Lexus NX300h and 300 F Sport — Economical and sporty crossovers

(July 18, 2018) Some 20 years ago, few industry insiders could have predicted that the launch of the Lexus RX300 mid-sized luxury crossover would mark the beginning of the CUV explosion that has erupted ever since. 

Sure, you had the little car-based Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that appeared earlier, but this vehicle was not only innovative, it proved to be a trailblazer.

Today, every vehicle segment from subcompact, to compact, to mid-size, to luxury, to premium luxury, on up to exotic and performance models and brands are not only proliferating, they’re virtually flying out the doors of dealership showrooms. Why … even the likes of Porsche, Jaguar, Bentley and now Maserati have a crossover.  Even Rolls-Royce has one on the way. 

At last count — and this figure changes monthly — there are now more than 140 different CUV  models on the American market alone, and others in Asia and Europe that aren’t even offered here.

Vehicle registration data for 2017 showed that crossover vehicles now comprises 27 percent of the total auto market in the U.S. — and is growing daily.  This is highly significant, considering the fact the CUV vehicle segment was virtually non-existent 20 years ago.  As a consequence, OEMs are adjusting future product plans to meet this ongoing trend. That includes Lexus, which got the whole party started.

Lexus expanded its CUV fleet four years ago by introducing its NX model — NX being an abbreviation for “nimble crossover.”  The luxury brand’s smallest CUV is also one of its most popular, making the 2018 Lexus NX 300 a resounding sales success.

The NX200t has been renamed the NX 300 and given a mild mid-cycle freshening this year, but all the design elements from the original model are still in place, including the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, plus an economical electric/gas hybrid model.

The powertrain is Toyota’s newly developed 8AR-FTS four-banger with direct injection engine, that can run on both Otto and Atkinson cycles. The engine produces 235 hp @ 4,800 rpm and 258 lb-ft at 1,650 rpm. It comes mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission. The NX is the first Lexus vehicle to feature a turbocharged gas engine in the U.S. market.

The Lexus NX 300h hybrid comes powered by a 2.5-liter inline-four 2AR-FXE engine mated to an electric motor and CVT that puts out a combined 194 hp (145 kW) and is shared with the hybrid version of the 2018 Toyota Camry.

We had the opportunity to test drive both vehicles in recent weeks. In addition to a change in model nomenclature, new for 2018 are several upgraded equipment options, including a foot-activated rear liftgate, 10.3-inch center dash display and adaptive dampers. Also, the Lexus Safety System + (forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and auto high beams) now comes as standard equipment.

While these CUVs share their platform with Toyota cousin, the humble RAV4, the two have very little in common.  They share the same structure and wheelbase, but the exterior and interior styling, suspension parts, some engine components, luxury levels and craftsmanship are all unique to the Lexus.

The 2018  NX 300 collects the most desirable luxury features from  the Lexus parts bins and stuffs them into a compact-luxury crossover that’s very efficient and really fun to drive — especially the F Sport version that served as our test unit. But for the economy-minded tree huggers, Lexus provides the NX 300h hybrid, which gets 31-mpg combined fuel-economy placing it at the top of its class.

The NX makes a bold visual statement, touting Lexus’ somewhat polarizing pinched spindle grille design (rural folks prefer the term “cow catcher"), the NX offers a genuine tech-lovers dash and instrument panel, luxurious seating options and a roomy rear seating area. 

Competitors like the Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA 250 cost a bit less, but neither offers the option of a hybrid model. 


Certain people prefer vehicles design that’s simple and subtle, while others want whatever they drive to make a statement. The 2018 NX 300 is anything but subtle, and its aggressive grille gets even more pronounced this year. Whether you like it or not, it certainly won’t be mistaken for one of the NX’s more generic-looking competitors. For those seeking a upscale vehicle with a bit more conservative styling, they might check out the Buick Envision, Audi Q3 or new Jaguar E-Pace.

