 model year, Canadian-spec Q3s are available in three trims including Komfort, Progressiv and Technik, all standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic, and the brand’s renowned Quattro all-wheel drive system. The base “40” engine makes 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 9.1-second sprint from standstill to 100km/h, while a more potent version of the same powerplant, dubbed “45”, is good for 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a much more satisfying 7.4 seconds from zero to 100 km/h.

2022 Audi Q3
Most buying into the entry-level luxury sector believe a small SUV will take care of their needs more than a small car, and the Q3 fulfills this objective ideally.

Fuel economy is a Q3 strongpoint, with a claimed rating of 10.4 L/100km in the city, 7.7 on the highway and 9.2 combined for the more economical 40 engine tuning, or 11.7, 8.4 and 10.2 respectively when moving up to the 45. A fully independent MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension setup makes sure handling is nimble too.

The base 2022 Q3 40 TFSI Quattro starts at $38,400 (plus freight and fees), while the top-line Technik 45 TFSI Quattro is available from $47,200, plus nearly $5,000 in options are available. What’s more, Audi is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives for 2022 Q3 buyers, although average CarCostCanada membership savings are currently $2,200, so therefore, make sure you find out how dealer invoice pricing can save you thousands too.

2022 Audi Q3
The Q3 interior provides a lot of luxury for its reasonable price.

Those buying a new Q3 have the confidence that it’ll hold its value better than some competitors, thanks to its runner-up status in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards in the “Sub-Compact Luxury Crossover” category, where the Győr, Hungary-made crossover matched BMW’s X1, and was beaten by Mercedes’ GLA.

The Q3 also tied for runner-up in the “Small Premium SUV” segment of the latest 2021 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS), matching the Volvo XC40, but both Europeans were edged out by Lexus’ new UX. Additionally, the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) has it solely owning the runner-up position in the same category, once again behind the GLA.

Lexus UX second in sales after just two years on the market

2022 Lexus UX 250h F Sport
in less than two years, Lexus new UX (shown here in 250h F Sport trim) has charged into second place in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

Lexus smartly said goodbye to its Prius-based CT 200h hybrid compact hatchback in 2017, and hello to the new UX soon after in 2019, thus helping to pave the way for other automakers to do likewise once realizing the Japanese luxury brand’s ability to earn second place on the sales charts in less than two years of availability.

A total of 2,520 UX models rolled out of Lexus dealerships in 2020, beating a best-ever total of 1,640 CT 200h deliveries in 2012, which is a gain of more than 50 percent, while at the close of Q2 2021 the UX had found 1,525 new buyers, showing that it’s on target for an even stronger third year.

2022 Lexus UX 250h F Sport
For 2022, all UX models sold in Canada will be powered by a fuel-efficient hybrid drivetrain.

For 2022, the UX is only available with one drivetrain in Canada, having dropped its entry-level front-wheel drive UX 200 designation north of the 49th parallel (and we’re guessing Alaska, Hawaii, etcetera, too). This means last year’s base window sticker of $38,450 gets a $2,250 bump up to $40,700 for 2022, but that’s a small price to pay for all-wheel drive, via an electric motor driving the rear wheels, plus a more potent hybrid drivetrain that’s better on fuel. Before segueing into the UX 250h model’s performance and fuel-efficiency advantages, it should be said that Lexus is currently offering factory leasing and financing rates from 2.9 percent, while CarCostCanada members were saving an average of $1,964 at the time of writing.

2022 Lexus UX 250h F Sport
F Sport trim adds a lot of performance-oriented style to Lexus entry-level model.

Where the outgoing UX 200 only put 169 horsepower down to the front wheels, the UX 250h once again makes 181 net horsepower, which gets close to base Q3 performance on paper, and actually matches it on asphalt as well, evidenced by its 9.1-second 0-100 km/h acceleration in a straight line (the discontinued UX 200 managed 9.2 seconds).

The UX 250h also delivers much better fuel economy that’s estimated at 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined, a feat that’s no doubt assisted by a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), albeit expensing some performance. More engaging F Sport trim adds paddle shifters, however, making the most of the equipment on hand, which includes standard Sport mode that, together with the UX’ well balanced front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup, improves fast-paced handling.

2022 Lexus UX 250h
Shown here with the Luxury package, the regular UX 250h provides a comfortable and roomy rear seating for such a small crossover.

As noted earlier, the UX claimed top spot in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while it also tied for runner-up with the GLA in the same company’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, only beaten by the XC40, while the entire Lexus brand topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study overall, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.

Additional reasons to consider the new UX include J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards that ranked it number one in its Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category, while the UX also achieved a best-in-class score in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards (be sure to check out our 2021 Lexus UX Road Test).

BMW X1 slipping in popularity yet still a top-three contender

2022 BMW X1 xDrive28i
BMW’s X1 xDrive28i is the the largest and most accommodating entry in the subcompact luxury SUV segment, and one of the most enjoyable to drive.

Talk to anyone considering a step up from a mainstream volume brand into the luxury sector and the names BMW and Mercedes-Benz will inevitably be included in the conversation, and for good reason. With almost and more than a century respectively behind them, the two German brands have earned most consumers’ respect, and the prestige that followed plays an important part in premium brand decision making.

While priced near the bottom of BMW’s lineup, at $42,425 (the aforementioned 2 Series Gran Coupe is $1,000 less), the base 2022 X1 xDrive28i is hardly the least expensive SUV in the subcompact class (although up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,000 might help). Still, 2,384 new buyers didn’t mind paying close to that much in calendar year 2020.

2022 BMW X1 xDrive28i
It might look solely like a BMW, but the X1 actually shares underpinnings with Mini’s Countryman.

What’s more, after six months of 2021, the X1 had managed to sneak past Lexus’ UX with 1,616 deliveries to its credit, but these numbers are a far cry from sales in 2017, 2018 and 2019, that saw the X1’s popularity steadily slipping downward from its once grand heights of 6,120, 5,308, and 4,420 units respectively.

This negative trajectory might have something to do with the sportier X2 stealing 1,856 buyers after arriving in 2018, although the sleeker SUV’s sales have been sliding too, with 1,383 delivered in 2019 and just 790 in 2020. As of Q2 2021’s close, a 495-unit midterm tally looks like it might be improving on last year’s total, so we’ll need to see how things shake out after the rest of the year gets added up.

2022 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s cabin is very upscale for the class, and easily worthy of the good BMW name.

