2018 Lexus NX 300h Luxury FWD
(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?
You know those people who love technology but still want to look after the environment? Let’s call them “Envirotechies”.
You can’t blame them. Technology is cool, but a lot of it ruins the planet. So, if you can combine your two loves, then all’s well with the world, right?
That’s the thinking behind Lexus and its hybrids. It manages to combine the cool-factor of technology with far-reduced fuel consumption. So add to that the current trend of crossover SUVs and you’ll have the ideal package.
At least that’s what Lexus wants you to think with its NX 300h. It’s a mid-size luxury SUV that offers plenty of space, the occasional all-electric drive experience, and, being a Lexus, the best reliability in the whole segment.
But it’s not all sweetness and light. Some of the tech gets a little overwhelming, being a little too smart for its own good.
For instance, the infotainment screen is a 10.3-inch display screen and what Lexus says is an “improved remote touch controller”. Well, it may be improved, but it’s not the greatest system around.
Just putting in an address for visiting someone takes ages longer than it should, the Bluetooth menu can be frustrating as it tries to clear messages before you can connect, and the haptic feedback as it jumps from menu to menu gets annoying after a while. A simple touchscreen would have been a better option, or even a rotary dial with push control.
Look at BMW, Audi and even Jaguar’s new infotainment system and they’re miles ahead. It’s understandable that Lexus wants to forge its own path, but when there’s a better way, sometimes it’s best just to swallow your pride and follow the crowd.
That said, the sound system is superb, with plenty of treble, good bass and no distortion at volume. And it still has a CD player, if you’ve not transferred everything over to MP3 yet.
The centre console is a very busy layout, with buttons, switches, a staggered layout and even a clock all crammed in. Despite this, the materials used are excellent.
It has the typical Lexus build solidity, meaning all surfaces are soft-touch, the dashtop plastics are very high quality and it all presents very nicely, even with the busy centre stack.
The storage is fine, with a large space under the armrest, behind the two cupholders and a wide glovebox. But that’s all you get, apart from the door bins. At least the boot is a decent size, just like the RAV4 with which the NX shares its platform.
What is impressive is the rear seat space. The legroom and headroom is very good, even for very tall people. There’s also a virtually flat floor, thanks to no rear driveshaft, making a centre passenger more comfortable. Even better is that the back seat is mounted a lot taller than the front seat enabling kids to see out easily, preventing motion sickness – now that’s thinking ahead.
Under the bonnet is a petrol-electric hybrid system, which couples a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder with an electric motor, running through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combined power is 147kW (197hp) and 270Nm (199 lb-ft) of torque, which is enough to propel the NX to 100kmh in around eight seconds.
Indeed, when pushed, it has enough grunt to get it moving quite well. And in full electric mode, all you’ll hear is a whirring sound in the background.
But as our test car was front-wheel-drive, it would squeal the front wheels when pushed (not very Lexus-like) and there was a hint of torque steer. The other issue was the gruff way it would changeover from electric to petrol power, with a shudder coming through the car.
You can alleviate this by opting for EV (electric vehicle) mode by pressing a button, but if there wasn’t enough charge built up in the battery, then it refuses to stay in EV, or if asked to accelerate quickly, it simply overrides your request and gives you petrol power.
The EV range is also quite short, so if you’re buying it to double as a cut-price Tesla, sorry it won’t work. But if you’re buying it to save fuel, then you’ll definitely be fine.
With a week of city-only driving, and plenty of spirited runs, we couldn’t get it to use more than 7.5L/100km. When taking it easy, it sits in the low sixes, and when in EV mode, of course, it uses no fuel at all.
But you’re constantly reminded of its hybrid drivetrain every time you brake. Because it uses the braking as a regeneration system to recharge the battery (and the instrumentation tells you this), the pedal feel is very grabby.
So much so that it takes a while to predict how much it’s going to grab and slow the car down. And as you do, there’s even more whirring and whining from the electric motors/generators.
But hey, the envirotechies will love that. It tells them (and their passengers) that it’s doing its bit to keep its emissions down and not fill the earth with noxious gases. And there are no diesel particulates to worry about.
As a passenger car it’s a good machine, if you can ignore the whirring going on, considering how much space there is and how nicely it’s put together. But as an SUV, well, considering it’s front-wheel-drive, there’s very little chance of heading off-road. Not that many Lexus NX owners would.
It’s also very safe. EuroNCAP gave the NX a five-star safety score, and with a pre-crash warning system with pedestrian detection (including autonomous braking), lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, radar-based cruise and auto high-beam, there’s plenty of active safety as well.
It drives inoffensively, it feels premium inside, isn’t too badly priced and it’s good on fuel. Of course, you also get edgy design and the best customer service in the industry.
But it just feels like it’s trying a bit too hard. If you can live with an extra visit to the bowser every now and then, the NX 300 is the one to go for. It has more power, more torque, drives nicer (the brakes feel better) and it’s cheaper, too.
Envirotechies won’t want to hear it, but the non-hybrid version is the better car.