A luxury compact crossover teamed with a peppy yet fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid powertrain; sounds like a job for Lexus.
Lexus, the Luxury arm of Toyota, offers the greatest assortment of gas-electric hybrid vehicles for upmarket clientele. Worldwide, more than one million Lexus hybrids have been sold since 2004.
It's compact, five-door NX 300h is one of six self-charging gas-electric hybrids (no nightly plug-in required) Lexus offers in 2017. Next year, a high-performance seventh member joins the growing greenery, a sleek hybrid edition of the all-new LC 500 coupe boasting 354 horsepower (and pricing north of $90,000).
Lexus introduced the NX 300h compact crossover in 2015, perfect timing as compact crossovers of all shades, luxury or otherwise, have experienced soaring growth. For the first time in the U.S., compact crossovers outsold bread-and-butter mid-size sedans during the 2016 calendar year thanks to versatility and friendly fuel numbers.
As with a majority of Lexus gas-electric hybrids, the NX 300h also offers a higher-volume gas-engine counterpart, in this case the NX 200t, sporting the first turbocharged engine offered from Lexus.
While capturing an important segment for Lexus, NX also builds on the success of its mid-size stablemate, the trend-setting RX crossover. Prior to RX's arrival more than a decade-and-a-half ago, five-door luxury Sport Utility Vehicles incorporated a bulky body-on-frame truck design. RX smoothed out the ride with a car-based unibody platform. Consumer reaction was swift as the RX crossover quickly became a Lexus best-seller.
Sales of NX (both hybrid and gas-turbocharged) in 2016 totaled 54,884, up a healthy 25 percent from 2015, its first full year of availability. This tally qualifies NX as Lexus' third-best-selling 2016 vehicle behind only the RX and mid-sized ES sedan.
The compact NX shares many RX visual cues, including the distinctive Lexus 'spindle' front grille resembling a truncated hourglass. Round wheel wheels include a plastic composite warding away dings from small debris. All four strap-like exterior side door handles illuminate via LED lighting when approaching with the key fob for intense nighttime interaction. Except for small, unobtrusive 'hybrid' lettering along the bottom side doors, the NX 300h exterior virtually mirrors that of the gas counterpart. One key distinction; peer closely at the round Lexus logo; all hybrids back shade with a blue hue.
High side belt lines contrast with narrow windows, framed in chrome, which come to an arrowhead point in the hatch region, contributing to a subtle, eye-catching exterior design.
The hybrid powertrain connects to a smooth, continuously variable transmission (CVT) helping maximize fuel economy. For 2017, NX 300h makes electronic, all-wheel drive, standard; this drivetrain was optional the first two model years.
Expect 33 miles per gallon city and 30 mph highway versus the conventional gas engine NX 200t with 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway in all-wheel-drive. The turbocharged NX 200t requires 91 or higher octane fuel for optimal performance, while the hybrid NX 300h recommends regular 87 octane.
For those new to the gas-electric hybrid experience, muscle memory remains identical to conventional gas engines. Hop in, turn on, slide the transmission selector to drive, step on the gas pedal and go. From an audible perspective, the silent electric propulsion when starting takes time for adjustment
Starting price for our hybrid NX 300h tester checked in at $39,720, representing the sole trim level. Lexus added many stand-alone factory options including a $220 wireless charger, $640 heated and ventilated front seats, $1,815 in-dash navigation package, $1,100 front row power moon roof, $900 radar-enhanced cruise control, $459 illuminated door sills, $125 dimming rearview mirror, $400 power rear hatch and $155 mud guards. A $345 comfort package added heated rear outboard seats and power rear sunshade. With a $975 destination charge, the bottom line quickly added up to $47,053. A NX 200t front-wheel drive starts at $35,285. Add $1,400 if selecting all-wheel drive.
The luxury NX hybrid soldiers on with Lexus' long-standing nickel metal hydride battery stowed under second row seats. When the iconic Toyota Prius debuted in the U.S. 17 years ago, nickel metal hydride technology was the battery of choice due to its ability to hold and sustain electric charging. Most new all-electric plug-in cars/vehicles (Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt) opt for lighter weight lithium-ion battery technology (the battery in lap tops and cell phones), which in the last year or so, upped its game in regards to sustaining battery charging life.
Anchoring and jetting above the center dash; a seven-inch, multi-function, full-color, flat screen. Directly below reside two horizontal, rectangular air vents and an always welcome royal-looking, analog clock flanked by small rectangular windows digitally displaying inside temperature and fan speed. Jetting out at an angle is a two-row shelf of push buttons monitoring ventilation functions.
Riders enjoy ample head room and the vertically adjustable 10-way power driver's seat allows captains to select a prime comfort zone.
Second-row back rests manually fold down with a 60/40 split by activating long handles adjacent to outboard seat cushions. The flat second-row floor helps accommodate three adults in a pinch, but practically speaking two remains the ideal number. Second-row seat backs also recline a pinch, providing an additional layer of comfort.
Push-button start comes standard. Lexus locates its circular start button relatively high on the dash, conveniently out of the way of the power tilt-and-telescope steering column.
A right-hand 'wrist rest' resides left of dual inline beverage holders and rear of a rectangular, quad-sectioned finger-sensitive swipe pad (similar to portable lap-top design) used to interact with the multi-function flat screen. This pad takes the place of a mouse-like square joy stick found in most other Lexus models.
For those comfortable with cell phone swipe tutorials, it's an easy transition, although the touch-sensitive nature requires some practice before mastering and extended eye contact. Secondary steering wheel controls remain a handy go-to option for some commands. Tactile dials still remain the top choice for ease of use, and NX smartly incorporates volume and station-tuning dials flanking a compact disc player feed.
Enjoy geeking out eyeing animated hybrid flowcharts? Drill down through the multi-screen tutorial and enjoy the view. Otherwise, the instrument panels left analog gauge provides a needle-driven display of the hybrid engine's current setting (power, eco or charge.)
Drivers get to choose from several interior color combinations including our tester's black interior with white stitching, white backlighting and reverse-type white lettering.
Adjacent to the electronic parking brake button near the floor-mounted transmission shifter: a dial for selecting three driving modes: Eco, Sport and Normal.
As with just about every gas-electric hybrid (and a growing number of non-hybrids), NX 300h takes advantage of regenerative braking, capturing energy when braking and storing this energy for later use.
2017 NX 300h
Price as tested: $46,078
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Overall Length: 182.3 inches
Overall Width: 73.6 inches
Gas Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder
Total system horsepower: 194
Curb Weight: 4,180 pounds
Fuel Economy: 33 mpg city, 30 mpg highway