The X1’s performance wouldn’t be the issue holding buyers back from signing on the dotted line, however, as its sole 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a blistering (compared to most competitors) 6.2-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h, thanks in part to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, and standard all-wheel drive, while the latter aids the front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension make BMW’s usual magic through the corners (although take note, the first-generation X1 was a sharper handler, with this one increasing the comfort quotient).

The X1 also performs well when it comes to utility, offering the most dedicated cargo volume available in the entire class at 767 litres (27.1 cu ft). Additionally, folding its conveniently-divided 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks forward results in a grand total of 1,775 litres (58.7 cu ft) of gear-toting space, also the most in the segment.

2022 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s spacious rear seating area can be made to feel even roomier with a panoramic glass sunroof.

The next best is Mercedes’ new GLB-Class, incidentally, with 700 and 1,680 litres (24.0 and 62.0 cu ft) respectively, while the worst when it comes to dedicated cargo room is the same automaker’s GLA-Class with a token 435 litres (15.0 cu ft) to its name, which it mostly makes up for when dropping its rear seats down, resulting 1,430 litres (50.5 cu ft) of load-hauling capacity. In case you were wondering, Infiniti’s decommissioned QX30, which was developed alongside the GLA-Class, offered more space behind the rear seats at 543 litres (19.2 cu ft), but it suffered from the least amount ever offered in this class when laid flat, at 963 litres (34.0 cu ft). This may have been one of the key reasons for its slow sales, as the great-looking QX30 was a wonderful little SUV other than that.

Volvo XC40 earns a well-deserved fourth place on the sales charts

2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge
Volvo XC40 Recharge is fully electric, giving the Swedish brand a serious edge in this burgeoning entry-level luxury segment.

Speaking of cargo shortcomings, Volvo’s XC40 can’t attribute its top-five success to luggage carrying prowess, being that it only manages a scant 586 litres (20.7 cu ft) of volume behind the rear seats, and 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) when folded, making it the third smallest in the segment (not including the Encore) with respect to the former, and second smallest (including the Encore) for the latter, but it does most everything else so well that its consumer take-rate truly deserves to be above average.

Like the majority in this subcompact luxury SUV class, the XC40 is the most affordable way to own a new Volvo, not to mention that it’s one of just five contenders in this 10-model segment priced below $40k. Specifically, the base XC40 Momentum T4 AWD starts at $39,950 for 2022 (plus Volvo is offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,250), and packs a lot of style, quality, performance and versatility for its small package.

2022 Volvo XC40
Volvo’s XC40, shown here with its conventional powertrain, rides on a long wheelbase for such a diminutive SUV, providing a comfortable ride and handling prowess that matches its strong straight-line performance.

At 4,425 mm (174.2 in), it’s actually the shortest from nose to tail amongst the top five, yet its 2,702-mm (106.4-in) wheelbase is longer than all of the above (although not the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class below), which gives it an athletic visual stance while making as much of the available interior space as possible.

Another bonus is the XC40’s multiplicity of powertrains, starting with the T4 designated engine only available in base Mlomentum trim. With 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, it’s nowhere near the least potent in the category, and at just over 8 seconds from a standing start to 100 km/h, it’s hardly the slowest base model either. Much of its energetic takeoff can be attributed to its precise-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and just-noted standard AWD, while the fuel economy tradeoff is reasonable at 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.0 combined.

2022 Volvo XC40
The XC40 provides a lot of interior room for its small dimensions, plus a lot of innovative features.

Moving up to the T5, a stronger version of the same engine doesn’t impact efficiency much either, with a claimed rating of 10.7 city, 7.7 highway and 9.4 combined, especially considering output increases to 248 horsepower, torque to 258 lb-ft, and its zero to 100 km/h time comes down to just 7.2 seconds.

So far so good, but speed demons will want to move up yet another notch on the ladder to the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric, an EV version of the little SUV that’ll blast from standstill to 100 km/h in a mere 4.9 seconds, making it one of the fastest subcompact luxury SUVs currently available. The Recharge incorporates a 75-kWh battery and two electric motors for a resultant 402-horsepower, plus the grip of AWD. What’s more, it can travel up to 335 km (208 miles) on a single charge.

2022 Volvo XC40
The XC40’s headroom is very generous.

The XC40 Recharge is already gaining respect in the industry too, with highest marks in the “Luxury Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards for consumers. The regular XC40 has also done well, with a top-tier result in the “Compact Luxury Crossover SUV” class of AutoPacific’s most recent 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards, plus as noted earlier, it tied with the Q3 in the “Small Premium SUV” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while also receiving best-possible honours in the same firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. That’s quite the trophy case!

As for sales numbers, both conventional and electric versions accounted for 2,254 Canadian deliveries in 2020, its best year yet (out of two full years), while it already achieved sales of 1,829 units by this year’s halfway mark, putting it on target for second in the class if momentum (sorry for the pun) continues. Again, the XC40 deserves its success.

Mercedes GLB newcomer edges ahead of GLA for top-5 honours

2022 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic
The smart looking new GLB, shown here in potent AMG 35 4Matic trim, is the second roomiest vehicle in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

Mercedes believes so much in the entry-level luxury SUV sector that it introduced a second entry for 2020, and despite being the new GLB’s first full year on the scene it still managed to edge out the smaller GLA with 1,775 units to 1,759. Any question about which model will dominate moving forward is being answered this year, with the first six months of 2021 resulting in 1,474 deliveries for the GLB and 1,291 for the GLA.

To be totally fair to Mercedes, like BMW and its X1/X2 combo, the GLA/GLB duo actually compete with each other as much as they battle against rival brands, so therefore when combining the sales of both SUVs into one, the three-pointed star brand ended up second in the class with 3,534 units rolling out of its Canadian dealerships last year, while even better, it found 2,765 new subcompact crossover SUV buyers over the first two quarters of 2021.

2022 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic
The GLB provides a more traditional, upright design, which aids cargo space.

While the two models offer very different takes on styling, size and utility, the fact you can get into the larger GLB for only slightly more than the diminutive GLA might have more to do with its success than its more traditional, upright, SUV-like design. Size in mind, the new GLB-Class is 224 mm (8,8 in) longer than the GLA-Class, at 4,634 mm (182.4 in) from front to back, while its wheelbase spans 100 mm (3.9 in) more. That makes it just 22 mm (0.9 in) shorter than the compact luxury GLC-Class, although true to its subcompact classification, the GLB’s 1,834-mm (72.2-in) width is 56 mm (2.2 in) narrower than the GLC, while identical to the GLA’s width. Its height, however, is 20 mm (0.8 in) taller than the larger GLC, and 47 mm (1.8 in) higher than the GLA, making it the clear winner for headroom.

