Lexus NX 300h
Next Big Thing From California?
By Ron Amadon
FROSTBURG, MD. – The evening news showed pictures of the extremely high gas prices in California, with some stations exceeding $5 a gallon. YIPE!
Why are prices at least $4 a gallon in many stations? It depends on who you ask. But that does set the stage for a compact crossover with luxury touches that uses up to three electric motors and a smallish four cylinder to deliver better than 30 mpg on cheaper regular unleaded.
So before you can mutter, “Who was that masked man,” we will tell you it is the Lexus NX 300h.
Lexus entry into the hot, hot compact crossover market shares a platform but very little else with Toyota’s RAV4. It checks in at 182.3 inches long or 2.3 inches longer than the RAV and it is basically the same width and height.
Power comes from a 2.5-liter in-line four with Atkinson cycle producing 154 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm and 152 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. It operates on 87 octane fuel.
Add in the three electric motors in the tested All-Wheel Drive model, and total system power bumps up to 194 horsepower. An electric motor drives the rear axle when required while the front axle is driven by gasoline or electric power, or a mixture of both and AWD is only called on to perform when needed.
While gas mileage is a class leader, performance is not. Lexus lists a 9.1 seconds 0-60 and when merging onto an interstate that felt about right with the CVT pushing up the revs and producing much noise and little in the way of forward progress. Once at cruising speed it is quiet inside the cabin, but you will hear a little wind noise at higher speeds.
A center console knob allows the driver to change operating mode to Eco, (which numbs things down still further performance wise), Normal, or Sport to extract all the power there is. Lexus said it adjusts parameters for multiple systems including throttle response and power steering assist. The NX did feel more responsive in the Sport mode, but it also begged the question of why not just pop for the turbo.
To wit, a 2.0-liter turbo four good for 235 horsepower and that is the model that I would recommend unless you are hell bent for extracting the maximum amount of fumes one can get out of a gallon of petrol.
EPA mileage for the hybrid is 33/30/32 and 32 is where I came in. Fuel economy refused to fall below 31 mpg even when deep stabs of the go pedal were need on steep Western Maryland grades on interstates, and even steeper hilltops on secondary roads.
Inside, owners are treated to first class fit and finish and feedback that says this is a solidly built vehicle. Drivers get a 10-way adjustable chair with 2-way lumbar with front passengers settling into an 8-way power seat.
Two adults will find ample room in the second row. But the driver will discover large blind spots to the right and left rear due to the styling. So the Blind Spot Monitor that lighted a warning in the outside rear view mirrors when necessary was a very welcome addition.
Cargo space is lacking even with the second row seats folded down – among the lowest in its class at 16.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53.7 with them folded down.
Missing from the center console was the joystick featured in many Lexus models. It was replaced by a touchpad known as the Remote Touch Interface that took some getting used to and was a distraction once underway.
It acts in concert with a high resolution seven inch screen that looks like the one that pops up in Audis only it doesn’t pop up. The optional navi upgrade offers ETA calculation, traffic information and low fuel coordination. This one worked just fine giving me gas station information before the NX had to run on promises.
The navi system gives you the choice of 3D and bird’s eye map views with 3D building views. That bird’s eye view was a hoot.
Lexus’ Enform App Suite brings you to the free voice enabled apps which allow one to search the net through Bing to make restaurant reservations, get movie tickets, and listen to internet radio, among other items. Will Bing offer Crosby’s “White Christmas” when the season rolls around? Just asking.
Hidden in the center console arm rest bin was a black box. This wasn’t Big Brother spying on us, but a wireless charging device. Lexus said a portable device can be charged by placing “Qi standard wireless charge compatible portable devices according to the Wireless Power Consortium” on the tray … that sounds to me to be something that comes under the purview of John Kerry.
And prepare to do some reading with the 395 page “Navigation System Owner’s Manual” and a 680 page “Owner’s Manual.”
A $2,140 Navigation Package along with an excellent 10 speaker premium sound package and a $1,100 power tilt and slide moonroof were the most expensive of the many options on the test vehicle that totaled $9,168. With delivery, that brought the MSRP to $48,453 on the test unit.
In sum, the NX 300h brings excellent fuel economy, a comfortable ride, and, when extensively optioned, a ton of toys along for the trip.
Four and five dollar a gallon gas is scary stuff for many and enough to make one seriously consider this one of its kind small hybrid crossover. Until or unless this latest California trend moves nationwide, I would recommend checking the turbo box on the order sheet.