Lexus NX 300 — Popular luxury crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Even though the compact Lexus NX crossover has remained mostly the same since its inception for the 2015 model year — with some freshening including styling tweaks in 2018 — its sales have steadily grown each year not only pointing out the popularity of the NX, but reflecting the exploding compact luxury crossover segment.

The NX is the second-best selling Lexus behind the mid-sized RX crossover as buyers have gone gaga for the comely hatchback-style and its high riding comfort. The NX carries distinctive Euro-styling with its copious creases, angles, and bulges, and its prominent Lexus signature nose definitely stands out from the crowd. While we have grown used to — and even like — the overall look of the NX we still abhor its big "Lexus" snout that seems to us incongruous with the rest the vehicle.

The new NX has brought some new air intakes up front, along with new wheel designs, slightly thinner taillights, and a reshaped rear bumper. Interior upgrades are subtle and include a new metallic finish for several buttons, knobs, and redesigned HVAC controls. A larger, 10.3-inch central display screen is now optional, controlled by a revised remote touchpad that didn't do much to improve upon the frustrating driver distracting interface. A foot-motion sensor to open the power tailgate has been added to the available features.

And the name was changed to NX 300 from NX 200t, which is a head scratcher because the original name more aptly describes the vehicle; after all it is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four.

We found the driving experience engaging in all situations including our usual "winding rural road" handling test. We enjoyed the responsive steering and a slightly firmer ride than found in larger car-based crossovers. As in other Lexus models, the driver can choose preferred driving responses using the Drive Mode Select dial on the center console. The system adjusts parameters for multiple systems, including throttle response and the power steering assist curve. The default setting is Normal. Sport mode sharpens responses, and ECO helps enhance more fuel-efficient driving.

While the NX 300 is not going to win any races with BMWs and Porches, the 2.0-liter engine that makes 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque gets the job done with a 0-to-60 time of around 7.0 seconds. That translates into confidence-inspiring merges into fast traffic and the ability to quickly pass a slower-moving vehicle on a two-lane highway. Power is moved through a 6-speed automatic, which might be the only 6-speed left in the segment now dominated by 8- and 9-speed shifters. Amazingly, the horsepower and torque numbers are virtually identical to the four-cylinder engine in the new Cadillac XT4, although the Caddy gets a 9-speed transmission.

The NX front seats are well shaped and proved remarkably comfortable. Back-seat leg room is generous and the seats provide excellent head room. The shortfall here comes in cargo space, which lags some competitors' offerings. We found it adequate, however, measured at 17.7 cubic feet behind the seats, and 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Lexus paid a lot of attention to detail in the cabin with top-notch materials. Adding to the luxury ambience is an extremely quiet interior and a comfort-oriented suspension that does a remarkable job smoothing out road imperfections.

In addition to a long list of standard equipment, Lexus offers such options as heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, a sunroof, driver memory functions, a power-folding backseat, a power liftgate, a wireless phone charging tray, automated parallel parking, blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning.

The NX 300 comes in just two trim levels — the NX 300 and the NX 300 F Sport. Standard equipment at a starting price of $37,510 includes LED headlights, foglights and running lights; adaptive cruise control; forward collision warning and mitigation; lane departure warning and intervention; keyless ignition and entry; rearview camera; dual-zone climate control; power-adjustable front seats; an 8-inch infotainment display with touchpad interface; and an eight-speaker sound system.

Options are plentiful and desirable, but can easily run the price up. For instance, our test vehicle came with the $4,705 Luxury Package that includes blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, perforated leather-trimmed interior, rain-sensing wipers and heated steering wheel. Other packages included premium triple-beam LED headlights with an adaptive front lighting system, $1,515; and the navigation package with 10.3-inch high-resolution display and a 10-speaker Lexus Premium Sound System, $1,860. Bottom line — $50,093 including destination charge.

All-wheel drive is available for $1,400 on all trim levels.

Base price: $37,510; as driven, $50,093
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 235 @ 4,800 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 1,650 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,940 pounds
Turning circle: 34.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 54.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 city, 28 highway, 24 combined
0-60: 7.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Cadillac XT4, BMW X3, Volvo XC40

The Good
• Quiet interior
• Comfortable ride
• Good handling traits

The Bad
• Blind spot bundled in high-cost option

The Ugly
• Infotainment interface distracting