2022 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic
The GLB, and its GLA sibling, arguably provide the most luxurious experience inside, thanks in part to the most advanced electronics in the industry.

The GLB’s second-best-in-class cargo capacity was already noted (in the X1 overview), but differences between the GLB and GLA weren’t covered, those being 265 litres (9.3 cu ft) of extra space behind the larger SUV’s rear seats, and 250 litres (8.8 cu ft) more when both second-row backrests are laid flat.

Pricing for the GLA starts at $42,400 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,750), whereas the most affordable GLB begins at $46,500 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,450), while AMG 35 variants of both models are priced at $52,900 and $57,500 respectively.

2022 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic
The GLB can even be had with three rows, the only vehicle in the category to do so.

AMG? That’s right. Mercedes hasn’t forgotten to include performance variants, even in this more affordable market segment. Both M-B models offer a fuel economy-focused variant and at least one that makes daily commutes and weekend getaways a lot more fun, with the GLA and GLB 250 4Matic duo utilizing a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that’s good for 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, plus the AMG GLA and GLB 35 4Matic models make a sizeable 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.

2022 Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 S 4MATIC+
The tiny little GLA can be had in 382 hp AMG 45 S 4MATIC+ trim, which makes it the fastest SUV in the class by far.

Straight-line acceleration equals 6.7 seconds to 100 km/h for the base GLA and 6.9 for the GLB, while the AMG versions scoot away to the same speed from a stoplight at 4.9 and 5.2 seconds apiece. Shifts are lightning quick too, thanks to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, while economy is decent considering their go-fast capability, with the GLB rated at 10.3 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.2 combined in its most efficient form, or a respective 11.1, 8.9 and 10.1 with its formidable AMG badging. Similarly, the GLA is good for a claimed 9.8 city, 7.2 highway and 8.7 combined rating in base form, or 10.4, 8.1 and 9.4 with its mid-range AMG-lite upgrade.

AMG-lite? Yes, there’s more. Mercedes’ GLA can also be had in brilliantly fun AMG GLA 45 4Matic trim, which means for $60,500 its 2.0-litre turbo four puts out a whopping 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, resulting in the segment’s fastest acceleration at just 4.4 seconds to 100 km/h.

How the rest of the subcompact luxury crossover SUV field stacks up

2022 Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4
Mini’s Cooper Countryman easily qualifies for premium status, plus is one of the sportiest in the class in top-tier trim.

Enough has already been said about the sixth-place GLA-Class throughout this top-5 review, particularly when it comes to its many awards, which left the Mini Countryman (available from $32,990, less up to $3,000 in additional incentives) in the luxury crossover SUV segment’s seventh sales spot last year with 1,637 deliveries, although 2021 might lower its ranking significantly, as the BMW-owned British brand had only sold 310 examples as of Q2 2021’s end (a chip shortage issue?).

2022 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque is one classy little contender.

The Countryman’s lacklustre 2021 sales performance is just a bit more than half as much of the ninth-place Land Rover Range Rover Evoque’s January-through-June year-to-date tally of 609 deliveries ($49,950 for the P250 AWD, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,000), after selling 1,410 units last year, while BMW’s X2 ($44,950, plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $3,000) once again found 790 customers in 2020 and 495 over the first six months of this year.

Last, but nowhere near least when it comes to premium-level accoutrements, features and performance, is Jaguar’s somewhat pricier E-Pace ($51,500, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,250) that earned just 265 sales last year and a nominal 80 as of June 30, 2021. The E-Pace, which initially hit our market in 2017, was stylishly refreshed from the outside in for 2021, and truly deserves more love than it gets.

2022 BMW X2 M35i
BMW’s X2, shown here in M35i trim, is one of the sportiest designs in the category.

That covers everything in the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment, so far at least, but stay tuned for Alfa Romeo’s new Tonale, which should provide a lot of performance in a small package, and who knows, maybe Acura’s CDX, or whatever they’ll eventually call it, will arrive alongside the upcoming HR-V. We should also expect an entry-level Genesis crossover in this class, because the South Korean premium upstart is working feverishly to fill holes in its new lineup, evidenced by their new 2022 GV70 compact luxury SUV, and the just-announced all-electric GV60. Being that we all now know how important this smallest of SUV categories is, could a Cadillac XT3 be in the works? Lincoln needs to attract new entry-level buyers too, so due to their naval naming scheme theme we think a new Patrol is in order (although Nissan may own the global name for its Armada in our market too, so maybe the tiny ship’s “Cyclone” class designation would be more fitting. We don’t think a new Infiniti QX30 is in the works, however, being how terribly Nissan’s luxury brand is struggling to survive right now.

2022 Jaguar E-Pace
It’s hard not to like Jaguar’s impressive E-Pace, but it’s base price is the highest in the class.

Likelier, expect larger, more profitable luxury brands such as Audi and Lexus to double down on their efforts by supplementing their existing models with roomier alternatives, just like Mercedes has done with the GLB, or sportier variants like BMW’s X2.

Be sure to check out the gallery (above) for photos of each and every subcompact luxury SUV mentioned in this Top 5 overview (even the Buicks), plus use the linked model names throughout the article to find out more about each SUV.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos

In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD Road Test

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The affordable UX is now the gateway to Lexus, and a mighty fine subcompact luxury SUV it is.

In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.

Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The F Sport package provides more aggressive styling details than the regular model.

The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.

Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The regular UX 250h looks classy in its taupe-like Nebula Grey Pearl paint.

Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
A lighter shade, like Ultra White, makes a big difference to how this little SUV looks, truly defining its many angled elements.

This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.

At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
Cadillac may have initiated the angled and creased look, but Lexus owns it now.

This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The biggest difference between regular and F Sport styling up front is the blacked out grille surround and wider, sportier corner vents.

If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.

If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
LEDs have given automakers a lot more creative license with lighting elements.

The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
Black with red highlights means “performance” in the automotive industry, but the F Sport’s greater abundance of red is certainly more eye-catching.

Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
If classy is more to your liking, choosing the “Glazed Caramel” interior when opting for the Luxury package in the regular 250h is the way to go.

Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The UX has a nicely organized driving environment. with great visibility all-round.

It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.

The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The UX’ superb seating position should work well for most body types.

Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The fully digital gauge cluster, this one in the regular UX 250h, is impressive.

Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
This is one very advanced infotainment display, filled with all the features you’ll ever need.

Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
All UX trims utilize Toyota’s continuously variable transmission, but the F Sport gets a set of steering wheel paddles for more driver engagement.

As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface 2.0, a trackpad, was a step in the right direction for its infotainment controller.

The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The F Sport package certainly ups the appearance of performance, but keep in mind you can get black upholster if red isn’t your thing.

