2018 Lexus NX 300h Review - In the Eye of the Beholder
2018 Lexus NX 300h
The luxury crossover realm is a weird one. The market has been built on the age-old plan of taking a more basic model and adding profitable flash. The problem lies when the base model is good enough for most buyers.
Indeed, starting out with the best-selling non-truck in America means building something distinctive atop the platform is a challenge. Distinctive most certainly describes this Lexus NX 300h, in more ways than one. But beneath the surface lies a solid performer.
Styling, however, remains improbably weird, much like most of the mainstream Lexus lineup. Note the massive front overhang looking like a cartoonishly large nose. Creases, panel gaps, and body seams are everywhere, with no coherent theme. At least my tester was painted beigeish-silverish (like every third crossover at Kroger), meaning it will eventually blend into the background of suburban life.
From the front, the NX at least has one of the least-offensive applications of the signature Lexus spindle grille. The combination of headlamp and LED running light swoosh is awkward, however. Note the little channel catching the light coming from the innermost edge of each headlamp – it looks a bit like my inflamed tear ducts in the middle of hay fever season.
While I’m piling on complaints, I have two more. One is what I assume is a fluke – but the other is an inconvenience. I awoke one morning to a surprise combo snow-and-ice fall and needed to clear the glass to get to the office. I’m searching the cabin for the snow brush the fleet management company places in each car this time of the year in this godforsaken frozen wasteland we call The North, all in vain. I figured (correctly) that the brush would be in the cargo hold, and pressed the power hatch release.
Nothing. The hatch refused to open. I tried again from outside the car, pressing the button on the hatch itself, to no avail. I mean, I get it. It’s somewhere below twenty degrees Fahrenheit; I didn’t want to arise, either. I climbed into the rear seat and reached over to retrieve the brush and cleared the glass, all while cursing.
The issue never returned, even on a colder morning, but I made sure to keep the snow brush in the front cabin.
The other serious dislike – the touchpad controls for the infotainment system. I’ve managed to adapt to the mouse-like nubbin on some other Lexus models, but the touchpad is so imprecise that I find myself taking my eyes off the road to more accurately select a navigation waypoint or a new audio track. I have to say, it’s time to suck it up and offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Lexus. Even if it requires hastily duct-taping an iPad to the dashboard of every car, God knows it would be an improvement. The famously loyal Lexus buyer might not care about the tape, either.
That’s probably the point. Lexus doesn’t need to make the NX 300h better on the inside, nor does it need to look better outside. Lexus buyers will keep buying a Lexus, and other brand owners will often aspire to own a Lexus, all due to three significant factors: reliability, solid resale value, and an incredible dealership experience. The driving experience is secondary.
That’s where this ugly duckling shines, surprisingly – on the road. Through that snow? Faultless. On pockmarked roads after the snow melted? Solid, quiet. On the highway? Without equal. I put a few more highway miles on the NX hybrid than I normally do in the span of a week – I drove to and from Cleveland, as well as to Detroit, from my Columbus home – and I could have continued on the Interstate without complaint for hours on end.
The ride was quiet, with barely audible thumps when whacking the interminable expansion joints on Interstate 71. Crosswind stability was superb, especially when blasted by eighteen-wheeler traffic. Seating front and rear was relaxing and serene. Steering was light enough while cruising, but was surprisingly well-weighted at lower speeds, allowing easy, precise placement of the crossover at all times.
That drive could have gone on for some time, too – the relatively small fuel tank (14.8 gallons) pairs with Lexus’ hybrid system for a combined rating of 31 mpg. I managed a bit better over my time, at 31.7 mpg for the week. For a tall, heavy wagon, that’s rather impressive.
At nearly $49,000 as tested, it ought to be impressive. A de-contented NX 300h starts just under $40k, but adding navigation and heated/ventilated seats, among other niceties that really should be standard in a Lexus, brings that bottom line up a good bit.
This wouldn’t be my first choice for a compact crossover. I’d struggle to get beyond the looks and the touchpad. But I’m certain that there are thousands of buyers who’ll be swayed by other factors, and if they can deal with the little superficial concerns that bug me, they will be incredibly happy with what lies beneath.
[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]
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