You may have noticed the new Lexus NX cruising through better neighbourhoods lately; I’ve certainly seen my fair share. It’s an eye-catching addition to the ever-expanding compact luxury crossover market segment.
Most units passing by are conventionally powered NX 200t models (these available in an array of trims including base, Premium, Luxury, Executive, or one of three edgier-looking F SPORT models), but a select few whisk past in more fuel-efficient NX 300h hybrid guise, upgradable with a new Executive package for 2016.
When I reviewed the Lexus NX 200t F SPORT last year, I came pretty close to gushing. While not quite as moved by this most recent 300h Executive tester, at least as far as emotive styling and forward motivation go, it improved my mood when time came to fill up.
The first thing I noticed when taking delivery of this top-line NX 300h model was its toned-down grille. Lexus no doubt chose the more subdued look of the base 200t to make the hybrid variant appeal to a less extroverted clientele. Following this quieter, more thoughtful theme is a less pronounced lower fascia with unique fog lamps in chromed bezels, although my Executive tester’s full LED headlamps included some pretty flashy triple-stacked hardware. Satin-silver 18” alloys round out the wheel cutouts instead of the F SPORT’s racier, machine-finished rims, while unique chromed slats in the rear valance where the tailpipes usually go give the Lexus NX hybrid an appropriately electrified appearance, as if it doesn’t even need an internal combustion engine to function.
Of course, we know this isn’t the case. Under the hood is the same 2.5L Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine as in the ES 300h sedan, complete with a NiMH battery, electric motors, and continuously variable transmission. Its 194 net horsepower doesn’t make it very spirited off the line, but the electrified NX can certainly hold its own against impatient traffic.
At low speeds, up to about 40 km/h, it’ll run on EV power for short distances, which is nice for cruising through parking lots or when trapped in stop-and-go traffic, while its standard AWD system manages slippery mid-winter takeoff and high-speed control well. Wheel slippage causes a second 67-horsepower rear-mounted electric motor to engage the back tires. The front electric motor/generator takes care of the majority of motive assistance, the aforementioned CVT transferring twist to the front wheels.
While the 2016 Lexus NX 300h doesn’t feel as raring to go as the 200t even when its driving mode selector is dialed all the way from Eco to Sport, the company has endowed it with a kick-down mode for passing that results in snappier response and a nice, linear power curve. More importantly, it’s completely smooth and thoroughly comfortable around town, while it cruises highways and byways wonderfully. Handling obviously isn’t as edgy without the F SPORT’s suspension upgrades, and the hybrid’s front-to-rear Dynamic Torque Control-enhanced E-Four AWD is a wholly different system than the 200t’s, but its upgraded front gas struts and otherwise identical fully independent suspension makes for a very capable and stable CUV when tackling twisty back roads or just circling a cloverleaf at faster than posted speeds. Lexus engineers partially achieved this by splitting the battery pack in two and distributing its weight more evenly from front to back ― you’d never know there was anything under the load floor if no one told you.
The NX 300h’s passenger volume is identical to the conventionally powered NX. That means it’s quite sizeable for the class, with ample roominess up front for most body types and space for two very comfortable adults in the rear, or three without the benefit of the folding centre armrest. There are some volumetric shortcomings with cargo space, mind you, but I doubt many will notice: The hybrid’s 475L maximum volume behind the rear seats is 25 litres short of the 200t, while folding its 60/40-split seatbacks forward results in the same 25L cargo space loss with 1,520 litres available. Additionally, fuel tank capacity is down to 56 litres (-4), but you won’t need as much gas in this hybrid, so it’s a moot point.
Where the NX 200t does pretty well with a 5-cycle rating of 10.8L/100km city, 8.8L/100km highway, and 9.9L/100km combined, the NX 300h delivers an impressive 7.1 city, 7.7 highway, and 7.4 combined. These figures are aided by auto start/stop and regenerative braking.
To that end, the NX 300h might give you some pause over the 200t, even when similarly equipped.
Speaking of equipment…
Before delving into Executive trim ($60,200), I should tell you that the base Premium model ($53,550) is remarkably appointed with standard LEDs for most lighting elements including the auto on/off headlamps, daytime running lamps, clearance lamps, fog lights, side mirror turn signals, and brake lamps, plus 18” alloys, aluminum roof rails, proximity access with push-button ignition, Drive Mode Select, a power-adjustable steering column, a heated leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a TFT multi-information display, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated power auto-dimming side mirrors with memory, a garage door opener, dual-zone automatic climate control, a large colour infotainment display with the new Remote Touch Interface laptop-style touchpad controller, a reverse camera, voice activation, navigation, Bluetooth with audio streaming, an 8-speaker stereo, 8-way power front seats with driver’s side memory, heated and ventilated front cushions, NuLuxe leatherette upholstery, a 120V household-style power outlet, a power moonroof, a power liftgate, as well as all the usual active and passive safety features including a knee blocker for the driver.
On top of this, my Executive tester added beautiful Shimamoku hardwood trim, auto-leveling headlamps with auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display, clearance and backup sensors, adaptive cruise control, Qi wireless device charging, 10-speaker audio, power-folding rear seats with switches on the dash and in the cargo area, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert with steering assist, and a pre-collision system. Consequently, the 2016 Lexus NX 300h earned the best possible Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS.
I first found it strange that real leather upholstery wasn’t available, but I’m guessing Lexus decided to limit bovine-produced methane emissions for this environmentally focused model. Fortunately, the NuLuxe leatherette feels genuine and breathes fairly well, while the rest of the interior makes up for any loss of traditional luxury. Unlike some premium brands that base a given model on a mainstream volume vehicle yet don’t differentiate smaller details like switchgear, the NX shows as little of its RAV4 roots inside as it does outside. In other words, you’ll be searching for a long time to find any visible carryover components ― unless you open the hood as the NX 300h shares its slightly disguised powertrain with the new 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Lexus clearly doesn’t want upwardly mobile RAV4 owners to question why they should pay more for an NX, even rewording and changing the colour of the similarly shaped ignition button. Remaining buttons, toggles, and knobs are as unique as can be, and very high in quality, while the overall design is a particularly attractive mix of hard edges and soft curves, much of which were asymmetrically drawn to attract fans of the avant-garde, with more soft-touch, contrast-stitched, leather-like surfaces than you’ll find in most competitive compact SUVs. Stylish satin-silver metallic trim outlines key components, while thoughtful touches include a small compartment with a mirror-backed, removable leatherette lid.
I could go on and on about my tester’s details, including the sharp resolution of the bright, colourful primary gauges and integrated multi-info display; the numerous benefits of the head-up display; how much better the new infotainment controller works; the various info, audio, media, phone, and system setup functions within; the accuracy of its navigation system and clarity of its backup camera; how brilliant the audio system sounded; and all of its comfortable padded surfaces and impressive componentry. However, I’d rather leave this and more for your personal discovery.
Summing up the NX 300h
Along with excellent fuel economy and lower emissions, the 2016 Lexus NX 300h is ultimately quiet, rides sublimely, handles well, and is a dream on the highway. It might just be the perfect compact luxury SUV. While I’d take mine in 200t guise with the new F SPORT 3 upgrade, I can appreciate that some drivers lean more towards luxury than sport. The fact that Lexus does both so very well is a testament to how far the brand has come over the past 26 years ― and a win-win for its many loyal fans.