I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.

Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The seats from the Luxury package are more comfort-oriented, plus feature some elegant stitching on the bolsters (see the gallery above for a better look).

Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The rear seating area is generously proportioned, especially for headroom.

Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD
The 2021 UX 250h provides a bit more cargo space below a removable floorboard.

This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.

Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
The UX is missing the utility of a centre pass-through.

If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.

2021 Lexus UX 250h AWD F Sport
You’ll love the UX 250h’ fuel economy above all.

Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.

Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

Following its bigger RX brother’s lead, the Lexus NX came out of nowhere a half-decade ago to immediately become a frontrunner in the compact luxury SUV class. Currently sitting second in U.S. sales…

Lexus reveals second-generation NX with plug-in option for 2022

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
Lexus has created an entirely new NX compact luxury SUV for 2022, and it should become even more popular than the current model.

Following its bigger RX brother’s lead, the Lexus NX came out of nowhere a half-decade ago to immediately become a frontrunner in the compact luxury SUV class. Currently sitting second in U.S. sales and fourth in Canada, Lexus hopes the new second-generation NX, just introduced last week, will become just as dominant as its mid-size offering, and it really doesn’t have far to go in order to catch up to the segment leaders.

Fourth in sales places the NX ahead of BMW’s mighty X3, not to mention (in order of popularity) the Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC60, Porsche Macan, Buick Envision, Lincoln Corsair, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Velar, Tesla Model Y, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, and plenty of slower sellers sporting sweptback coupe-like body styles, like BMW’s X4, leaving only the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLC ahead on the sales charts.

2022 Lexus NX 350h
The new NX will be available in both hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants.

While the RX more than doubles deliveries of its next closest BMW X5 rival in the U.S., and comes close to doing likewise to Mercedes’ GLE here in Canada, the gap between NX and X3 sales in the U.S. was narrower than 4,000 units last year, meaning this redesign could push the Japanese model upward enough to claim most popular status. Here in Canada, another 50 sales in 2020 would’ve ranked it third in its class, leaving it about one thousand units behind the Q5 and slightly more than 2,000 deliveries below the RDX.

Exactly how this redesigned 2022 NX will impact the burgeoning compact luxury SUV market is unknown, but Lexus isn’t leaving anything to chance. First off, recently released photos of the all-new model make it clear the premium brand isn’t deviating far from the original NX formula that’s won it so many fans, with evolutionary new styling that should appeal to current buyers and newcomers alike. Its large spindle grille is as easily defined as ever, despite subtle changes all around including a more three-dimensional effect, while new LED headlights with an optional three-projector upgrade, combine some of the design elements from the previous model’s blockier main LED lamps, and the Nike swoosh-style “L-shaped” driving lights, into one curvaceous cluster.

2022 Lexus NX 450h F Sport
Both NX 350 and NX 450h plug-in models can be upgraded with a new F Sport Handling package.

Likewise, the old NX’ chunkier side panels have been smoothed out for a more refined look that’s still plenty muscular, while the rear design replaces the outgoing SUV’s angled individual LED taillights with a set of more organically shaped L-style lenses connected by a thin horizontal strip that spans the entirety of the liftgate, this design, which pulls cues from new UX and IS rear styling, dubbed a “full-width blade rear lamp” by Lexus. New wheels round out the updated package, the F Sport’s gloss black rims growing to 20 inches, but not before Lexus literally signed off on the design with five elegantly placed block letters designating its brand, the new NX becoming the first model in its lineup to replace its usual “L” centre rear branding with this new written logo.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
A completely reworked interior can be had with a 14-inch infotainment touchscreen in NX 350 and 450h trims.

Inside, a completely reworked dash panel adds a high-definition 7.0-inch multi-information display to the gauge cluster and projects an available 10-inch head-up display onto the windshield ahead of the driver, while the top half of the centre stack can been optionally taken over by a massive landscape-positioned 14.0-inch touchscreen display (that incorporates controls for the automatic climate control system and more) in top-line conventionally-powered and plug-in hybrid trims, meaning that Lexus finally appears to being giving up on controlling its infotainment systems through a lower console-mounted joystick or trackpad Remote Touch Interface.

Another sign of progress is the Lexus Interface multimedia system within that infotainment system, which has been designed specifically for the North American market. Along with the usual infotainment features, the new interface incorporates over the air updates and untethered smart phone connection to a user’s unique profile (that includes a new digital key for opening, starting up and remote parking via smartphone verification that can be shared with up to seven confidants), while a new Virtual Assistant, that incorporates multiple microphones, enhanced noise cancellation capability, plus seat-detection sensors for determining where users are sitting, has been designed to become the primary way users interact with the system. Optional wireless charging will keep devices ready for use, while connectivity via wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto comes standard.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
A 7.0-inch digital driver display provides clear, colourful graphics and configurable options.

The new NX’ standard touchscreen measures 9.8 inches diagonally, incidentally, which is pretty sizeable all on its own, with the end result of both touchscreen displays being a more familiar tap, swipe and pinch user experience for an easier learning curve when Toyota (or other volume-branded mainstream) buyers test this new Lexus SUV for the first time.

Astute readers will have noticed the words “plug-in hybrid” in the previous paragraph, a move that should have been expected by anyone with knowledge of Toyota’s RAV4 Prime. The RAV4 and NX have always shared platform architectures, with the new 2022 version now riding on the same TNGA-K (GA-K) underpinnings found in today’s RAV (codenamed XA50 for the RAV4 and AZ20 for the new NX), so therefore, incorporating the new RAV4 Prime’s PHEV components into the updated Lexus only made sense.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
Conventionally powered models receive a new eight-speed automatic with auto start/stop to save fuel.

Lexus’s new plug-in hybrid, dubbed NX 450h, is the first of its type for the luxury brand. Its EV range is claimed to be 58 km, depending on how it’s being driven, exterior conditions, and other factors, while it can achieve much higher speeds in EV mode than any previous Lexus hybrid, the latter of which normally kick into gasoline-assisted hybrid mode below posted city speed limits. The new NX 450h will deliver significantly higher levels of performance than previous hybrids too, or for that matter the upcoming non-plug-in NX 350h hybrid, even going so far as to add more drive bias to the rear wheels than the RAV4 Prime’s more comfort and fuel-efficiency focused setup, in order to improve high-speed handling.

Before delving into the regular NX hybrid, the new NX 450h plug-in puts out a fraction more horsepower than the RAV4 Prime it shares components with, with 305 ponies compared to 302, but the more luxurious NX takes 0.2 seconds longer to arrive at 100 km/h from standstill, its time being 6.2 seconds compared to 6.0 seconds flat for the plug-in RAV4, likely due to the extra weight carried by luxury features and refinement-enhancing sound-deadening materials.

