All good things come to an end, and in the case of our 2019 Lexus UX200 F Sport project car, that time is now After a year of putting nearly 16,000 hard-fought miles on our subcompact luxury SUV/crossover, our loan is up, but it wasn't without a few victories and more than enough eyebrow raises.
So why in the hell would Super Street mess with a UX? Well, for starters, it was a brand-new Lexus model that's not exactly geared to the rich 'n famous or to grandma 'n grandpa. It's a small SUV tailored towards young professionals and couples, which aligns up quite nicely with thirty- and forty-somethings (like me). Albeit, never intended to be anything fast or a baller vehicle to brag to your car buddies about, its design and intention was to offer everyday comfort, modern style and luxury all at an affordable price. In fact, since its launch, it's the cheapest new model Lexus you can get off the lot, with the 2020 model starting at $32,300 MSRP.
The relevance for a good percentage of the Super Street audience is there (sorry if you're 17, own an 86 and reading this), and after a full year of campaigning the UX, we couldn't have been more pleased with how frickin' awesome it was to commute with on a daily basis and embark on a handful of weekend road trips. But of course, being at Super Street, we couldn't let anything go stock for too long. And since our last few Toyota/Lexus project cars were lowered and catered for the bright lights of the SEMA Show, we decided to flip the script and create a more adventure-seeking UX by performing a few relatively simple modifications.
Look Back: Previous Toyota and Lexus Project Cars
In 2019, we turned new Toyota Corolla hatchback into a "hot hatch" with our modified XSE project car that featured the first Auto Tuned lip kit, Volk Racing TE37SAGA wheels in Time Attack trim, RS-R coilovers, custom Wilwood big brakes and more.
Now more than two years ago, we got our hands on a 2018 Toyota C-HR (which shares a similar DNA as the Lexus UX), and made it into a SEMA and CES show stunner with an Artisan Spirits kit from Japan, TE37 wheels and two different wrap jobs (yellow and satin black).
Scroll back the times to a similar project like this UX now, here's our 2015 Lexus NX200t F Sport, which coincidentally shared the same blue color. We wanted to mess with the turbocharged engine at the time but there weren't any tuners messing with them yet. So we opted to slam it using a custom air ride setup for AirREX, plus threw on a set of 21-inch Volk Racing G27 wheels. Simple, but sweet looking!
Last but not least, don't forget our "Ratchet Bunny" 2013 Scion FR-S! It's still in the family, and still sports one of the first Rocket Bunny V1 widebody kits, BBS E88 wheels, British Racing green paint, HKS blower and AP Racing big brakes all-around.
Our 3 Steps to getting the Lexus UX closer to off-road capable
- Raising or lifting the suspension properly
- Appropriate wheel and tire package
- Additional accessories
Step 1: Raising/Lifting Suspension
Now before you get all your panties up in a bunch, the overall goal for our UX wasn't meant to be a full off-road, rock-climbing warrior. It still had to handle daily driving duties and we also didn't feel it required the need for a very serious lifting suspension from the likes of King. With that said, the UX dances on the border between a hatchback and small SUV, so to give it a little more clearance as to not hit tall curbs, H&R developed a set of Adventure Raising springs which we installed while still retaining the OEM struts. The result was a factory-like ride while giving us a 1-inch front, 1.2-inch rear lift. Doesn't sound like much but this simple bump in height was a night and day difference in terms of overall look and helping the UX feel more like a proper SUV.
Step 2: Beadlock Wheels & All-Terrain Tires
With suspension out of the way, next order of business came wheels and we knew we wanted something a bit more beefy and rugged than the 18x7" stockies. With luck on our side, RAYS Japan released a new beadlock wheel intended for Jeeps and SUVs labeled as the Team Daytona M9 at the same time of us acquiring the UX. Perfect timing, right? So last summer, our UX became the first North American vehicle to rock the M9s in 17x7" with a black/smoked finish.
Tires proved to be the tougher challenge. With limited wheel wells, there wasn't much in the all-terrain market that would fit. After some math homework, we were able to sort out that the 225/65R17 Yokohama Geolandar M/T G003 was our only option - and not a bad option considering this is one of the most aggressive and state-of-art off-road tires in the market. Admittingly, the tires rated narrower than the factory all-seasons, but the benefits of large unidirectional tread blocks and sidewall armor allow it to take on the tough, muddy and rocky trails without batting an eye or worrying about a flat.
Step 3: Accessories!
As you can guess, there's not a whole lot for the UX in the aftermarket, so we pretty much hit a dead end once we installed the H&R springs, RAYS wheels and Yokohamas. Everything else would have to be custom or one-off, hence why we reached out to a local off-road specialist Armordillo who've become extremely popular in the truck world with bolt-on racks and bars of all types. They outfitted us with two different roof racks - the latest rack as photographed at Big Bear Lake is the VX roof rack/basket which is universal and looks quite cool if you ask us. Adding to the front-end is an AR Series bull bar which features an integrated skid plate. It required some modification to fit but matches the front-end of the UX quite nicely and adds some much need
ed black to the overall character of the build. We didn't quite get a chance to ram/bumper anything, but the integrated light bar proved to be quite useful navigating the dark trails and canyon roads of Big Bear at night.
Lastly, the cases on top are none other than Pelican. Weatherproof, accident proof, crash proof, idiot proof, these are the best in the game and every photographer and videographer we know uses them to store their precious gear. For our Big Bear adventure, we also strapped on a Pelican soft cooler on the roof rack which was probably the nicest cooler we've ever tested; did its job keeping our Coronas and carne asada cold, but also looked pretty sick too and something we're going to bring every event from now on.
Not your style or do you dig our off-road-looking UX?!
It's extremely tough trying to mod any vehicle that just came out onto the market. We were one of the first folks in the U.S. to pick up a UX, and as you can imagine, when we called up every shop we knew, no one had parts, let alone most didn't even know what Lexus model I was talking about. But we were up to the challenge, noticed a trend in the number of off-road/overland-themed vehicles over the last few years and decided to take a risk with this project. If you dig it, thank you! If you don't, thank you, too! Project cars, while ultimately intended to make faster, look cooler and be more functional, they're also meant to be creative, inspire and engage. We probably wouldn't build an adventure concept like this again right away, but we did successfully test the waters, learn a few things and enjoy a few kickass adventures to Death Valley, Glamis and Big Bear.
Big, big thank you to Young, Melody and the rest of the team at Auto Tuned. They've been a huge help with project cars like our Ratchet Bunny and Scion Tuner Challenge FR-S', but also our primary build partners for the C-HR, Corolla and now the UX. Couldn't have done it without you guys!
Mikey and Roger at Armordillo, many thanks for taking on rack and bar project before SEMA (even though the car didn't make it to SEMA).
Roland at H&R Springs for believing in the project and shipping out a set of Adventure Raising springs from Germany for the project early in its development.
Wakana at RAYS and Steve and Rowie at Mackin Industries for giving us the opportunity to be the first cool kids on the Team Daytona M9 wheels in North America.
Pelican Cases for making the best damn cases out there, especially for keeping all our expensive camera gear safe and throwing us the dopest cooler for our Big Bear adventure.