We spend a week in the hybrid version of the slick compact crossover from Lexus.
Stylish interior and exterior
High beltline limits outward visibility
Smallish back seat
Distracting infotainment controls
2016 Lexus NX 300h
Lexus probably created the midsize luxury crossover utility vehicle with the RX, but it was a little late to the compact CUV party as it didn't enter the segment until late 2014. Fortunately, it was worth the wait as the brand introduced a pair: the gasoline-only turbocharged NX 200t as well as a hybrid model.
We had the chance to review the NX 200t back in July of 2015. Both models can be had in either front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive configurations (the FWD 300h will be discontinued in 2017) and we recently were able to get our hands on an all-wheel-drive example of the hybrid NX 300h.
Outside, all versions of the NX feature LED headlamps and tail lamps. On the 200t, the standard setup consists of LED low beams and halogen high beams. Optional on the 200t but standard on 300h models like our tester is an all-LED light array for both low- and high-beams.
Up front, the NX features an aggressive and polarizing example – you either like it or hate it - of the Lexus spindle grill. The headlights also hew to the current Lexus styling norm and are L-shaped s. Unlike our previous tester which was an F-sport, the grill features the brands standard horizontal grille bars along with smaller round fog lights which we find more pleasing.
In back, the corporate L-shaped theme carries over to the the three-dimensional taillight lenses that ride high on the fenders, while the lower diffuser, unlike the one found on the 200t, hides the exhaust outlet.
Inside the spindle theme carries over to the brushed metal trim surrounding the center stack and upper center console. Both the upper and lower dash areas featuring textured soft touch surfaces. Even the center console sports soft "kneepads" on either side of the tunnel that prevent you from banging your right knee against a hard surface.
Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard as is pushbutton start, a leather-trimmed steering wheel (power tilt and telescope) and shift knob, rear privacy glass, an acoustic glass windshield, automatic headlights, a 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, 8-way power passenger seat and Siri Eyes Free Mode that's displayed on the 7-inch multi-information center screen.
There isn't much in the way of bad news here other than the usual issues we have with Lexus's infotainment system. In the NX, we found the console-mounted touch-sensitive pad to be easier to use than the joystick found on other models. However, depending on what you're trying to do, it's still more distracting than it should be. For instance, accidentally pressing your finger against it can cause all manner of havoc to whatever screen you happen to be in at the time.
That issue aside, the dashboard is well laid out and the gauges are simple, and easy to read, day or night. Nice luxury touches include soft touch LED dome and spot lights as well as a round analog clock on the center stack that automatically compensates for time zone changes.
Up front there's a decent amount of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for the driver and passenger, although it's closer to snug than spacious. We also found the front seats to be very supportive and nicely bolstered without being aggressively so. In back, there's only a fair amount of room for two adults. In fact, putting a third person back there would make things tight – especially on longer road trips.
Despite a fairly high beltline the view out the front and sides is very good and the view out back is acceptable. But despite the fact that it contains a small window, the thick C-pillar and sloping roofline combine to make visibility out the rear three-quarters difficult. Thankfully, it's mitigated somewhat by the fact that a rear view camera is standard in all NX models. That condition in our tester was further improved as it was equipped with an option package that included a blind spot monitor.
Under the hood
The NX 300h is powered by a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system consisting of a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle inline-4 and two or three motor generators (two on FWD models and three on AWD models). The engine produces 154 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque.
The two motor generators up front together produce 141 horsepower, while the rear motor generator in AWD models produces 67 horsepower. The total horsepower of the series/parallel system with the gas engine and electric motors is 194 horsepower.
The EPA estimated fuel economy for an AWD (Lexus refers to it as all weather drive) NX 300h is 33/30/32 city/highway/combined mpg (compared to the gasoline-only model's 21/28/24 city/highway/combined), while our own observed fuel economy in combined city and highway driving turned out to be 29.4 mpg (compared to the 25.1 mpg we observed in the gasoline-only F Sport).
On the road
In the handling department, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there's very little compromise to choosing the heftier hybrid model. The NX 300h's on-road manners remain crisp, with very little body lean in corners. The ride is much more forgiving than what we experienced in the gasoline F-sport – very close to that of the RX350 that we previously tested.
Even better, the hybrid's steering matches that of the 200t with a decent amount of feedback through the steering wheel. The brakes are also very strong with a nice bite to the pads with no detectable feel to the regenerative system. In addition, the brakes are also easy to modulate and there's plenty of feedback to the driver through the brake pedal.
At high speeds the NX 300h tracks nicely down the road and it's unaffected by grooved pavement or crosswinds. Despite the added weight and lower overall horsepower of the hybrid system, there's still plenty of power and we never had a problem passing or merging into traffic.
Cabin noise is another of the NX 300h's high points and it's especially quiet in city driving in both gas and electric mode. But even at freeway speeds we noticed very little in the way of wind, road, tire or engine noise entering the cabin.
2016 Lexus NX 300h prices
Pricing for the 2016 Lexus NX 300h, including shipping, starts at $40,670 for a base (if you can call it that) FWD model and can top out at close to $60,000 for a fully optioned and accessorized AWD model.
Our Autumn Shimmer AWD tester was close to the top of that range with a base price of $41,310.
$8,255 in options and accessories included a Qi wireless charger ($220), auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink ($125), Navigation package that featured the remote touch interface, 3D maps, predictive traffic and voice recognition (controlled from the steering wheel) and a home screen that can be divided into 1 to 3 sections for HVAC, audio and navigation with Lexus Enform Remote, 1 year of Lexus Enform Destination, app suite, and premium sound ($1,875), light-sensitive, heated, memory outside mirrors with blind spot monitor and reverse tilt, and rear cross traffic alert ($660), power folding rear seats ($400), LED headlamps ($1,160), the Luxury package with 18-inch wheels, Black Shadow Wood interior trim, heated steering wheel, power back door, leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, LED daytime running lights, moon roof and memory driver's seat ($4,505) and a pre-collision system with all-speed cruise control ($900).
Along with a $940 delivery, processing and handling fee that brought the total MSRP to $50,505.
The Bottom Line
There is a lot to like about the Lexus NX 300h. It has taught and agile handling, a very responsive drivetrain that offers plenty of power, along with excellent fuel economy and a slick exterior (love it or hate it) that compliments a quiet, nicely-detailed, luxurious interior.
On the other hand, its high beltline compromises the driver's sightlines, the accommodations in the back seat are tight, and the infotainment touchpad, although an improvement over the joystick, is still a distraction.
But when all is said and done, the new Lexus NX 300h certainly is the best hybrid luxury compact crossover we have ever driven.
Yes. This one is also that good.