Author: Bill Howard ExtremeTechExtremeTech
The Lexus NX, the smallest SUV in Lexus’ lineup, is a most credible offering, with a nicely trimmed cockpit, long-distance comfort for four adults, and a choice of mainstream, sporty, or hybrid versions. The NX is the best seller in the compact/luxury category thanks to Lexus’ reputation for quality and a base price several thousand dollars less than its primarily German competitors.
The model year 2018 midlife refresh further improves the NX, and addresses shortcomings such as a small navigation screen and quirky touchpad infotainment controller. The Lexus Safety System is now standard, including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. But blind spot detection still requires a separate package costing $ 980 to $ 4,705.
Behind the Wheel of the NX 300h Hybrid
I drove the hybrid version of the 2017 NX, which came nicely equipped at $ 51,187 list, including more than $ 10,000 in options on the 2017 model. The cockpit seating and trim was finished in buttery-gold and black leather. Front seat cabin overhead lighting works by pushing the light itself, not a switch you have to hunt for. The dome light over the second row seats is a soft, diffused moon glow. Lift the top off a sunglasses bin in the console and the underside is a mirror. Minor niceties, but you notice. The rear seats recline, and rear seatbacks power-fold up and down.
Total output of the 2.5-liter gasoline engine and the hybrid electric motor is 194 hp, propelling 4,180 pounds (21 pounds per hp, far from class-leading). The gasoline engine powers just the front wheels of the hybrid version. The rear is electric-drive only, adequate unless you’re driving a lot in heavy snow areas. I found the acceleration just-adequate at about 9 seconds 0-60 mph. Once the car reaches highway speed, the noises common to a hybrid die down and it’s a quiet ride.
Standard wheels and tires are 225/65R17, with a 225/60R18 option available. The 65 or 60 series profile, meaning the sidewall is 65 or 60 percent as high as the tire is wide, is relatively high. That means you are far less likely to suffer pothole damage relative to competitors who offer 50 or 45 series tires. A 65 series tire would hurt your lap times on the racetrack, which is where you’re most likely not going in a Lexus SUV. And you’ll feel better hearing how your X3-owning co-worker has already blown out two of his $ 400, 45-series tires. This is why the word schadenfreude was invented.
Driver Hemmed in By the Console
The driving position feels cramped because of the largish center console, providing just 22 inches from the the console to the armrest, or only a few inches more than a coach class airplane seat. Competitors aren’t this snug. The side of the console is nicely padded if the driver rests his or her leg there.
The center stack is a busy place, too, with an overhanging top section that bring switches and buttons closer to the driver and passenger. The 7-inch LCD is set well back (toward the windshield) and felt small; the 2018 has a standard 8-inch screen, or 10.3 inches if you get navigation. The touchpad with a push-to-click feature is difficult to use, so Lexus has reworked it for 2018 with a larger surface and better tracking, the company says. You can also use voice input, but there’s no touch-screen input.
Lexus Enform, the infotainment system, takes effort to learn and then operate. Plus, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Lexus and Toyota fear with some justification that its system would look much that of every other car when running the Apple/Android apps (it would). As of 2017, Lexus bundled the Scout navigation phone app for buyers who want to replicate smartphone navigation on the car’s bigger LCD.
The NX Trim Walk
Unlike many cars, the Lexus NX has three parallel but not ascending trim lines — that is, the NX does not have good-better-best variants, each with more gear, leather, and gadgets. Instead, you choose your driving and economy preferences, and then you choose from the handful the options packages.
The 2018 Lexus NX variants are:
- The gas-engine Lexus NX 300, $ 37,385 including $ 945 freight, comes with a 235-hp turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive. It is $ 1,400 less for front-drive. This is the mainstream NX model and is rated at 22 mpg city / 28 highway / 24 overall mpg for all-wheel drive. Front drive is 22 / 28 / 25.
- The NX 300 F Sport costs $ 40,920 for AWD. It has the same engine and adds bolstered sporty seats and driver-adjustable electronically generated engine sounds (Active Sound Control), plus a G-force meter and turbo boost gauge for the multi-information display. The F Sport has the same 7.2-second 0-60 time as the base NX 300, but slightly different fuel economy, 22 / 27 / 24.
- The hybrid NX 300h, $ 39,330, is AWD-only. If you want an upscale compact SUV that is also a hybrid, this is pretty much your only choice as of the end of 2017. In a week’s city and highway driving, I averaged 33 mpg with NX 300h. The hybrid’s EPA rating is 33 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 31 mpg combined on premium gas for both 2017 and 2018 models. That’s one-third better economy the the gasoline-powered NX. On an annual basis, the EPA says would burn $ 1,250 of gasoline, while the non-hybrid NX models would use $ 1,900 worth.
