Buyers of compact SUV hybrids once had to accept ho-hum styling, lazy performance and mediocre handling. The 2018 Lexus NX
300h erases all those drawbacks.
This rakishly styled $38,335 four-door hatchback provides snazzy styling, better fuel economy than the gas-engine NX and has standard all-wheel drive.
Improvements to the 2018 rakish-looking NX 300h include a new grille, revised rear bumper and updated headlights and tail lights. There's also a retuned suspension and a larger infotainment screen.
Entering the NX 300h calls for a little extra effort, but there's plenty of room for four tall adults. The power front seats are supportive, and the rear seat provides good support, especially in the often-neglected thigh area. The center of the backseat is stiff and best occupied by a large fold-down armrest with sturdy cupholders. The front doors have huge handles and open very widely but rear doors have a somewhat narrow opening.
Rear seat backs can be folded down 60/40 to open up the reasonably large cargo area, which I found can handle, for instance, a week's worth of groceries. The NX 300h has a large, heavy hatch, so the optional ($550) power liftgate with a kick sensor is a handy option.
The electric/gas NX 300h has 194 horsepower and a responsive continuously variable automatic transmission with a quick-acting manual-shift feature with steering wheel paddle shifters. City and highway performance is lively when passing on highways or entering fast freeway traffic. Estimated fuel economy is 33 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on highways. Not bad for an approximately 4,000-pound vehicle.
A driver can select "Eco," "Normal" or "Sport" driving modes. Sport mode livens acceleration and causes one of the large gauges facing the driver to turn into a tachometer from one that shows hybrid system output in Eco or Normal mode. Eco mode results in better fuel economy but slows acceleration and air conditioning operation. I found Normal to be the best mode for daily driving unless you're pushing for maximum fuel economy.
A thick, easily gripped steering wheel has a nice feel, and the quiet interior has high-quality materials, including attractive synthetic leather, soft-touch areas and nifty stitching throughout. Standard are a push button start/stop, automatic dual-zone climate control system with rear-seat vents, an 8-speaker Lexus Display audio system and a 4.2-inch full color multi-information display with driving information and audio and outside temperature display.
There's a remote touch interface, but the infotainment controller is cumbersome and irksome to operate. Thankfully, there are small but clearly marked redundant manual dashboard area controls for various functions.
The NX 300h's steering is quick and accurate and its ride is supple. This is no sports-sedan-style SUV, but handling is secure even when rushing through curves at above-average speeds, helped by the clever all-wheel-drive system. Slightly more brake pedal action is needed because of the hybrid system's regenerative braking action. The anti-lock brakes have electronic brake force distribution and brake assist features.
There are lots of air bags, and the NX 300h has the "Lexus Safety System." It features a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and "intelligent" high-beam headlights. Power folding outside mirrors help prevent parking-area damage.
Shell out $4,705 for the Luxury page and you get items including wood trim, a heated leather steering wheel, the above-mentioned power hatchback, heated/ventilated front seats, leather seats, power tilt-and-slide moonroof, power tilt/telescopic steering column and a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Other options include a navigation package,10-speaker Lexus premium sound system and body side moldings.
However, options raised the price of my test NX 300h from $38,335 to $46,173, not including a $995 freight charge.
The NX 300h looks like a real fireball, but does its job admirably without tearing up the pavement and creating high gas bills.
2018 Lexus HX300h
Pros - Bold styling. Fuel-thrifty. Luxurious. Lively performance. Supple ride. Sure handling. Roomy. All-wheel drive.
Cons - Distracting infotainment controller. Rather high step-in. Narrow rear-door openings.
Bottom Line-Rakish, luxurious and fuel-stingy compact hybrid.