Once upon a time, Lexus models were so understated they were downright boring. That’s clearly not the case now. From its large gaping grille, to the highly detailed LED lightings, to the 3-dimensional sculpting of the taillights, the 2018 Lexus NX 300 takes Lexus styling and almost turns it into an origami exercise. Some of the folds and shapes seem a bit crazy and not very functional. While the styling makes a statement, it doesn't always work.  Overall it's nicely executed, and bears a family resemblance to the ever-popular RX model. For those looking to stand out from the crowd, the NX offers a welcome break from previous humdrum Lexus designs.


It's no surprise that Lexus has attempted to pair an aggressive, cutting-edge exterior with a matching cutting-edge interior. And we do mean EDGE, as the crossover’s center stack and cabin features multiple levels, cutlines, materials and finishes which some drivers might find off-putting, perhaps even distracting.

The design of the dash is interesting, if a bit busy, and the control panel cascades down to a wide center console with the infotainment display sprouting from the top. Edgy design choices aside, there's no mistaking the vehicle’s overall quality. From the stitched material on the dash to the many soft and padded surfaces, the Lexus NX exudes the sophistication of a higher class of vehicle than what you're actually driving.

Speaking of sophistication, this new Lexus is loaded up with the kinds of safety system bells, whistles, and cameras – that should make tekkies grin with glee. The ABS brakes also feature Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and brake assist and smart stop technology.  It’s ll tied into the Lexus Safety System, which includes a pre-collision alert system with pedestrian detection capability. Lane Departure Alert and steering assist are also included, as is a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

The NX 300 also comes with the Lexus 8-speaker audio system and SiriuxXM radio with real-time traffic and weather information. Updates for 2018 include a larger touchpad infotainment controller, updated infotainment screens (8.0-inch is standard; a 10.3-inch display is optional), a new GPS-based dash clock, and metallic accents on the window switches.

Our F Sport model was decked out in an Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint scheme, and provided the following features: a sport-tuned suspension with a 3-mode dial to adjust the settings — a technology that was pioneered on Lexus’s LC500 performance coupe, NuLuxe sport seats, perforated leather trim, heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, premium LED daytime running lights, front fog lamps, F Sport door scuff plate, Active Sound Control and larger 18-inch wheels and tires. 

Upscale materials are used throughout the cabin. Soft-touch plastics and artificial leather cover large portions of the dash and door panels. Plastic panels on the bottom portions of the cabin use a consistent leather-grain pattern that does a good job of disguising their low-rent status.

The thick-rimmed steering wheel comes with a spongy leather wrap, which had perforated sections in our NX300 F Sport test car. The gauges are rendered in black with backlit white numbers, so the dials are easy to read at a glance. Despite the high-tech styling, Lexus has refrained from complicating the central display.

A tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel is standard, and it can be power operated in the optional Comfort package. The driving position is great, and most controls are within easy reach, but the infuriating infotainment touchpad knocks ease of use down a few pegs — it’s difficult to operate when you’re on the move.

Large exterior mirrors are controlled by a simple directional pad on the door panel. Two-zone automatic climate control is standard. Lexus has mercifully created redundant buttons for the temperature settings that run the width of the dashboard control panel, rather than requiring the use of the infotainment system’s touchpad.

Option packages extend well beyond just all-wheel drive or a hybrid powertrain in the NX 300h. A Navigation Package includes the Lexus Enform system, which adds Bing, Yelp, iHeartRadio and other apps, including maintenance reminders. The Remote Touch Interface uses a touch-pad controller that's slightly less fiddly than the mouse-like shuttle in other Lexus vehicles. The Leather package includes the Comfort and Premium packages, which add driver's-seat memory, and heated and ventilated front seats.

The sporty set will like the aluminum pedals and sport-tuned suspension that come with the F Sport. While the improved touch-pad interface for the Remote Touch is clever, but still not as intuitive as a touch-screen or knob-based systems.


The standard engine in the 2018 Lexus NX 300 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, delivering 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. If you measure performance by the infrequency of your visits to the gas pump, the NX 300h hybrid may be more your speed, with its combination of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and an electric motor which put out 194 horsepower.

