Expressive design melds with comfortable accommodations in the Lexus NX compact luxury crossover. Introduced for the 2015 model year, NX is the smallest member of the Lexus crossover family.
All 2018 Lexus NX models received a mild facelift. The spindle grille has been modified, and front/rear lights redesigned. The Lexus Safety System Plus package is now standard, and the contents of Comfort and Luxury option packages have been revised.
For the 2018 model year, Lexus has renamed the model previously known as NX 200t to NX 300.
The 2018 Lexus NX comes in three versions, with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive: NX 300, NX 300 F Sport, and NX 300h hybrid.
The NX 300 uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 235 horsepower. Its 6-speed automatic transmission mates with either front-drive or all-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is standard on the NX 300h hybrid. A specially tuned 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine works with twin motor-generators. Combined output from Toyota’s hybrid drive system is 194 horsepower. The hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
An electric-only mode is included in the NX300h, along with the usual Normal, Sport, and Eco choices. Acceleration to 60 mph with the hybrid takes a leisurely 9.1 seconds.
Launching the NX gave Lexus a new design language, led by an exaggerated, oversize grille and extroverted body details. More recently, other small crossovers have adopted comparable styling themes, so the NX has lost some shock value since its 2015 debut. Similar in overall length to likely competitors, the NX rides a wheelbase that’s up to 9 inches shorter.
Crash-test results have been good, but not perfect. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2017 NX a Top Safety Pick Plus designation. All tests earned Good ratings. Frontal crash protection was rated Acceptable, but only if equipped with a specific option package.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2018 NX five stars overall and for side-impact, but only four stars in the frontal-crash test.
Lexus has made more safety technology standard for 2018, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams. Like some rivals, visibility is somewhat impaired by thick rear pillars.
NX 300 F Sport ($38,375) gets visual enhancements including a black mesh grille, tuned suspension, and tunable noise-enhancement. Expanded instrumentation includes a G-Force meter. All-wheel drive comes on the NX 300 F Sport AWD ($39,775).
Options include a new power tailgate with a kick sensor, 18-inch wheels, and navigation with a new 10.3-inch touchscreen. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)
NX 300h AWD ($38,335) has the hybrid powertrain with 2.5-liter engine, all-wheel drive, power-folding mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, power front seats, 8-speaker audio, dual-zone climate control, Scout GPS Link, and 8.0-inch screen.
One of the most extroverted-looking crossovers, the NX was quite startling when it emerged for 2015. Beneath the jarring surface, the NX is essentially a twin-box utility wagon like many others.
Above the dramatically protruding, hourglass-shaped grille, L-shaped LED running lights join swept-back headlights. The hybrid-model grille has a milder pattern of horizontal bars.
Bodysides flaunt sharp creases and pointy shapes. Deep door indentations make the sills look asymmetrical. F Sport versions feature a black grille, black mirrors, and other sporty-look details, along with 18-inch wheels.
Large round instruments sit on a wide, angled dashboard, above a protruding console. Lexus uses rotary switches for ventilation control.
Despite a comparatively short wheelbase, legroom and headroom are satisfying. Front seats are spacious, supportive and comfortable, readily adjustable in several directions. Seating positions are slightly lower than in some competitive vehicles.
Luxurious upholstery continues into the rear seats, but they’re less supportive. Back-seat cushions also are somewhat flat. Because of sharply-angled roof pillars, rear occupants may have to lean forward to get the best views. F Sport seats have more substantial side bolsters, as well as generous head clearance.
Cargo volume is good, totaling 17.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat. With that seat folded down, volume grows to only 54.6 cubic feet, near the smallest in the category. Numerous trays, a console bin, and large glovebox provide ample storage capacity.
Lexus’s infotainment system can be tricky, requiring movement of a finger across a console touchpad. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do not exist.
Roadholding and carlike handling capabilities are satisfying. Body roll is minimal, but not wholly absent. An NX is exceptionally quiet on most roads, but road sounds may intrude.
Performance from the 2.0-liter turbo qualifies as mildly sporty, but around average for the compact crossover class. Furthermore, the turbo four isn’t as pleasurable or smooth-running as expected. To keep fuel-economy high, the engine switches periodically to more efficient Atkinson-cycle operation. Coupled with some turbo lag, that system can delay power delivery, resulting in uneven operation.
Hybrid models are less sporty than their gasoline-only counterparts, but the gas/electric powertrain is better balanced and smoother. A kickdown switch maximizes power when pushing the pedal to the floor. Engine howl is nicely restrained.
Below 25 mph, the hybrid can run up to 0.6 mile on battery power. Eco mode in the regular NX constricts performance, except on flat roads.
F Sport engine output is identical to that of the regular NX 300, but the suspension has sportier tuning. Sport mode sharpens acceleration and keeps engine speed higher than usual. Road noise and a harsher ride are the penalties for picking an F Sport.
Fuel economy ranks around average. With front-drive, the turbo-engine model has been EPA-rated at only 22/28 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive loses 1 mpg in the combined figure. The 2017 NX 300h was EPA-rated at 33/30 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined.
Well-equipped for its price, the NX 300 isn’t the strongest performer in the compact crossover category, but few cars stand as far apart from the pack in styling. Not everyone falls for its front-end bulk or bodyside exaggerations, but newly standard safety features and roadgoing qualities enhance its appeal. F Sport models ride rougher, while the hybrid excels in gas mileage, without adding too much to the base price.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.