2022 Lexus NX 450h F Sport
The new NX 450h plug-in hybrid can drive in all-electric EV mode for up to 58 km.

Lexus has achieved shorter charging times by installing a standard high-output, high-efficiency 6.6-kW Expedited Onboard Charger that reduces power loss when converting from AC to DC power, which means the NX 450h can achieve a full charge when hooked up to a 240-volt power source for about two-and a-half hours.

While understandable excitement surrounds this new plug-in hybrid variant, it’s important to point out that a total of four power units will be available from the onset of the new NX launch this fall. The base NX 250 model will receive a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder capable of 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. A new standard eight-speed automatic transmission with start/stop technology will help maximize fuel-efficiency, yet it won’t have any trouble keeping up with traffic either thanks to zero to 100 km/h acceleration of just 8.8 seconds. While hardly neck-snapping, the base NX will be quick enough for most peoples’ wants and needs, while this new model could also allow for a more approachable entry-level price point than the current SUV, being that today’s 2021 NX comes standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

2022 Lexus NX 350h
Hybrid models gain a second rear-mounted electric motor resulting in eAWD.

The second engine in the NX hierarchy, which is expected to be “the volume model in Canada” according to a Lexus press release, will be a 2.5-litre four-cylinder mated to a hybrid drivetrain. The NX 350h will make 239 net horsepower, which is 20 percent more than the outgoing NX 300h hybrid thanks to a pair of high-torque electric drive motor-generators (the second motor is in the rear resulting in eAWD). The combination allows for a 7.4-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, which is 1.7 seconds faster than the current hybrid model. Even with this performance upgrade, however, Lexus estimates combined fuel economy of 6.5 L/100km, which is an impressive 1.0 L/100 km improvement over the 2021 model.

2022 Lexus NX 450h F Sport
Both the NX 350 and this NX 450h will be capable handlers, especially if choosing the F Sport Handling package.

Depending on priorities, you can consider the aforementioned NX 450h or the all-new NX 350 top-of-the-line (although pricing may dictate otherwise), the latter model housing a new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. This model’s eight-speed automatic is tuned more for performance, the uprated combination resulting in standing-start acceleration times of 7.0 seconds to 100km/h, making it a significant half-second quicker than its turbo-gas-powered predecessor.

Handling should improve further due to a lower centre of gravity and more rigid body construction, Lexus having increased torsional rigidity via laser peening welding and new high rigidity foam, both firsts for the luxury division. Another first for the brand is a twin hood lock that increases front lateral flexural rigidity while also enhancing aerodynamics overall.

2022 Lexus NX 450h F Sport
Upgraded F Sport wheels measure 20 inches.

What’s more, both turbo and PHEV buyers can upgrade their suspensions with an F Sport Handling package that adds an Active Variable Suspension (AVS) along with front and rear performance dampers, plus the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and all of this trim’s usual styling enhancements from the outside in.

Additionally, a new electronically controlled, full-time all-wheel drive system improves NX 350 control both on and off the road. The driver now has the ability to optimize front and rear torque distribution in order to adjust for weather and road conditions, while a high level of standard electronic safety equipment will further keep things in check.

2022 Lexus NX 350h
Interior roominess will come standard.

These come as part of Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, which now features a new Risk Avoidance Emergency Steer Assist function that helps to avoid accidents via automatic braking and steering inputs. Another update includes a Left Turn Oncoming Vehicle Detection/Braking technology that does exactly what its name describes, while a new Oncoming Pedestrian Detection/Braking function will brake automatically when a driver turns left in front of pedestrians and/or cyclists.

Additionally, new standard Dynamic Radar Cruise Control features a “curve management” feature that will maintain the NX’ cruising speed to align with traffic flow while also keeping speeds in check when cornering. Lastly, a Digital Latch system, that features an electronically-actuated release, opens each door smoothly while scanning the periphery around the SUV with a Safe Exit system that’s been designed to prevent passing pedestrian or cyclist accidents.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
The new NX will provide more headroom and legroom front to back.

Extra head and legroom should make ingress and egress easier, not to mention more comfortable when seated front to back, while a new panoramic glass sunroof visually opens up the cabin to an airier experience. That revised interior will be quieter too, not to mention more calming thanks to 14 nature-inspired Thematic Ambient Illumination settings. Lexus has also redesigned the front seat heaters, and once again makes rear outboard seat warmers available, while the cargo area can now stow more gear.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
A large dual-pane panoramic sunroof will open up the cabin to blue skies.

For a final bit of NX news, the redesigned model will now be built in Canada, making the purchase of the new SUV as much of a patriotic move as a smart choice, the latter being a nod to better-than-average dependability and lower depreciation costs. The NX was a runner-up, next to Mercedes’ GLC, in the latest 2020 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards, the compact luxury SUV winner being Porsche’s Macan. Considering there are 16 competitors vying for top spot, tying for second is a noteworthy feat.

Lexus also took top honours in the most recent 2021 J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and while the NX once again failed to achieve best-in-class due to the mighty Macan, it earned a respectable second.

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport
Cargo space will go way up in the new NX.

NX quality may even improve thanks to its new home of production in Cambridge, Ontario, where it will be built alongside the RAV4 and larger RX. The Cambridge facility was the first production plant outside of Japan to build a Lexus model, and has earned many awards since it first did so in 1986. As for the new NX, its operations retooling and training efforts began in 2019, while production will start in the fourth quarter of 2021, with deliveries expected shortly thereafter. Pricing will be available closer to this launch date.

If you can’t wait that long, you may want to access up to $3,000 in additional incentives for the 2021 model. CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $4,416 when purchasing a new NX model, thanks in part to dealer invoice pricing that given them a significant edge when negotiation their best deal. Find out how the system works, and remember to download the free CarCostCanada app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store, so you can have all their critical info with you when you need it most.

Introducing the all-new Lexus NX (1:36):

Get to know the all-new Lexus NX (2:24):

The all-new Lexus NX reveal (7:30):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Lexus

First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting…

Lexus unveils awesome 472 horsepower IS 500 F Sport Performance

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Lexus will amp up its entry-level sedan for 2022. with the new 472-hp IS 500 F Sport Performance.

First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting in an attractive refresh that sharpened the already angular sedan to a finer point, with newly formed edges, an even more dramatic spindle grille, and an LED taillight treatment seemingly inspired by Lexus’ UX subcompact crossover. What makes the IS 500 awesome is the 472 horsepower V8 stuffed below a new aggressively domed hood.

