The only hybrid compact luxury crossover you can buy comes at a very premium price
(articolo di driving.ca in inglese)
Compact premium-priced hybrid crossover for passive-aggressive greenies
Pros Comfortable and quiet, high-end interior, fuel efficient
Cons Over-styled, pricey, “adequately” powered
Value for money Fair
What would I change? More power needed, remote touch interface too sensitive
How I would spec it? Until gasoline prices rise dramatically, get the NX 200t ($42,150) instead and add the F Sport Series 1 package ($6,550); if you simply must have a hybrid crossover, a fully loaded Toyota RAV4 ($41,190) is a far less expensive alternative
As sharply styled as a Ka-Bar folding knife, yet as mild-mannered as an A.A. Milne storybook character, Lexus’s compact-sized, premium-priced, hybrid-powered NX 300h crossover is a study of contrasts. Yet the first and foremost thing that comes to mind when checking out this vehicle is: Who’s the target buyer?
It’s more cliché than anything, but I still hold on to this caricature of the typical hybrid buyer as a granola-eating, Birkenstock-shoed, save-the-whales, child of hippie parents (a notion furthered every time I visit California, where it seems most taxis and a good portion of private vehicles are some model from Toyota’s Prius lineup). And, up until the newest redesign of the Prius sedan this year, their generally inoffensive, organic shape seemed perfectly in keeping with said caricature of their owners. (Yes, I know Toyota is by no means the only manufacturer of gas/electric hybrid automobiles; it’s just the most successful.)
But, what is one to make of the passive-aggressive nature of the NX, all bad-ass attitude on the outside, fuel efficiency inside?
First, kudos to Toyota for keeping it green(er) within the upscale, compact crossover segment — the all-wheel-drive NX 300h, new last year, is the only model in Canada offering a gas/electric hybrid powertrain. (Primary competitors include the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC, Acura RDX, Range Rover Evoque and several others.) The problem is, the performance of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system is kind of underwhelming.
The front wheels are powered by a 141-horsepower, 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and/or electric power, the rear wheels by a 67-hp electric motor. The whole plot is hooked up to a continuously variable transmission. The combined powertrain delivers a maximum 194 net horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque. However, the 300h weighs a stout 1,835 kilograms, a lot of weight to haul around. The result is “measured” forward motion, even with the Hybrid Drive featuring a kickdown function for acceleration.
2016 Lexus NX 300h
Foot to the floor, the NX will take about nine seconds to hit 100 km/h, which, in itself, is not horrible, although the wail from the engine is disquieting. Part-throttle acceleration is another matter, an exercise in frustration if you’re imprudent in your choice of modes. In Normal mode — the default position — you can keep up with city traffic without annoying surrounding motorists. Switching to Sport improves things at the lower end, and should be used if actually attempting to overtake a slower vehicle. Conversely, Eco guts the 300h, making it a poor decision except in bumper-to-bumper traffic (or when there’s no
AWD is only used when needed. When the system detects traction loss at the front wheels, it reduces the electricity supply to the traction motor in the transaxle and increases supply to the rear-axle motor. The rear motor acts as a generator when the NX is in regenerative braking mode, increasing the amount of kinetic energy recovered.
The upside to all this has to be stellar fuel economy, right? As with most hybrids, the NX makes its bones in city use, less so on the highway. Nevertheless, I averaged 7.4 L/100 km during a week of mixed driving, exemplary for a compact crossover. (For comparison, I averaged 11.4 L/100 km during my time in the Lincoln MKC, 11.0 in the Mazda CX-5, and 11.7 with the Range Rover Evoque.)
2016 Lexus NX 300h
Here, though, is when middle-class pragmatism comes into the picture: The less expensive (starting price $42,150) and lighter weight (by 80 kg) NX 200t comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that makes a far more usable 235 horsepower, adding zip and a greater measure of fun to the crossover. No, fuel economy isn’t on the same level as the 300h — 10.6 city/8.4 highway vs. 7.1 city/7.7 highway, according to Natural Resources Canada. But the $11,000-plus in price savings over the hybrid (starting price $53,350) pays for a boatload of fuel. You have to be really committed to the idea of reduced emissions and/or alternative powerplants to justify the 300h’s cost.
Driving dynamics are a bit of a mixed bag. The ride is comfortable for the most part, though there were some nasty potholed downtown streets that tested the limits of the NX’s suspension (MacPherson gas struts up front, trailing arm double wishbone setup in the back). The electric power steering has a good on-centre heft to it but can feel rather disconnected from the front wheels if one tries to hustle the crossover through a twisting bit of tarmac.
Say what you will about the NX’s origami exterior styling — at least its front spindle grille is more proportional to the rest of the vehicle than the larger RX’s outrageous snout — it is representative of the newly emboldened Lexus brand flexing its design muscle. Over-styled to some, the crossover is distinct and easy to distinguish from many of its blander rivals.
2016 Lexus NX 300h
Inside, the roomy cabin lacks the outré nature of the NX’s sheet metal, but it is attractive, comfortable and loaded with all manner of creature comforts and high-tech features as befitting an upscale vehicle. The only fly in the ointment is the remote touch interface for the navigation/entertainment/etc. functions, which replaces the previous joystick with a touchpad in the centre console. Thinking it much too sensitive for easy use and diverting my attention from the road when using it — but wondering if it was just me — I asked my tech-savvy daughter to try it out. The words of frustration issued forth from her mouth were all I needed to confirm my belief that Lexus should ditch the pad and switch over to a full touchscreen.
If safety is a prime concern, then the 300h’s $6,650 Executive package is a must. Along with a 10-speaker audio system, head-up display and some very nice wood-grain trim, the package includes front and rear sensors, dynamic radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert systems, lane departure alert with steering assist and a pre-collision system.
Being a unique proposition in the upscale compact crossover segment, the NX 300h provides a highly visible presence among a select crowd, while also being quite friendly to your wallet at the pumps. But the loaded tester’s $60,000 buy-in puts a big dent in that same wallet. If eco-friendliness is more important than having a premium nameplate in your driveway, then Toyota’s own stylish RAV4 Hybrid will do all the essentials and then some — it uses the same powertrain as the 300h — for about $20K less.