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2020 Lexus UX250h or 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: Which model and trim should you buy?

2020 Lexus UX250h or 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: Which model and trim should you buy?
Autos
Our duet comparisons usually look two models from the same brand, and at what point you should step from a smaller model up to its larger sibling. This time, however, we’re taking a new approach with a pair of hybrids from a mainstream brand and its luxury sibling: the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Lexus UX250h. Before choosing the luxury subcompact crossover Lexus UX250h, might you be better advised to consider the bigger and more versatile Toyota RAV4 Hybrid? The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is, as always, a little more complicated.

The Lexus UX was late getting into the subcompact luxury segment, already dominated by the Audi Q3, BMW’s X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The haut-de-gamme clone of the weird-looking Toyota C-HR arrived in our market barely a year ago, the main difference between this Urban Explorer (hence the name) and its small Toyota relative being that the most upmarket Lexus offers a hybrid version — and therefore all-wheel-drive.

While the non-hybrid version and FWD base version of the Lexus starts at $37,450, the Lexus UX250h we’re discussing here ranges from $40,000 to $48,900, to which Lexus adds a substantial $2,095 in transport and preparation fees. Plus, of course, whatever taxes apply in your province.

The Lexus UX250h is powered by a 181-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Toyota’s latest Hybrid Synergy Drive system can be found under the hood, but also beneath the rear seat and cargo space. The marketing geeks of Toyota/Lexus have lately begun calling it, like a poke in the eye to its electric plug-in competitors, a “self-charged” electric vehicle.

SUV Comparison: 2019 Honda CR-V vs 2019 Toyota RAV4

Even newer than the Lexus UX is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. This is the second hybrid version of the compact SUV — the RAV4 is in its fifth generation overall. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that powers the RAV4 Hybrid, via a CVT, delivers a substantial 219 horsepower — 16 horsepower more than the non-hybrid RAV4. Both vehicles make use of the latest generation of gas-electric system, but with a main difference: The RAV4’s rear electric motor is 7.5 times more powerful (40kW vs 5.3 kW) than the UX250h’s.

While the regular — and non-AWD — Toyota RAV4 starts at $28,090, the RAV4 Hybrid’s kickoff is at $32,350 (plus $1,840 in freight & PDI). Note that the all-wheel-drive system is standard in all the hybrid versions of the compact SUV, up to its $42,790 Limited edition.

For its (real) feminine touch. Seriously.

In 20 years of automotive journalism, do you know how many times this author was asked for the best vehicles for women – or worse, which ones were made for women? Thousands of times. And all these years, her answer was… there’s none, really.

Those past two decades would have been soooooo much easier if the Lexus UX250h had been around. Because this one is the perfect woman’s car, no matter what a woman’s car is, for a simple but good reason: the Lexus UX is one of the rare vehicles, if not the only one currently on our market, that was chief-engineered by a woman.

Allow us to introduce Chika Kako .

The Lexus UX with Chika Kako, executive vice-president of Lexus International and the vehicle’s chief engineer.

The 52-year-old engineer is now officially the #2 at Lexus, but, while working on the UX development, she brought Sashiko and Omotehashi feelings to the vehicle in a way that is more than just marketing name dropping.

Sash-What? Omo-Who? The first philosophy is a customary Japanese quilting technique used in the making of martial arts uniforms, while the second is a Japanese tradition of hospitality. Both philosophies pervade the UX in imperceptible, but significant ways: a spirited calming interior, nice design details, fusion of unexpected material and well-thought-out ergonomics.

Not only is the UX cabin is one of the Zen-iest we have been in for quite some time, but it has the benefit of keeping up with the brand’s luxury principles. In other words: Where the German competitors have cut corners to keep their smallest offerings below a certain psychological price-level, Lexus carried on with its indulgence even while keeping its asking price lower than its European rivals.

Because big things come in small packages.

2020 Lexus UX250h

Indeed, this subcompact hatckback-pretending-to-be-an-SUV is small. Everything is petite in the UX, from the glass surfaces to the controls, including the steering wheel, the cargo space, the rear legroom…

But instead of a cramped feeling, this cabin delivers a nice and sporty atmosphere, especially in the F Sport treatment. Front seats hold their occupant not only at the right — and comfortable — position, but also at the right height. No need to jack up the fauteuil to be in command of the road, no need to count on the technology, its sensors and its cameras to drive, to manoeuvre and to park.

More importantly, ergonomics are surprisingly customizable for such a small interior and, thanks to an avant-garde technology, brings us to our third reason for choosing the UX.

Its avant garde technology.

Someone had to (re)think it: In order to bring some air to the dashboard and avoid a rummage through the growing number of commands, why not use some uncharted space?

First, there’s this way of hiding the non-essential information from the instrumentation: Just activate a button and the centre gauge physically slides to the right, in a very high-tech fashion. Trop cool. Also, the UX conveniently locates its traction control and driving select-mode at the side of the instrumentation cluster, right in front of the driver’s eyes and easy to reach. Between the two front seats, there’s no control-knob that needs to be turn, push or slide for going through numerous menus. Instead, at the drop of the hand, the audio tuning controls make it intuitive to find the right channel and adjust the volume.