Design does play its part. The new hood bulges up two inches for a more pumped-up level of IS masculinity, plus Lexus slightly widened the front fenders, modified the both bumpers, and beneath the bodywork, moved the radiator forward to accommodate the engine. Most of the model’s metal brightwork has been eliminated too, excepting the stylized “L” badge at both ends, the thin highlights on each two-tone gloss-black and body-colour mirror cap, the dazzling split-10-spoke 19-inch Enkei lightweight alloy wheels, the massive quad of “throaty” circular “dual stacked” tailpipes, and all the model and trim designations, the IS 500’s deck lid badge notably changed.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
The V8-powered IS 500 F Sport boasts four double stacked tailpipes that Lexus says sound “ferocious”!

This said, being that the IS 300 and IS 350 are the sportiest sedans Lexus offers, they’ve been mostly de-chromed already, with some 2021 trims blackened out even more so thanks to dark-painted wheels. The IS 500’s only notable differentiator is the addition of dark chrome side window trim, a tiny IS F Sport rear deck lid spoiler, and a new diffuser-style rear bumper required to house the enhanced exhaust system.

Likewise, changes are subtle inside as well, with black “F SPORT” designations on the door sill plates and steering wheel, the latter heatable and leather-wrapped, of course, while the throttle, brake and dead pedals have also been upgraded from the IS F Sport catalogue. Completely unique to the IS F 500, however, is the startup animation in the mostly-digital primary gauge cluster’s multi-information display. As for the rest of the interior, it’s much like the IS 350 F Sport.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
The IS 500’s domed hood looks seriously aggressive.

In other words, the IS 500 F Sport Performance is a sleeper. We’re ok with that, especially when it’s got what it takes to go head-to-head with its more aggressively penned rivals. Before listing off its competition, however, a rundown on some specs is necessary. Lexus’ well-proven 5.0-litre V8 not only puts out 472 horsepower in this iteration, but it nearly matches that thrust with 395 lb-ft of twist. This nearly matches the same engine’s output in the mighty LC 500 sports coupe and convertible, the IS version adding a single horsepower and losing three lb-ft of torque, but either way it’s a significant upgrade over the next-best IS 350 that only puts out 311 horsepower and 280-lb-ft of torque, or even the old 2014 IS F’s 5.0-litre V8 that made 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
These split-10-spoke 19-inch Enkei lightweight alloy wheels look sensational, but cleaning them will take patience.

Back to the competitors alluded to a moment ago, top of the list is Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio, good for a phenomenal 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, while BMW’s M3, the segment’s longest running entrant, would still be daunting to go up against in either 473-horsepower regular trim or 503-hp Competition form. Unlike the IS 500 that looks similar to its less potent brethren, it’s easy to spot a new M3 from a mile away thanks to its unorthodox bucktooth grille and more daring styling departure from regular 3 Series trims (for now), whereas Mercedes-AMG is more discreet, albeit unique enough when compared to regular C-Class models. It hits this market with three four-door variations, the 385-hp AMG C 43, 469-hp AMG C 63, and 503-hp AMG C 63 S.

Audi’s directly competitive compact luxury sedan offers nothing anywhere near as formidable, although the 349-hp S4’s similarly sized RS 5 Sportback sibling puts out a respectable 444-hp and looks fabulous doing so, not that anything in this class lacks style. It also should be noted that Cadillac will soon enter this segment with its new 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, providing a standard manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, and a 472-horsepower twin-turbo V6.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
The IS 500 F Sport’s interior hasn’t been upgraded much from the regular IS 350 F Sport.

Honourable mentions include Volvo’s new S60 Polestar Engineered, which is good for 415 hp from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in-hybridized four-cylinder; the Swedish brand certainly earning points for maximizing efficiency, while Infiniti’s 400-hp Q50 Red Sport 400 is wonderful, but not quite in the same league. We’d also be remiss for not mentioning Tesla’s top-line Model 3 that makes 480 instant electrified horsepower along with 471 lb-ft of torque. We should also expect Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury division to soon arrive with some super sedans and SUVs of its own, this compact luxury four-door segment currently filled with the impressive, albeit nowhere near as powerful G70. This in mind, and factoring in the IS 500’s choice of Lexus’ mid-performance “F Sport” naming protocol, could Lexus be saving the vaunted “F” badge for an even more capable super sedan? Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
The IS 500 gets its own gauge cluster startup graphic.

Unlike some of the just-mentioned rivals that utilize all-wheel drive, the IS 500 sends all of its abundant power through the rear wheels via the same quick-shifting eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission already used by V6-powered rear-drive IS models, complete with Custom, Sport S and Sport S+ engine and transmission mode settings, the latter also adjusting EPS steering assist and shock damping force, resulting in a 4.6-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, accompanied by a “ferocious” sounding exhaust note to “perfectly amplify the new V8 engine,” or so says Lexus in their press release.

Keeping all that power in check is the very effective Dynamic Handling Package that’s also found under the US-spec IS 350 RWD F Sport (AWD is standard in Canada), which features an Adaptive Variable suspension with Yamaha rear performance dampers along with a Torsen limited-slip differential, but unlike the less capable IS, the 500’s brakes have been upsized with 14-inch two-piece aluminum rotors in front and 12.7-inch rotors at back, plus special cooling ducts to optimize their binding power. Making handling and braking even more manageable is minuscule weight gain over the IS 350 AWD F Sport, the new IS 500 only adding 5 kilograms for a total of 1,765 kg.

2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Even the front seats are identical to the IS 350 F Sport’s, making us question whether an even more performance-oriented IS F is also on the way.

We can expect the North American-exclusive 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance to arrive this fall, with pricing and additional details made clear closer to its availability. Until then, Lexus is offering factory leasing and financing rates from just 2.8 percent on 2021 IS 300 RWD, IS 300 AWD, and IS 350 AWD models, or if you can still find one, up to $4,000 in additional incentives for 2020 IS models. Check out CarCostCanada for all these details and more, including manufacturer rebates when available, plus dealer invoice pricing all the time. Learn how the CarCostCanada system works, and make sure to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.

Also, check out our complete photo gallery above, and enjoy the video that follows…

Introducing the Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance (2:15):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Lexus

Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles…

2019 Lexus RX and RX L 350 and 450h Road Test

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Lexus’ RX, shown here in RX 350 F Sport form, makes a dramatic visual statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles at the turn of this century, I’ve tested, photographed and reviewed at least 15 individual RX models in every generation, state of trim, powertrain, and body style available, plus I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a number of RX launch programs.

