A Most Charming Hybrid

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Lexus NX 300h

Quick! Name the best selling premium compact SUV/crossover in 2017?

Let's go down the list, shall we? It was not the BMW X3. Nor was it the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Acura RDX, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC60, or Infiniti QX50. The Jaguar E-Pace and Alfa Romeo Stelvio are not eligible since they only sold in part of 2017.

Which leaves us with the Lexus NX.

Surprised? You should not be. It is a good vehicle. Perhaps an underdog in a class where the usual suspects are supposed to shine brighter.

That is the charm of the Lexus NX – an underrated, underappreciated premium compact SUV/CUV that gets more love than you probably think.

It has been a few years since I drove one. That was in its first year with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that would become a staple in the Lexus lineup. I found it lively and fun. It also had the F Sport package which encourages one to be a bit more aggressive than one would in such a vehicle.

2018 Lexus NX 300h

This time around, I received what could be the polar opposite of the NX 300 F Sport – the NX 300h. You wince at the idea of a hybrid, but you would be surprised that it is one of the factors towards last year’s sales leadership. I will explain further along in this review.

In the meantime, let's take an overview of what could be one of the better buys in its class.

When Lexus began affixing the Spindle Grille to its models, they signified a face that is distinctive to the brand. Some applications befit the model, while some were a bit more polarizing in its execution. The NX starts with the Spindle Grille as the primary focal point of the design. It is where the shape of the vehicle takes place – a dominating focal point that sends the eye rearward after showing its folds, creases and visual tricks.

On the NX 300h, you do not have a lower fascia to deflect air rearward. Instead, there is a deep lower grille area that may invite one to do some off-roading using its perceived angle of approach. I will say that it is one feature that makes the NX 300h very distinctive.

From the front end, the overall shape of the NX follows form towards function. There are some illusions in overall height, as seen with its profile, and its fastback-style roof. The ride height is elevated, just as expected in a crossover. It looks the part even with the NX's unique design and visual artistry.

2018 Lexus NX 300h

The NX 300h delivered on the luxury part with superb execution. The front seats fit me just right, with contours for good bolstering and support. Power adjustments and a memory system for three drivers make for customized seating. Rear seat room is good for four adults, with a compliant rear seat that fits most bodies. I do like the contrast between the Creme perforated leather and the black trim – including subtle pieces of black wood trim. It may be a hybrid, but it feels quite luxurious.

Instrumentation and the center display are what I expect from Lexus – but actually much better. Operating the wide center screen is easier with a large touchpad. The clean and high positioned center stack also works for easier access to HVAC switches, while maintaining a good hand/arm position for the touchpad. If I have one complaint is the shifter position on the console, located further from the driver than it should be. The drive mode knob is also slightly away from some driver's reach.

The eight-speaker audio system sounded very good throughout the cabin. I noticed that the screen was wider than in the initial version I drove a few years ago, which is really a good thing. It follows the Lexus widescreen format where you have two panes of information – or could do one wide screen of navigation or audio. Access through the menus from the touchpad seemed easier. In particular, calling Destination Assist from the navigation menu – which you had to go through another set of menus to get to in the past.

Cargo space is actually quite good with great coverage using the removable parcel shelf and cargo net. All told, that equals to 17.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Those seats fold flat for greater space behind the front seats.

2018 Lexus NX 300h

What lies underneath its hood is one of two Lexus Hybrid Drive systems. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder is just the beginning when coupled with two electric motors and a battery pack. Total system horsepower is 194, which is just fine for the NX 300h's 4,180-pound stature. An electronic continuously variable transmission sends power to all four wheels – and the second electric motor – on our tester. This hybrid NX turned a fuel consumption average of 33.3 MPG.

Something you expect from a Lexus is a smooth ride. The NX delivers with great 18-inch Yokohama Geolandar tires that reduce noise and a suspension system that absorbs most road surfaces – even lumpy pieces of high highway. Handling is a tad on the soft side. There is minimal roll and lean at the curves.

Steering is an easier more manageable task, thanks to a smaller steering wheel. Action and response are fine. Maybe the electric power steering system needs to be dialed in a bit better. On-center feel is soft with a bit of play in the wheel. Brakes are pretty good for a hybrid. Normal and panic stops exhibit solid behavior without the hesitation from the regeneration system.

A basic 2018 NX 300 with the turbo engine and front wheel drive will start off at $35,385. The NX 300h is priced from $38,335. My well-equipped 2018 tester came with a sticker price of $47,168. Since the stocks on 2018 models are practically gone, you can now get a 2019 version of these vehicles for just a tad more money – all starting from $36,185 for an NX 300 front-drive model. The 2019 NX 300h only jumped by $200 to $38,535.

2018 Lexus NX 300h

The Lexus NX proves it's sales leadership by the way it presents itself to its customers. The drivability, the flexibility, and the unique styling are what attracts customers to the NX. But, what about the badge? Sure, Lexus has plenty of cache and allure. In this business, even its charms are worth selecting over the usual premium branded suspects from a certain European country.

In particular, this Lexus NX 300h is indeed a charmer. Though it serves the commute and the crosstown run well, it can do the job of getting you out of town with equal enjoyment. Can a hybrid SUV/crossover be a great all-rounder? It has been proven right here.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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