2018 Lexus NX 300h Luxury FWD Road Test and Review
(3.5 / 5)
Lexus has managed to couple low fuel use, high-tech design and an SUV body shape in its 2018 Lexus NX 300h. But is the elusive trinity really worth having?
Hybrids seem to be taking over the world at the moment. Just about every concept car is either an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid. But Toyota and its luxury offshoot, Lexus, were there right from the beginning.
While Lexus doesn’t have a plug-in version of its vehicles (yet), it has plenty of hybrids on offer. Couple that with a crossover and you’ve got the ideal vehicle, right?
Well, that’s what Lexus is banking on with the NX 300h. Being a compact luxury SUV, it gives you the brand’s build quality, bulletproof reliability and surprisingly quite a bit of space.
Of course, there are negatives, too. Sometimes the tech wants to take over and it does get a little too much – simpler can be better occasionally.
For example, the new touchpad controller is said to have been enhanced and made more user-friendly, but it’s still miles behind the usability of Audi’s MMI and BMW’s iDrive.
The screen is good, and beautiful to look at (10.3-inches is a good size), but entering an address into the satnav just takes forever. You have to clear a lot of messages in the Bluetooth settings before it will connect to your phone.
Instead of a smooth transition between menus, the haptic feedback ends up grating on your nerves because it’s always jumping around.
All it needs is a simple touchscreen or a rotary controller and selector. That may be an admission of guilt, but when something works it’s not always wise to try to reinvent the wheel.
We do love the sound system – a Mark Levinson unit, of course – with its clear treble and excellent bass, even at volume. And it still appeals to older folks, with a CD player included. And yes, it will also play MP3s.
Looking at the centre console, there’s a lot going on. There’s buttons and switches all over the place, with everything layered up and they’ve even stuck a clock on top. Busy yes, but also high quality.
Like all Lexuses, it’s built to perfection. with soft-touch plastics and lovely feeling touchpoints.
There’s enough storage, too, so the NX 300h is quite practical. Under the armrest is a big space, and the glovebox is quite wide. There are a couple of door bins as well, and a good size trunk, which is like Toyota that the NX shares its platform with, the RAV4.
We also love the space for the second row. There’s heaps of headroom and legroom, and with no driveshaft tunnel, there’s a lot of space for legs. The back seat sits higher than the fronts, too, so kids won’t get motion sickness, which is a good move.
You’ll find a 2.5-litre gasoline four-cylinder coupled to an electric motor under the hood. The gas-electric hybrid system runs through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) creating a combined power output of 197 hp (147kW) with 199 lb-ft (270Nm) of torque.
Lexus doesn’t give out accleration figures, but you’ll find the NX getting to 60 mph in close to eight seconds.
That’s not exactly slow, so the whole lot working together gets everything moving quite briskly indeed, and it will rev quite a lot thanks to the CVT. By contrast, in electric mode, there’s a faint whirr in the background, but you can’t get full acceleration in EV mode.
When at full throttle, there’s a little bit of torque steer, owing to our test car being front-wheel-drive. And it will squeal the wheels if you’re too aggressive.
While we’re on the negatives, when it changes over from electric to gas power, it’s not the smoothest transition, with a distinct shudder.
The EV range is a bit too short in this day and age of pure EVs, so the main reason for buying an NX hybrid will be to save fuel, not to run around in full electric mode.
But how much fuel will you save? Our week with the NX saw only city driving with a few spirited runs, and yet it wouldn’t go below 31 mpg. You can make that figure rise easily by taking it easy. But the real goal is to get it into EV mode as much as possible, where you’re using no fuel at all.
To get that to happen you need it to regenerate. And you’re always aware that it’s regenerating when you brake, not just because of the instruments telling you, but because the brake pedal feels quite grabby.
It takes a while to get used to it and to modulate, and the system whirrs a lot when it does regenerate, but you’ll come to appreciate that feel and that sound because you know the batteries are being recharged every time.
Even as a standard car, without the hybrid system, the NX is a lovely thing. Of course, you’ll never head off-road, but it’s built beautifully and has plenty of room.
And it’s safe, too. With a five-star score from EuroNCAP and plenty of active safety tech, it gives you confidence that it will look after you.
The design is quite modern, it drives okay and is very good on fuel. But for the price premium, we’d still be looking at the NX 300 instead and just enjoying a little less whirring and carry on from the hybrid system.
The NX without the hybrid setup is just as nice to be in, but even better to drive.