2020 Lexus UX250h Nadine Filion

And for all the rest to be selected on the (not-touch) screen, there’s the Remote Touch. Some believe they’ll “never make their peace with this wonky touchpad”, but personally, we found it even more effortless than if we were working on our laptop, thanks to its added haptic touch control.

Forget about the base, front-wheel-drive UX200 version. The real deal, here, is the UX250h because for $2,600 extra, you get not only the hybrid system, but also an additional electric engine at the axle that gives you automatic AWD capabilities.

For a price tag of exactly $40,000, this version includes the heated and ventilated front seats, as well as a complete safety suite. It can be ordered with a luxury package, but we don’t recommend this $5,200 extra spending. Yes, it would bring the bigger display screen and the head-up display, but you’ll end up paying (a lot) for technologies that will one day require subscriptions and are better handled by your cellphone in some form or in another.

There’s also two F sport packages for the UX250h, but let’s be honest: Besides spending more money (up to $8,900), do you really want to add more cladding to an already polarizing design?

More for less — and probably the best.

What if you could get more than twice the UX250h cargo space, even when the rear seats are up? 15 percent more legroom for your rear passengers? 20 percent more power under the hood? A gas tank one third larger that results in less frequent stops at the station?

(Natural Resources Canada states an equal combined official rating of 6.0 L/100 km for both vehicles, but our weekly test drives in similar winter conditions resulted in an advantage of 1.0 L/100 km for the UX).

What if you could get all this for a price tag that, in the best scenario, is $7,650 cheaper? That’s what the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offers.

The compact SUV, hybrid or not, is also Toyota’s most popular product in North America, ranking amongst the top 5 best-selling vehicles on our continent. Add a bunch of reliability awards and you end up with one of the best resale values — year after year, the RAV4 is a contender on .

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid fuel consumption landed at an impressive 6.4 L/100 kmBecause you want KISS.

You’re the KISS type — Keep is simple, stupid? Certainly, there’s nothing stupid about the RAV4 technology. In fact, it’s complete, from the (standard) safety suite to the easy-to-use touchscreen.

But where the Lexus UX pushes the avant garde envelope, the RAV4 sticks to its roots, making your life simple with straightforward controls and easy-to-find information. There’s no need to fiddle with knobs, other than the traditional ones regulating the audio volume and the climate controls. And not only will you find them in their traditional spots, but also in an almost geriatric size.

To be clear: If you’re railing against the complexity of modern infotainments, like the one found in the… Lexus UX, you’ll want to check the RAV4’s, amongst the most easily-operated in the market.

Macho… but zen.

While the Lexus UX displays a feminine touch, the RAV4 instead inherits a more macho-style — one that evokes Toyota’s bad boy from the past, the FJ Cruiser .

Everything follows a rugged theme in the RAV4 (except perhaps the lack of a locking differential and any actual off-road capability). Its exterior design is utilitarian, a departure from crossover styling trends that are increasingly revealing two-door-drop-coupe silhouettes. Inside, the old-school motifs – round dials, square air vents and real buttons surrounding the touchscreen, underlined by a traditional line of climate controls — make the cabin controls pragmatic and functional. Passenger space and cargo capacity are generous (not just by UX standards) while at-hand storage compartments are abundant and intelligent.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Nadine Filion

All this in a package where quality textures and fine-tuned assembly are far from the bargain-basement build quality. The whole package is refined considering its rugged looks, including surprisingly good road handling, comfort and even a fairly quiet interior.

At no point, except when we looked at the fuel consumption (the lowest we registered was 6.4 L/100 km after an hour on a highway), did we have the feeling of driving a hybrid — a tribute to how far Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive has come since the technology was launched two decades ago.

Without any hesitation, the XLE version of the RAV4 Hybrid. At $35,350, this configuration adds just the right dose of useful features to the base LE version. You get heated front seats and heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate system, power liftgate, intelligent key with its smart push-button, even a sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Nadine Filion

So basically, and including the freight and delivery fees, you’ll save $4,900 if you choose our recommended Toyota RAV4 Hybrid over our recommended Lexus UX250h. And be reassured: you won’t be short of any crucial driving safety systems, since Toyota makes its Safety Sense 2.0 standard. We’re impressed by what this suite includes: Lane Tracing assist, the full speed range dynamic radar cruise control, the Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection. The pre-collision system even detects pedestrians and bicycles.

If you really want to spend as much for the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid as you were ready to spend for the Lexus UX, we recommend that you forget about the XSE version and its techno package, for the same reasons we mentioned above with the UX. Instead, jump right at the Limited RAV4 Hybrid ($42,790), the only version to offer front ventilated seats and rear heated seats like the UX.

For the vast preponderance of consumers, we think the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is the better choice, and the sales numbers show Canadians are making the smart choice in overwhelming fashion. Its cargo space, versatility and performance are attributes simply too superior to ignore. There’s a reason that the RAV4 is the most popular vehicle in Toyota’s product portfolio. If, however, you don’t need the space and you value interior techno-luxury — and perhaps a feminine touch — over outright practicality and reduced cost, then there is something to be said for the Lexus UX.
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