Several years ago, right around this time of year, small kiosks popped up in malls all over North America selling Magic Eye posters. These stereogram images, if stared at for several minutes with eyes slightly crossed, could produce a 3D effect image hidden within. Of course, for many, the only thing that would emerge was a migraine and considerable eye strain.
Engine: 2.0L turbo 4-cyl
Output: 235 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 24 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.7 combined
US Price: Starts at $36,980 (FWD)
CAN Price: Starts at $46,095 (standard AWD)
(All pricing includes destination)
Similarly, when presented with images of the 2018 Lexus NX beside its forebear, a select few will see the differences, so I’ll save you the effort. Fans of the trademark Lexus “spindle grille” treatment will be pleased that the new NX has even more surface area dedicated to its black, plastic maw as it stretches deeper into the chin, and gains two peripheral grilles.
At the rear, the tail lights now reach deeper inboard on the tailgate, and there’s a slightly revised diffuser at the bottom.
That’s about it, folks.
It remains a distinctive look, and one that’s a little sportier and more aggressive than the larger Lexus RX crossover, and certainly stands out against more pedestrian compact SUVs from Acura or Infiniti, and it seems to be working for the brand. The RX and NX combine to be not only Lexus’s best-selling models, but have also secured the luxury manufacturer’s position in the market as the No. 1 premium SUV brand. For the past couple years, the NX has been averaging annual sales around 50,000 units in the United States and another 6,000+ in Canada. As impressive as these figures are, they still pale in comparison with the sales juggernaut RX that lands in more than 100,000 affluent garages each year.
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Under the Hood
In case the visual cues denoting the new 2018 models aren’t enough, Lexus has also renamed the NX200t as the NX300. The hybrid remains the NX300h. But don’t let the new designation fool you, it’s still the same powertrain beneath that angular sheet metal as last year. This means a 2.0-liter turbocharged Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine that delivers 235 horsepower. Torque, at 258 lb-ft, is dispensed from 1,650 to 4,000 rpm, giving the NX300 good driveability in real-world conditions.
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Indeed, in driving around the curvy mountain roads near Penticton, British Columbia, the NX300 proved to be capable at hustling my driving companions and me around at a fair clip without ever feeling that it needs more power. The transmission remains a six-speed automatic, which is a bit surprising since most of the competitors offer seven or eight speeds, and Lexus already has a great eight-cog box available for its IS sedan. Paddle shifters are added across the NX line for 2018.
The NX300h hybrid moves along with 194 combined horsepower and a CVT transmission and makes up for its lack of sportiness with improved efficiency. The NX300 is rated at a combined 24 mpg (9.7 L/100 km) of premium unleaded, versus an impressive 31 mpg (7.5 L/100 km) of regular unleaded for the NX300h.
Lexus has given the NX twins a suspension tweak for 2018 with new shock absorbers, and on upper-level F-Sport trim, an advanced version of Lexus’ Adaptive Variable Suspension, now tuned for greater adaptability to changing road conditions. The suspension updates are intended to provide both enhanced ride and improved handling performance, and for a compact SUV, I have no complaints in either department.
The NX – like every other Lexus I’ve driven – is an impressively quiet and smooth-running machine. When pressed hard, the four-cylinder makes itself heard, but there’s enough sound damping to prevent it from ever being offensive. Wind and road noise are also very well managed.
This year, Lexus has also added a new 18-inch wheel design, dual-beam LED headlamps and a hands-free liftgate operated by a motion sensor beneath the rear bumper that activates when the hokey-pokey dance is performed nearby.
The Interior Story
The Lexus Safety System+ is now standard on all NX models this year. This protective suite includes dynamic radar cruise control and pre-collision braking system, lane departure warning with steering assist, and automatic high-beam control.
The interior sees some change to the hues of leather offered, but otherwise, remains the hospitable and contemporary cockpit from the past few years. For the most part, this is a good thing. Material quality remains top-shelf and the assembly is a master class of precision manufacturing processes. Every surface a human might touch is supple and luxurious. The seats are especially noteworthy with surprisingly good lateral support and exceptional comfort, even after a few hours behind the wheel.
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The layout of controls makes a lot of sense and bears many design cues from other Lexus models. Some of the climate control buttons give up function for form due to their tiny size, but most people will probably be satisfied with the set-it-and-forget-it Auto mode anyway.
The one sticking point in the NX’s interior that’s common to other Lexus models is the console-mounted touchpad operation of the infotainment system. While a definite improvement over the old mouse-operated arrangement, the Lexus ENFORM system (as they call it), remains tedious and finicky in operation, especially while driving. While practice with the system will surely produce muscle memory equating to smoother operation, the systems offered by Audi and BMW (or even Chrysler and Chevrolet) are easier and more intuitive to use.
More disappointing, however, is the decision by Lexus to continue to avoid Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, instead pouring resources into their own proprietary system that incorporates a handful of recognizable apps like Yelp and Slacker Radio. Considering the NX is geared toward attracting a younger demographic to the Lexus brand, avoiding the implementation of industry-standard smartphone interface systems could prove to be an unwise move for Lexus. Perhaps it believes tech-savvy buyers will be wowed by the class-leading 10.3-inch screen available on upper trim levels, new for 2018.
The Verdict: 2018 Lexus NX Review
The updates to the 2018 Lexus NX lineup are subtle but important, representing positive additions to an already popular model. These changes are sure to help the NX300 continue its upward sales trajectory in North America. Shoppers considering a 2018 model are best to appreciate the NX fvor these tangible updates and save themselves the eye strain of looking for the visual ones – they’re harder to see than a Magic Eye poster.
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