Test Drive: 2017 Lexus NX 300h

Given the direction of today’s market, it’s no surprise that you can spot the Lexus NX quite frequently these days in my neck of the woods.

Much about the way the 300h handles is exactly what the people shopping for this car are looking for: smooth, steady, and predictable.

After all, I live in the middle of a big city, and this car might just be to urbanites what Baby Bear’s belongings are to Goldilocks.

It’s small enough to park easily, but not so small that you can’t get a week’s worth of groceries into the trunk. It sports a badge that says, “I have money, but not so much money that I need to wave it in your face.” It’s stylish and catches the eye as it goes by, but not in an ostentatious sort of way. And in the entire luxury compact SUV segment, it’s the only one that’s available as a hybrid – a key eco-cred addition for city-dwelling parents.

By many accounts, the 2017 Lexus NX 300h is a “just right” fit for what its buyers want their car to say about them.

On the downside, though, while the pricing on the conventional-engine 200t model can be considered entry level for breaking into the luxury space, the cost to secure the hybrid version is a little too high to fall into that bracket. And in the realm of connectivity – a primary consideration for nearly all of this car’s main customers – Lexus is lagging behind its competitors.

Does that mean you should scratch it off your shopping list? Not necessarily.

Powertrain

Unlike the 200t model, which is turbocharged, the base for the 300h model is a 2.5L four-cylinder naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle petrol engine paired with a hybrid drive system. Combined, this produces a peak output of 194 hp. Peak torque from the petrol engine is 152 lb-ft from 4,400 to 4,900 rpm; electric drive torque figures aren’t provided. The transmission, by default, is a CVT.

Yes, these numbers are a fair bit lower than segment competitors. In city driving, it didn’t really come across, though – the torque off the line provided by the hybrid system gives this a peppier throttle response than the official numbers suggest. The only time I really felt hung out to dry was under hard acceleration at higher speed, such as in highway overtakes, where the petrol engine’s lower torque became more apparent.

However, the trade-off comes in fuel economy: the NRCan figures put the NX 300h at 7.5 L/100 km combined. I averaged 7.9 over the week that I had it, but I wasn’t especially kind. I happily ran things like the infotainment system, wireless phone charger, and heated seats at full tilt without much thought, and the biggest chunk by far of my driving was a straight highway run to Montreal and back – the sort of drive where hybrids tend not to excel. It also comes with an EV mode button that allows you to force electric-only driving, which I could have used more effectively given greater opportunities for city driving. Overall, I was very pleased with what the NX delivered.

Design

The NX might have the most polarizing styling out there. For my part, I think it’s gorgeous. I find that the jewelled headlights and angular accents give it a modern look, and that those themes continue into the interior in a way that I would be happy to show off to my friends. Since most of the people I see driving these seem to be roughly within my demographic, though – late 30s to early 40s with a small, urban family – this may only appeal to that segment of the population. Some of the older people in my field who I’ve spoken to about this car think it’s hideous, so it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, to borrow a favourite axiom about wine: the best-looking car in the world is the one you like the most.

Drive Experience

Much about the way the 300h handles is exactly what the people shopping for this car are looking for: smooth, steady, and predictable.

The seats feel well-made and are exceptionally comfortable, and I found that the seating position mostly worked well for me – I only wished it had a little more customizability in the hip support.

Visibility is somewhat of an issue. Shoulder checks aren’t strictly necessary for those who set their side mirrors properly, but people who still prefer this habit will find that the NX’s side styling makes its shoulders higher than average, which in turns means that the side windows are smaller than some drivers might be used to.

Connectivity

This is the one area where Lexus offers a less appealing proposition than its competition. Toyota is working on its own smartphone apps, which means that neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto functionality is available. On top of that, the infotainment system’s touchpad interface is fiddly and at times difficult to control while the car is in motion. Once you settle on a screen, though – the radio, for example, or navigation – most functions can be completed with the buttons, which are laid out well and are easier to negotiate. The available Qi wireless charging pad is a nice touch.

Safety

The Lexus Safety System + suite of features is available for the NX 300h, which includes lane-departure alert with steering assist, pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high-beams. However, it’s only available as an option as part of the Executive package. That said, though at $6,650 this suite is a pricey add-on, it’s got a lot of features that shoppers in this segment will be seeking out such as leather seating, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, the aforementioned wireless charging pad, and other options.

The Verdict

If what you’re looking for is a luxury compact SUV at a reasonable price point, the NX could very well be the car for you. On a tighter budget, though, you’ll want to shop the 200t turbocharged model. If you have a little more to spend – or maybe even a lot more to spend, but eco-consciousness is important to you and you don’t have a desire to spend more than you need to – the 300h is a unique option in its segment that just might be the perfect fit.

2017 Lexus NX 300h
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 194 hp
Peak Torque: 152 lb-ft @ 4,400–4,900 rpm
Fuel Economy: 7.2/7.9/7.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 475 L/1,520 L rear seats folded
2017 Lexus NX 300h
Base Price $54,150
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $62,945
Optional Equipment $6,650 – Executive Package (blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, clearance and backup sensors, rain-sensing wipers, premium LED auto-levelling headlamp system, leather seating, premium wood grain trim, head-up display, unique 18" alloy wheels, wireless charging system for personal electronics, Lexus Safety System + (lane-departure alert with steering assist, pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high-beams)) $6,650
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value