Last year, Lexus launched the UX as its newest player in the small luxury SUV category. At the same time, it was also announced the UX would be the brand's most affordable vehicle in its 2019 lineup. If you're all about performance (which I assume most of you are), this news was about as exciting as a meat eater learning the Impossible Whopper was now available at Burger King. But, as I've grown to become a mature adult in my mid-thirties (somewhat, at least), I've continually strived to think of the glass half full instead of half empty. So, on the way home from the office the other day, I decided to stop by the drive-thru to try BK's new meatless burger (wasn't as bad as I thought and tastes 90 percent like beef); and when the opportunity to pick up a '19 Lexus UX 200 F Sport for a one-year loan came up, instead of dwelling on its lack of aftermarket potential, its uninspiring 169hp 2.0L and hopeless CVT tranny, I decided to think outside the box and create a simple game plan to transform the vehicle into what you see today.
In real life, the UX is not what you think of an SUV. I find it hard to even call it a crossover, as I feel it's more like a hatchback due to its small size. Lexus designed the UX for fresh Amazon recruits and newlyweds in their late twenties, hence its lack of performance. With no real budget behind me, making it faster wasn't an option. The only plausible thing to do was make it look cool (it already looks pretty sharp in stock form) while retaining its everyday driveability. I put on my thinking cap and remembered how successful our last two Toyota projects were, the C-HR and Corolla hatchback. Both bolt-on affairs shared the same formula—TE37s, lip kit, complete wrap, coilovers, big brakes, exhaust and so on. It was a no-brainer that the same formula could be applied to the UX; however, at the end of the day, it wasn't exciting, and that's what building a project car is all about, right? I had in my possession a brand-new blank canvas to work with and it just didn't feel right to go through the same motions I'd gone through for the last two years with the C-HR and Corolla. It was time to throw out the old playbook and write a new story that would alter the UX image from "meat substitute" to "double meat, please!"
Now, it would've been ballistic to develop a one-off lift kit with aggressive shocks and all, but the idea for the UX was to make it look and function more like an SUV and not eradicate its high level of Lexus comfort. First to come to our aid was H&R, which supplied taller springs from its Adventure Raising line. Designed, manufactured, and tested in Germany, the springs allow us to reuse the factory dampers and raise the front 1 inch and the rear 1.2 inches. Doesn't sound like much, but the subtle lift looked drastically different and more appropriate for an SUV when compared to its factory ride height. Most importantly, ride comfort remained comparable to stock.
The next step was sorting out tires. In my mind, I wanted some meat, real meat, with thick tread blocks. This meant downsizing from the factory 18-inch wheels to 17s and going with an aggressive all-terrain option.
My first search landed with a set of 245/65R17 tires—the shortest option I found during my initial hunt. However, after test-fitting, it became apparent they were too massive for the factory fenders. Either I'd have to find a shorter tire or this project of mine would be going to shit. Luckily, Yokohama offers a 225/65R17 Geolandar M/T G003 tire, which was a full inch shorter than my first attempt. We were in business.
With the meat sorted out, it was time to decide on the wheels. I reached out to our friends at Mackin Industries to see what was available in the RAYS lineup. Since Project UX was such an off-the-beaten-path project, nothing in the inventory followed our theme. Months prior, though, RAYS Japan released a new beadlock wheel intended for adventure-seeking Jeeps and SUVs labeled as the Team Daytona M9. A deal was struck, and one month later, after the 17x7 black/smoked wheels had crossed the Pacific, our UX would be the first vehicle in the U.S. to rock the M9s.
Auto Tuned helped with the final fitment, and let's just say it looks pretty frickin' nuts. The tires barely squeeze within the wheelwells. There's no rubbing to report and the only modification we had to make was simply removing the factory front fender liners. Some major downsides I've noticed include losing a few mpg and the increase in road noise— necessary evils to accomplish the desired stance.
So, I know what you're probably thinking... Was it all worth it? The UX has taken on a completely different personality, and I dig it, but it's not quite there yet. The elegant OE Cobalt Mica blue paint doesn't flow with the vehicle anymore. It also feels like there's something missing—maybe some accessories to give it a more utilitarian feel. Changes are in the works, but until then, stay tuned and remember, this isn't a long-term project to take our UX off-roading or overlanding. It's a fresh take on a Lexus model that may not have made a blip on your radar, and it's something I took on as a challenge to do something out of the box that the aftermarket can appreciate. If it doesn't work out, well, I guess I'll go back for another Impossible burger.