2018 Lexus NX 300h Review - In the Eye of the Beholder

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
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Fast Facts

2018 Lexus NX 300h

2.5-liter hybrid inline-four (194 total system hp)
Continuously-variable transmission, all-wheel drive
33 city / 30 highway / 31 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
7.2 city / 7.9 highway / 7.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
31.7 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $39,330 US / $58,206 CAD
As Tested: $48,503 / $58,940 CAD
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,206 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 lexus nx 300h review in the eye of the beholder

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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in ebay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Mar 20, 2019

    I'd have to say SUVs from luxury marques depreciate a might bit slower than their car variants in 2019 (vs 2013)

  • Zipper69 Zipper69 on Mar 28, 2019

    All the weird creases and compound curves in odd places count against it, they only seem to have missed out of extra entrance and exit vents and a double whale tail. It actually looks odder in real life.

  • Tassos Unlike Tim, I don't use this space as a wastebasket for ANYTHING BUT a proper used car.If you seriously need a car AND you are as destitute as Tim's finds imply, HERE IS A PROPER ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS:You can probably get it for only $4k, WITH Leather, Factory Navigation, plenty of room and a V6.https://www.cars.com/research/toyota-camry-2005/I even considered getting it myself as an extra reliable car.
  • Jeff Of all the EV trucks I like the Rivian the best but I am still years away if ever from buying an EV.
  • Kwik_Shift I definitely like the looks of the newest 300s over the Chargers.
  • SCE to AUX "Should car companies shack up with tech giants in order to produce legible infotainment systems and the like? Or should they go it alone?"Great question(s).The River Rouge days are gone, where Ford produced whole cars out of raw materials entering the plant at the other end. Nearly everything is outsourced these days - sometimes well, sometimes disastrously.But the problem with infotainment systems is that they are integrated with the car's operation. VW has delayed entire products for issues with infotainment.For me, the question boils down to a contractual arrangement - who owns and maintains the code forever? Since more and more of the car's function is tied to the infotainment system, I'd argue that the car mfr needs to own it - especially the larger ones.Do mfrs really want to share intellectual property with Huawei just to fast-track some code they've managed themselves in the past?
  • Kwi65728132 I always did like the styling of the 300C and it was on my short list for a new (to me) rear wheel drive, naturally aspirated V8 luxury sedan but I found a Hyundai Equus that was better optioned than any 300C I could find and for several grand less.