The Lexus RX is the best-selling luxury crossover in North America. By combining the comfort of a sedan with an SUV’s cargo capacity, the company delivered a versatile product that pioneered an all-new segment when it arrived on the market way back in 1998. But is this just a case of beginner’s luck or can the same formula work on a smaller scale?
Engine: 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder
Total System Output: 194 horsepower
Transmission: Electronically controlled CVT
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 33 city, 30 highway
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.1 city, 7.7 highway
US As-Tested Price: $50,505, including $950 in destination charges
CAN Price: Starts at $53,550
Premium compact crossovers are hugely popular, with rival models like the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Range Rover Evoque and even Lincoln MKC selling in large numbers across the country. Not one to remain parked on the shoulder as other brands pass it by, Lexus has developed a competitor of its own, the NX.
It’s a Hybrid!
The company offers several flavors of this vehicle to please the palates of a diverse buying public, but unquestionably, the most economical variant is the NX 300h, which, predictably, features a hybrid drivetrain.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review
Tapping into parent company Toyota’s immense experience building gasoline-electric vehicles, this amped-up crossover is the Lexus brand’s sixth hybrid model, following the RX, ES… CT and, er, well, you know the rest.
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Disguised by its nearly comical overbite, the NX 300h’s drivetrain consists predominantly of a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine. This internal-combustion propulsion unit is joined at the hip, or rather, bellhousing, to a continuously variable transmission of unique design. Unlike most CVTs, which feature a pair of variable-diameter pulleys and a special chain, Toyota developed an ingenious ratio adjuster that consists of two motor-generators paired with a planetary gear set. This configuration is incredibly effective and cleverer than should be legal. Completing the powertrain picture is a nickel-metal hydride battery pack that stores excess electrons and releases them as dictated by the driver’s right foot.
Engineering intricacies aside, the NX 300h packs a modest 194 combined horsepower, though torque output is unknown, as one is not listed in the press release. But don’t worry, there’s never very much twist on tap, so smoking the tires is never a concern.
However, the company is happy to share this vehicle’s fuel-economy scores, which are quite impressive. When equipped with all-wheel drive (as our test model was) the 300h should average 33 mpg in urban driving; on the highway that figure drops but is still noteworthy at 30 mpg. Combined, this vehicle should average a claimed 32 mpg. Predictably, front-drive models are even more efficient.
Despite rolling along on a wheelbase that spans less than 105 inches, the NX hybrid is unexpectedly roomy, with about 54 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. Accessing this area is easy since, for extra money, the rear seatbacks power fold, which you can do from the cargo compartment, or even the driver’s seat via dashboard-mounted switches.
Supposedly, the NX was designed to accommodate up to four golf bags, though you do have to lower the aft seatbacks to accommodate a quartet of club sets, meaning only two people can come along, which is not quite enough for a foursome, but who’s counting? Someone get an abacus!
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It’s Even Comfortable!
The NX’s aft accommodations are laudable, with a comfy cushion height, as well as plenty of leg and headroom. Easing passengers’ burdens, when so equipped, the rear-seat backrests are even power adjustable, which is great advancement over the clunky levers used in other vehicles.
Mirroring its cushy back seats, the front buckets are extremely comfortable as well. For me, they’re dramatically better than the examples found in the RX F-Sport I tested a couple months back. For starters, my rump didn’t go numb after just 20 minutes, which is a major plus.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Lexus RX Review
The NX 300h may be blessed with a spacious and comfortable cabin but there are a few minor quibbles worth mentioning, and the biggest is its Remote Touch Interface.
Instead of having a proper touchscreen or even the mouse-like control nubbin found in other Lexus models, this vehicle is equipped with a small computer-style trackpad that’s unacceptably difficult to use. It’s challenging to click on the icons you want as the cursor jumps around like a gymnast on illicit stimulants, plus its dash-mounted seven-inch display is quite restrictive. More real estate would be appreciated, as would a simpler interface design.
While not quite as substantial feeling as the RX, its larger sibling, the NX is nonetheless sportier, thanks in part to its trimmer dimensions. On center, its steering is sharper than a barber’s straight-razor, almost to the point of feeling jittery, but you get used to this and soon appreciate its responsiveness.
As for the powertrain, it moves the 300h at a measured pace, propelling it to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which is pretty slow for any luxury vehicle in the 21st century. Luckily, its lack of urgency isn’t usually a problem unless you pull out right in front of a speeding Peterbilt. I’d definitely like more giddy-up, even if it came at the expense of thrift; the vehicle’s near 4,200-lb curb weight does it no favors in the velocity department.
Ostensibly varying how it feels on the road, three discrete drive modes are offered and they’re all accessible via a knob on the center console. There’s Normal, Sport and Wet Blanket – sorry, Eco. These supposedly adjust the throttle response and steering assist, though, as I’ve said in reviews of other vehicles, it’s hard to tell one from the other. Just avoid Eco, which neuters the entire experience, and you’ll do fine.
Aside from all of this, the NX is smooth, comfortable and quiet, as a Lexus should be. From a refinement standpoint, it really is a commendable, if somewhat uninvolving, compact luxury crossover.
It Costs Money!
Somewhat easing these pains, ours test model was equipped with a few welcome options including all-wheel drive, blind-spot monitoring and LED headlamps with automatic high beams. There’s also wireless phone charging and Apple Siri integration for hands-free access to turn-by-turn navigation, your music library and more. Out the door it cost $50,505, including $950 in delivery fees, but forego extras and you can snare yourself an NX hybrid for less than 41 large.
The Verdict: 2016 Lexus NX 300h Review
The 2016 Lexus NX 300h has space, style and efficiency to spare; aggressive looks make it stand out from the crowd, for better or worse.
Lethargic performance is the price you pay for the solidity and economy this vehicle offers. If you need something quicker or more engaging and still demand Lexus quality, you might try a non-hybrid 200t version; it features a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 235 horses and a six-speed automatic transmission. However, you’ll also have to determine if that tradeoff is worth making. During my week in the 300h I averaged about 33 mpg, a damn impressive figure and something that makes this model a worthy sibling to the hot-selling RX.