The larger displacement engine is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but with a twist: Floor the throttle, and it activates a kick-down switch, immediately giving you full power. The NX 300 is available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (FWD, AWD), while the hybrid is offered only in AWD. Note that the turbo requires premium fuel, while the hybrid is happy with regular unleaded. Official EPA city/highway mileage for the turbocharged 4-cylinder sits at 22/28 mpg – and a slighter lower 22/27 mpg for the F Sport. By comparison, the NX 300h delivers slightly higher city/highway numbers of 33/30 mpg.


Many automakers tempt buyers by offering vehicles with sporty good looks only to disappoint with a powertrain that don’t live up to expectations promised by the visual cues. Thankfully, this description doesn’t apply to the 2018 Lexus NX 300. The NX’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is fun-loving and eager to plea
se, delivering its power in a smooth, linear fashion that makes this little Lexus CUV feel like a much lighter, more nimble vehicle. As noted earlier, the available adaptive suspension is a modified version of the system used in the LC 500coupe, and is especially nimble when piloting the F Sport version in both city traffic and twisty country roads. 

The performance-oriented set-up helps improve cornering and stability, and in the process puts this little Lexus in the same league as its German rivals. When switched to Sport+ mode, the throttle response is immediate, and gratifying.  Less thrilling but every bit as reliable is the NX 300h hybrid. With a less powerful drivetrain and the added weight of standard all-wheel drive, the NX 300h can’t quite keep pace with its gasoline-only counterpart, but its excellent mileage and equally impressive ride and handling are definitely something to consider.

Both the F Sport and hybrid versions featured Dynamic Torque Control, all-wheel drive. The hybrid powertrain, which uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) rather than a conventional six-speed automatic, provides linear if not head-snapping responses.While the NX isn’t as fun on a twisty road as the BMW X1 or the Mercedes-Benz GLA250, its light steering makes it easy to pilot around town. Its center of gravity is higher than in either of those competitors, proving a sense of security and excellent forward visibility on most driving situations. However, it feels a bit top-heavy under aggressive cornering.


Our NX300h test model came with a base MSRP of $39,775.  Among the host of options on the hybrid version was the $4,545 Luxury package that now includes auto-dimming side-view mirrors with reverse tilt and memory settings. A power rear liftgate with a foot-activated sensor is now a stand-alone option. Other major options included the Navigation Package for $1,818, LED headlamp package with auto high-beam for $1,160 and Speed control with pre-collision system for $900.  The bottom line reads $51,683.

The base MSRP on a front-wheel-drive 2018 Lexus NX 300 starts at about $37,000 when you include the $975 destination charge. If you want all-wheel drive, bring an extra $1,400.Base price on our NX 300 F Sport is $42,640 , but the list of standard equipment already included is greater, so the bottom line price is a bit lower, at $46,085  Note that the NX is priced higher than competitors like the Audi Q3, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1, all of which start closer to $31,000; it's even about $1,000 higher than the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, but $2,500 less than the new Jaguar E-Pace. However, if history is any indication, the Lexus NX clearly has resale value advantage over all of its rivals except perhaps the Mercedes-Benz GLA.


While most Lexus models derive power without the aid of a turbo, Toyota’s engineers aren’t novices when it comes to dialing in excellent performance from turbo engines.  And they certainly bolstered their reputation with the NX 300’s 2.0-liter turbo. Advanced engineering concepts on the motor abound, given the fact it includes such features as an exhaust manifold-mounted turbo, has no noticeable turbo lag, excellent responsiveness and good fuel economy.

The compact 2018 NX 300 luxury-crossover CUV is fully equipped with a host of performance, safety and technology features as we’ve come to expect with vehicles wearing the Lexus badge. And just to prove it could be done, exceeded expectations by include as the standard the Lexus Display Audio with its 7-inch screen, voice recognition and the ability to divide the screen into three sections.

Also standard is the company’s driver assist, which include forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Of the two vehicles we tested, our clear preference is for the NX 300 F Sport. It’s enjoys showing off its handling prowess and almost begs you to go faster, every time you slide behind the wheel.

The NX300h’s hybrid powertrain impresses with its smoothness and efficiency, but it reduces performance, focusing on being a polite and sensitive. In either guise, the Lexus NX 300 provides its occupants with outstanding comfort and practicality. 

If you’re not put off by the in-your-face styling, it’s not likely to disappoint.