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2019 Lexus NX 300 Review: The Bearable Lightness of Being

The solid recent performance of the brand aside, you always get the impression that Lexus hasn’t quite hit peak form yet. Japanese automaker Toyota’s luxury brand has been working hard to chip away at the hegemony of the German luxury carmakers since its very inception, and its history has been one of constant improvement but with always another hill to climb.

Recent products from the brand have continued to be characterized by their exceptional refinement and comfort, and of course by their industry-best reliability, and to these qualities have been added newly bold styling elements, most notably the enormous new front grille that has sharply divided opinion among observers.

The Japanese automaker hopes its revisited 2019 Lexus NX compact SUV now has the chops to carve more turf from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW among luxury-vehicle buyers.

Lexus goes boldly where it hasn’t gone before
That big new trapezoidal front grille on the NX is not actually that new, Lexus having started introducing it with all its new and refreshed models some time ago. It gives the model a ferocious appearance that is perhaps a little exaggerated given the contents found under the hood, but whether you like the look or find it vulgar and misplaced, you have to hand it to Lexus for having the confidence to show some character and call attention to its vehicles on the road. Personally the NX’s slightly mean-looking mug doesn’t bother me a bit, especially as the designers have accompanied the grille with visually matching, seriously tapered headlights.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Standard equipment on the 2019 NX 300 from Lexus includes 17-inch wheels and LEDs all over the place, from the headlights to the fog lights to the high beams.

Inside
There’s nothing radically different about the interior of the NX compared to the previous iteration. The NX delivers an environment that is unquestioningly high-end and manages to stay with the times. This is, for many Lexus fans, one of the biggest strengths of the brand. The seats are super comfortable, and they’re surrounded by high-quality materials, and even the hard plastic surfaces don’t feel cheap. Some might find the interior a little bit encumbered, with not a ton of swing room for elbows and legs, but it is very refined.

Things are a little more problematic in that regard in the back row, however. I felt when installing myself back there that the cabin feels narrower than some of the other models in the category. But it’s only a drawback relatively speaking, of course; the second row can easily accommodate two average-sized adults without them complaining about feeling cramped. Cargo space is pretty chintzy, however, with only 500 litres available with the back seats up.

Those comfortable seats mentioned earlier offer good lateral support and are designed to make longer treks as coddling as possible, particularly if you opt for the Comfort package, which brings with it heated and ventilated front seats. Check off the Executive package, and you get leather seating and a heated steering wheel, as well as heated rear seats.

The infotainment system itself is simple and straightforward, but in terms of user friendliness the touchpad down on the central console that Lexus wants you to use to navigate it continues to be pretty disastrous, and is still a major weakness in this otherwise exceptional interior. That Remote Touch system is just too unwieldy, notably when the vehicle is in motion. It’s time for Toyota to give serious consideration to abandoning the touchpad system for something more convivial (can I suggest a rotating knob like Mazda and several other manufacturer use?).

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Meanwhile, I do much like the optional 10.3-inch screen that delivers an image of great clarity and makes using the multimedia system that much more pleasant; the base 8-inch screen is no slouch either, if size doesn’t matter to you.

Buttons!
Lexus has backtracked a bit regarding the electronic functions and included more real live buttons for essential functions. This is great for older motorists and it has the bonus of keeping you from resorting more than necessary to the aforementioned touchpad.

It’s a little disappointing to see that getting leather seating in a luxury vehicle from Lexus requires getting an expensive options package. That Executive package will set you back an extra $12,750 and take the asking price to almost $57,000…

And that’s not including the Premium package, which will tempt you as well since it includes a power sunroof, memory function for the driver’s seat and a power-adjusting steering wheel.

Safety
The 2019 Lexus NX benefits from a generous helping of drive assist and safety functions, for example lane keep assist, adaptive cruise and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, all standard.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The mechanics
This Lexus comes in two forms, the NX 300 and its hybrid sibling, the NX 300h. The first runs on a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder delivering 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, working with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Hitting 100 km/h from a stop takes around 7 seconds.

The 300h also features a 4-cylinder, but it’s a 2.5L naturally aspirated unit working in tandem with an electric motor, via a continuously variable transmission. The hybrid version’s total output is 194, less than the regular NX gets. Where it shines is in the fuel economy department, with an official combined rating of 7.5L/100 km, compared to 9.7L/100 km for the NX 300.

On the road
No complaints about the power provided by the engine, which proves lithe and responsive. This unit offers strong bite at low RPM, turning the NX into a city-friendly compact SUV that’s quick off the line at stop signs and lights. It’s not a particularly edgy powertrain, and we’re not sitting here in the same pew as some of the German members of the luxury compact SUV congregation, but for zipping around in traffic the Lexus is very adept.

The steering is light and the paddle shifters on the wheel do make for a slightly sportier experience, though I suspect not that many Lexus owners will make use of those. Drivers also have access to three Drive modes that alter the parameters of the mechanics slightly: Eco, Normal and Sport. Pretty self-explanatory, these are.

Photo: Lexus

The competition
And how does the Lexus NX 300 hold up against others in its class? For some things, like its smooth and quiet ride, it’s probably without peer. Virtually no outside noise infiltrates the cabin. Those looking for a more dynamic driving experience, however, will find better elsewhere.

The BMW X3 is a prime example of that, blessed as it is with a 355-hp powertrain, but it’s also more expensive.

You could also take a look at the Mercedes-Benz GLC, which features one of the most luxurious interiors in the segment, and has more cargo space than the NX. That might be a preferable option for those who want more beef on their bun, and don’t mind paying the extra dough to get it.

Overall, the Lexus NX doesn’t necessarily come out on top in many different aspects versus its main rivals. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent product. The SUV offers a high level of refinement and comfort, it has that reputation for reliability no one can match, and fuel economy is decent enough.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

What’s more, on the pricing from the Lexus also has good cards to play, with a base price of $44,150 for the NX 300 and $46,650 for the NX 300h.

In any other category, one that wasn’t so hotly contested by so many high-quality products, the NX would be king of the castle. As it is it holds its own quite well, but Toyota/Lexus will want to revisit its commitment to that touchpad inside and make a few other adjustments going forward.

We like

-    Overall quality of the interior
-    Its bold styling
-    Amazingly quiet, smooth ride even at higher speeds
-    Drives like a nimble smaller car in the city

We like less

-    Back row a little narrow
-    Mediocre cargo space
-    That touchpad
-    Not all that sporty a drive

The competition

BMW X3
Audi Q5
Acura RDX
Infiniti QX50
Mercedes-Benz GLC
Volvo XC60