Mediocre fuel economy
Fussy infotainment controls
2018 Lexus NX 300
Four years into its model cycle, the 2018 Lexus NX receives minor interior and exterior updates including a revised grille on base models, larger fog light surrounds, power folding outside mirrors, chrome accents on the lower rear valance, and updated tail lights. Inside, the round clock receives GPS functionality, while the climate control switches have been revised.
More importantly, also standard across the lineup is the Lexus Safety System+ that, in this application, consists of pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic high beams.
Outside, all NX models feature LED headlamps, tail lamps, and L-shaped daytime running lights. On the 200t, the standard setup consists of LED low beams and halogen high beams. Now standard for both trim levels is a revised all-LED headlight array for both low- and high-beams.
Up front, a large and imposing rendition of the brand's spindle grill is bracketed by L-shaped headlights. The F-Sport takes things up a notch by swapping out the base model's horizontal grille theme with a more menacing, blacked-out, cross-hatch design. The F Sport package also adds a larger chin spoiler as well as reworked horizontal fog lights.
The L-shaped theme continues in back with triangular-shaped three-dimensional taillight lenses that ride high on the fenders, while the lower fascia is highlighted by uniquely-shaped twin chrome exhaust ports that are now integrated into the redesigned lower valance. The NX also loses the chrome horizontal trim strip above the license plate surround.
Inside, the grille's spindle shape is cleverly integrated into the three-dimensional central stack above the center console. Both the upper and lower dash areas feature textured, soft touch surfaces, with even the center console sporting soft "kneepads" on either side of the tunnel. The dashboard is well laid out, the gauges are simple, straightforward and easy to read, while luxury touches include soft touch LED dome and spot lights as well as the classic round analog clock in the center stack.
Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard as is pushbutton start, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, rear privacy glass, an acoustic glass windshield, automatic headlights, a ten-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 in front of the driver. For 2018, the climate control switches (temperature, fan, and mode selection) are now round dials, with a new metallic finish on the window and climate control switches.
Up front there's plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for the driver and passenger, and the seats are nicely bolstered. In back, there's also a fair amount of room for two adults, although a third might find accommodations a bit tight – especially on long road trips.
Despite a fairly high beltline the view out the front is very good with views out the sides and back also good. But despite the presence of a small window, the thick C-pillar and sloping roofline combine to make visibility out the rear three-quarters difficult, although it's mitigated, somewhat, by a standard rear view camera. It was also helped by the fact our tester was equipped with the Premium Package that includes a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
But all is not perfect as the console-mounted touch-sensitive pad - although easier to use than the joystick still found on some Lexus models – is not only finicky, but more distracting than needs to be, and accidentally brushing it with your finger can cause all manner of unintended changes to the infotainment system.
Under the hood
The NX 300 is powered by Toyota's 8ARFTS 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged, intercooled, in-line four-cylinder engine with a maximum 235 horsepower between 4,800 and 5,600 rpm and 258 lb ft of torque in a very broad and useful range of between 1,650 and 4,000 rpm.
The fuel economy for an all-wheel-drive (Lexus refers to it, quite rightly, as all weather drive since this is hardly a serious off-roader) NX 300 is an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 on the highway, and 24 combined, while our own observed fuel economy in city driving turned out to be slightly than the estimate, ringing in at 22.5 miles per gallon.
On the road
The MacPherson strut, coil spring front and trailing arm double wishbone rear suspensions do a nice job of soaking up everything from minor road irregularities to large potholes. At high speeds the NX 300tracks nicely down the road and it's unaffected by grooved pavement or crosswinds. Once the turbo spools up there's never a problem passing or merging into traffic. The ride is firm – especially on the F Sport model, not surprising considering its larger 18-inch wheels and sport-tuned suspension. The transmission in the F Sport also receives a Sport mode that sharpens it up over the base model, while an on-demand feature pumps engine noise into the cabin for a sportier sound experience.
Off-center steering feel is very good with a decent amount of feedback through the steering wheel. The brakes are also very strong with a nice bite to the pads. In addition, they're easy to modulate and there's plenty of feedback to the driver through the brake pedal.
Cabin noise is another one of the NX 300's high points and it's especially quiet in city driving. But even at freeway speeds we noticed very little in the way of wind, road, tire or engine noise entering the cabin.
At the same time, overall performance is only average for the class, with the NX 300 not feeling particularly quick or light on its feet. In the "normal" drive setting, body roll is noticeable in sharper turns, and while 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 235 horsepower - more than many competitors - it and the transmission are tuned for fuel economy rather than performance, while turbo lag makes smooth power delivery hard to manage.
Finally, the EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers are surprisingly average for the class, and, in addition to the horsepower figures, are achieved using premium gasoline – a significant additional expense these days.
2018 Lexus NX 300 prices
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus NX 300, including a $995 destination charge, starts at $37,180 for a base front-wheel-drive example and can climbs to over $54,000 for a fully optioned all-wheel-drive F Sport model.
Our Caviar-finished, all-wheel-drive tester was between those two extremes with a base price, before the delivery charge, of $37,385.
$6,520 in options included the Cold Weather Package ($220, windshield wiper de-icer), Electrochromic (auto-dimming) Inside Rear View Mirror and Homelink ($125), Navigation package ($1,800, remote touch interface, 10- speaker Lexus premium sound system), Intuitive Park Assist with Auto Brake ($535), Power Rear Door with Kick Sensor ($550), Premium Package ($3,270, eighteen-inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, premium LED daytime running lights, power tilt & slide moonroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, memory mirrors and driver seat including lumbar support, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert), Leather Heated Steering Wheel ($150).
Along with a $995 delivery, processing and handling fee that brought the total Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price to $44,920.
The Bottom Line
Despite middling fuel economy numbers, a fussy infotainment interface, and merely average handling, the NX 300's comfortable, nicely-detailed interior, mildly sporty performance, and wide range of advanced safety features make it a top pick in its class.