I once even piloted the then-new 2006 RX 400h from a waterfront hotel in Waikoloa Village (just outside of Kona), Hawaii, around the northern tip of The Big Island toward Hilo, and then inland a ways before summiting the 4,250-metre-plus (14,000-foot-plus) peak of Mauna Kea, all before heading back down the east coast, circling Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s 17.7-kilometer Kilauea Crater Rim Drive, and more (thoughts and prayers for all the families from Leilani Estates this time of year). That experience stamped an indelible memory on my heart, and no doubt helped forge a personal fondness for Lexus’ most popular model.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
There’s not too much visual difference between conventional and hybrid versions as seen by this RX 450h F Sport model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When taking in the paradisiacal coastal vistas, mountaintop views, thick tropical foliage and harshly rugged lava rock terrain of Hawaii’s amazing spectrum of climate zones, comprising 10 of the world’s 12 types, it’s good to be in a vehicle that isolates all occupants from the elements so effectively. From the dry heat of Kona to the humidity of Hilo, through the more temperate regions inland to the polar/tundra heights above, the RX never wavered from climate controlled comfort, something I’ve grown to appreciate even more with each weeklong test enjoyed over the years since. Truly, each and every time I get behind the wheel of this impressive luxury crossover SUV, I’m reminded why it’s been number one in its mid-size segment since day one.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The more basic RX gets a less aggressive front fascia, while this RX 350 L also includes a longer wheelbase and third row. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It helps that Lexus defined this category together with Mercedes’ M-Class (now GLE) way back in 1997 when the original RX 300 arrived, a luxury crossover that’s held up so well I still see them on the roads in my community (not so with the first-gen ML). The RX has been around for 22 years and four generations, with the upcoming 2020 model about to bring a number of subtle styling updates and other improvements as part of its mid-cycle makeover, but despite its updates you may still want to consider getting a deal on a 2019.

Before delving into the 2019, updates for 2020 include refreshed front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlamps and revised taillights with new “L” shaped LEDs, redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels, and claimed driving dynamics improvements via thicker yet lighter-weight stabilizer bars plus a firmer retuned suspension to enhance handling with new dampers that smooth ride quality. Handling in mind, new active corner braking reduces understeer and paddle shifters, now standard across the entire lineup, should enhance the driving experience, while new standard safety features include daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), and lastly a revised infotainment system with new touchpad control and integrated Android Auto (a first for Lexus).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
It’s hard to tell the difference between long-wheelbase and regular, but the rear section has been extended for greater interior room. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even though its brand new, CarCostCanada members can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on the 2020 RX, while those willing to forgo some of the improvements for a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives for a 2019 model. According to the popular website, members are saving an average of $2,777 on both models, by first learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer probably won’t tell you about, and then finding out the dealer invoice price before negotiating.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX 350 F Sport is the model to choose for optimal performance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lexus will offer the same four RX models for 2020 as it did in 2019, including the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new long-wheelbase, seven-passenger RX L with both powertrains. Pricing starts at $55,350 for the 2019 RX 350, and then moves up to $64,500 for the 2019 RX 450h, $66,250 for the RX 350 L, and finally $77,600 for the RX 450 L, while the refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing expectedly rises by $700 (not bad considering all the aforementioned standard upgrades), but get this, pricing for all other trims have surprisingly been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively due to new more affordable decontented packaging, or in other words, fewer standard features. This intelligent move makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more luxury buyers, and still shouldn’t cause too much difficulty for Lexus retailers to sell off the remaining 2019s.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The 2020 RX entirely updates this 2019 model’s front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For this review I rounded up three 2019 Lexus RX models, including an RX 350, RX 450h and an RX 350 L, the two regular-wheelbase models in the Japanese luxury brand’s sportiest F Sport trim, and the latter long-wheelbase version in six-passenger Executive trim, its seat-count reduction caused by the replacement of its second-row bench with two individual buckets, while $6,050 Executive trim also adds LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a head-up display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio, wireless device charging, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power folding rear seats, and a gesture-actuated power liftgate.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The 2020 will offer new wheel designs, but 2019 RX rims are still great looking. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features as the name implies, with the former including a more aggressive front grille and fascia design, premium LED headlamps with cornering capability, a sportier set of 20-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), special “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital LFA-inspired primary gauge cluster, a special steering wheel with paddle shifters and a unique shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, unique performance seats covered in premium leather upholstery, plus more.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Not the most refined in its class, the RX is nevertheless very good at pampering its occupants. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Combining three distinct RX trims into one review provides an opportunity to not only show their unique characteristics in the massive photo gallery above, but also to help would-be buyers choose between this luxury crossover SUV’s dual personalities, one visually and dynamically more sport-oriented, and the other biased towards luxury. To be clear, the sportiest RX 350 F Sport will never challenge a BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe (or even the GLE 43 version), Audi RS Q8 (or even an SQ8 or SQ7), Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Range Rover Sport (or Velar SV Dynamic), etcetera, but as far as this comfort-oriented mid-size crossover SUV goes, it’s the sportiest, and more fun to drive than any Infiniti QX60, while more or less on par with the Acura MDX, Lincoln Nautilus, and probably the new Cadillacs XT6, although I have yet to drive the latter. This said the new 2020 RX should perform better than the three I’ve tested here, but we shouldn’t expect a radical improvement through the corners as it wouldn’t make sense for Lexus to stray too far from such an obvious winning formula.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The F Sport cabin offers a more performance-oriented look, like the name implies. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unlike most of the competitors noted, Lexus only provides its RX with one conventional powertrain choice, and despite once being wholly original in offering mid-size luxury SUV buyers the sole hybrid-electric available, it can now only take credit for being first. Still, no one can argue against the success Lexus has had with this comparatively simple powertrain lineup, consisting of its ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, and the nearly as well-proven electrified version of this dependable Toyota-sourced six-cylinder engine.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The F Sport upgrade includes this attractive digital gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Despite what appear to be identical powertrains on paper, the conventional V6 used in Lexus’ RX 350 and RX 350 L produce different performance numbers, the regular wheelbase model outputting 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque and the long-wheelbase version making just 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, while the RX 450h manages a slightly more potent internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor mix that nets 308 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque in both regular and extended body styles.