The pick-no-more-than-one options include the Comfort, Premium, or Luxury packages. The Comfort Package, $ 980, adds blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, heated and ventilated front seats, and auto-dimming outside mirrors with auto-tilt-down in reverse.
The Premium Package, $ 3,270, includes the Comfort Package features plus a moonroof, 18-inch (instead of 17-inch) alloy wheels, enhanced LED daytime running wheels, front seat memory, and a power tilt/telescope steering wheel.
The Luxury Package, $ 4,705, incorporates the Comfort and Premium Package features and includes black shadow wood interior trim, perforated leather trim, rain-sensing wipers, and a heated leather-trim steering wheel. People who cross-shop mainstream SUVs may be surprised that it costs $ 3,270 to get seat-memory buttons, or $ 4,705 to get your main mirror to automatically dim, but that’s how Lexus currently arranges the placement of desirable features.
There is also a Navigation Package, $ 1,800, with a 10.3-inch display (instead of 8 inches), Destination Assist (live operators for telematics), premium audio with 10 speakers instead of eight, a second USB port, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink (garage door openers). A Towing Package, $ 160, allows pulling up to 1,500 pounds; many direct competitors tow 3,500 to 4,000 pounds while mainstream compact SUVs (like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V) are more often limited to 1,500. These two options are independent of your Comfort-Premium-Luxury (or none) choices.
Note that ad teasers say $ 35,985 buys a Lexus NX, meaning the base NX front-drive without shipping. The base price of the second-best-seller Audi Q5 starts at $ 41,500, with standard all-wheel-drive. The most promising new-for-2018 model, the BMW X3, has a base price of $ 42,450, also for all-wheel-drive.
Should You Buy the Lexus NX 300? Which One?
The Lexus NX should be part of your initial consideration set because of its clear price advantage, about $ 3,500 to $ 4,000 over the Germans if you compare all-wheel-drive vehicles comparably equipped. This could be your car if you want room for four adults on long drives, if you want a hybrid, if you want integrated telematics, if you want a well-priced premium car, or you want a brand ranked high for reliability. It could also be your car if you don’t like being hassled by pushy sales reps; Lexus dealerships rate high on customer satisfaction.
The NX is not your car if you want lots of cargo room without folding down the rear seats; Lexus comes up short because of its steeply raked rear window. Nor is it your car if you want sporty driving; sport seats and bigger road wheels do not a sportster make. The primary drivers should sit for a while in the cockpit and see if they’re comfortable with the space behind the wheel; it’s snug.
The changes for 2018 seem minor, but should make driver and occupants more comfortable: a bigger center stack LCD especially with navigation, larger and improved touchpad, and the now standard Lexus Safety Suite, needing only an options package to complete the most needed safety features.
Lexus vs. the Competition
Who is the competition? The Volvo XC60, the Lincoln MKC, and the Buick Envision share luxury attributes with the NX; the XC60 offers a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. If you want something sportier, look at the others in the top five on sales: Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3. The Porsche Macan is often regarded as the best small SUV, but like Lexus is saddled with just 18 cubic feet of cargo bay capacity and the Porsche costs more. The base Macan is $ 47,000, but you can option your baby Porsche up to $ 132,000 (leather-edged carpet mats for $ 650, anyone?). The Jaguar F Pace, new in mid-2016, is like the Macan: excellent handling, luxury cockpit, and priced higher than the norm. The Infiniti QX50 has a strong engine and drivetrain; a long-awaited redesign comes next year.
If you’re partial to Lexus, look also at the midsize Lexus RX, 10 inches longer than the NX’s 182 inches, with an even tastier cockpit, and about $ 8,000 costlier. (There is no subcompact Lexus SUV, not yet at least.) As for the NX, the most desirable version may be the hybrid 300h followed by the regular NX; the NX F Sport isn’t as sporty as other Lexuses with their F Sport badging. If you’re offered a 2017 NX on closeout, make sure you understand the three or four things you aren’t getting — a bigger center stack LCD, a bigger touchpad, blind spot detection unless you buy an options package (though the same goes for 2018), a second USB jack unless you buy the Navigation package — and factor that into your decision.
Most of all, remember: There are very few unhappy Lexus owners. They typically love their cars, the dealer experience, and the reliability.