The biggest difference between these three powertrains can be seen in fuel economy, with the standard RX 350 good for a rating of 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.8 combined, and the slightly modified engine in the RX 350 L managing 13.1 city, 9.4 highway and 11.1 combined. The lighter weight regular wheelbase model is thriftier when comparing the RX 450h and RX 450h L too, with the former achieving the best model’s rating at just 7.5 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 7.9 combined, and the latter doing extremely well amongst three-row luxury SUVs with a claimed 8.1, 8.4 and 8.1 respectively.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The infotainment display is superb, and comes packed with features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The extra power provided by the motive battery, which like other all-wheel drive hybrids uses its ICE to power the front wheels and electric motor to twist the rims in back, doesn’t give the hybrid any more oomph off the line yet certainly helps it keep up despite its 160-kilo increase in curb weight. The efficiency of the hybrid’s continuously variable transmission may assist with its straight-line performance, but the eight-speed automatic in the conventionally powered RX is probably not all that more taxing and its more positive shift response makes for a sportier driving experience overall.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The joystick-like infotainment controller is the RX’ weakest asset, but it gets replaced for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Enhancing engagement with both drivetrains in F Sport trim are standard paddle shifters as already noted, while this performance-oriented upgrade also gets an edgier Sport+ setting added to the base RX’ Normal, Sport, and Eco Drive Mode Select choices, plus hybrids benefit from an EV mode. The EV mode only works at very slow parking lot speeds, but it can reduce consumption while circling the mall parking lot or when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while at the other end of the performance spectrum I didn’t feel much difference when switching from Sport to Sport+, other a firmer setting from the adaptive variable air suspension.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Look at the gorgeous pinstriped hardwood in the RX 350 L. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of the chassis, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup feels a bit tauter in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims, while the long-wheelbase RX L felt comfortable without giving much up in the handling department, or for that matter straight-line performance (it only weighs an additional 105 kg). As mentioned earlier, all RX models provide comfort first and foremost, which is exactly what most buyers in this class want, while noise, vibration and harshness levels are kept to a minimum thanks to a wonderfully tight, rigid body structure, plenty of sound insulation, and nicely refined powertrains.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX F Sport gets a sportier set of front seats, albeit only two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All the soft-touch composite surfaces and leather help to keep things quiet, although to be clear the RX doesn’t quite deliver the same level of over-the-top luxury as its German peers, let alone the lonely Swede in this segment. Most everything above the waist is made from the types of high quality pliable plastics expected in this class, including the glove box lid, with some surface treatments higher on the dash stitched and leather-like with padding below, but the harder composites start just above the driver’s knees and surprisingly to the left side of the steering column, not to mention on the lower door panels and lower sides of the lower centre console (the console’s top edges finished in stitched leatherette).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
A panoramic sunroof is always appreciated. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The two F Sport trims received attractive metallic accents across the dash, lower console and upper door panels, although I must admit I was even more impressed by the long-wheelbase model’s gorgeous hardwood inlays. While high-gloss dark hardwood in Japanese tradition, every half inch or so Lexus had laminated in wafer thin pieces of lighter hardwood resulting in an ultimately rich double pinstripe look that was best seen on the console. There’s plenty of brushed metal trim throughout the cabin, with some bits looking and feeling like the real deal and other pieces less so, but quality is generally good including each button, knob, toggle and rocker switch.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Our three-row RX 350 L came with captain’s chairs in place of the second-row bench. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At first glance all three RX models seemed to have similarly sporty seats, this probably due to their contrast stitched black perforated leather, but the F Sport models had a bit more side bolstering, particularly up by the shoulders, and while they all looked good and were generally comfortable, only the 350 L with its Executive package included four-way lumbar support. Its 10-way powered front seats were excellent, causing zero complaints, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the other two hadn’t luckily met up with the small of my back I would’ve been grumbling. Don’t get me wrong, as I would’ve liked extendable cushions and adjustable side bolsters too, while some sort of massage function would also be nice, but such pampering is obviously not the RX’ mission.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The second row folds out of the way easily for good third-row access. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Roominess has always been an RX strongpoint, with front and second-row seating for any size or shape with space to spare, but the new long-wheelbase model doesn’t quite measure up to most rivals when it comes to the third row. This is surprising, as a three-row crossover has been long in the making for Lexus, but even my teenage-sized five-foot-eight frame had difficulty getting comfortable. Climbing in and out is easy enough thanks to a second row that slides far enough forward for a nice, wide opening, but even after sliding that second row as far forward as I’d be comfortable with if seated there, there still wasn’t enough room for my knees when seated in the very back, while my head was rubbing up against the ceiling.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Access to the third row is good, but it’s best used for kids only. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The extended-wheelbase RX L does add 77 litres of maximum cargo space, however, moving the total from 1,657 litres up to 1,580 litres, but the final row must add some height to the RX L’s cargo floor because available room behind its second row shrinks by 43 litres from 694 to 651 litres. With all seats upright the three-row RX leaves a 212-litre sliver of usable space, but it’s good for a couple of small suitcases or a golf bag if you want to work on your “A” game after dropping the kids at school.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
A centre pass-through for the second row makes the RX very flexible for passengers and cargo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While most of this is positive, operating the RX’ current joystick-style infotainment controller will set you back to the early days of playing Nintendo “Golf” (that was 1984 if you care to remember), hence why it’s being replaced by Lexus’ newer touchpad control for 2020. The system is functional and thanks to side entry buttons added a number of years ago is easier to use, but it feels old and clunky in a world of touch sensitivity. It includes haptic feedback to lock in prompts, which helped somewhat, but few should lament its loss. The high-definition widescreen atop the dash that displays everything is superb, mind you, and it’s hard to fault the overall functionality of the system and features, other than its lack of Android Auto for 2019 (remember, the RX gets it for 2020).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The long-wheelbase RX L is most accommodating for cargo with all seats lowered. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that I’m talking digital interfaces, both 2019 and 2020 LX models use the same ho-hum gauge cluster in non-F Sport trims. It’s a basic analogue set consisting of two primary dials and two sub-dials, centered by a tall colour multi-information display that’s little more than a glorified trip computer. In a vehicle that’s edgy and modern in most other ways the gauges look a bit tired and dated, especially considering some RX rivals are shipping with standard digital instrument clusters or at least offer them optionally in upper trims. Of course Lexus does the same, but take note my long-wheel base Executive package enhanced RX 350 L was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport, but didn’t get the fancier LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster, and even the upgraded version doesn’t offer the level of features provided by its competition, such as the ability to transform most of the cluster into one big map.

Thanks to the incredibly fast pace of the auto industry these days, especially when it comes to digital interfaces, it’s always easy to find fault with a vehicle that’s been on the market for a few years. Such is the case for these three RX models, and therefore the updates Lexus will provide for 2020 should appease most of those looking for progress. In summary, I don’t believe the RX is the best mid-size crossover on the market, but it covers so many bases so well, and does so with such impressive dependability, that it fully deserves its number one status.