The crossover market is, to quote Bernie Sanders, huge, wiith more and more families flocking to this segment.
Naturally, the luxury class is making all sorts of attempts to capture this market and Lexus has put forth a revised NX model as a mid-cycle refresh. Now rebadged as the 2018 Lexus NX 300 F-Sport AWD, the vehicle formerly known as the NX 200t, has received some minor design cues on the outside that give it away.
Based off the Toyota RAV4 structure and wheelbase, our tester NX 300 with F-Sport Package actually feels smaller than the aforementioned basis of design thanks to sharper angles and more aggressive body flow. The staple of the Lexus brand, the front spindle grille, is there although a little more toned down than the original. For most part, the vehicle looks fairly elegant yet seemingly sporty, but the wheel arches are a bit of a sore sight. Surrounded with black plastic wheel well covers, the 18” F-Sport wheels almost look diminutive. Aside from this snafu, the rest of the vehicle continues Lexus’ winning design from the RX 350 (reviewed here).
Hopping into the vehicle reveals a potentially polarizing ergonomics decision: there are good-old buttons and wheels everywhere. Going against the flow of almost all other manufacturers, Lexus has given us physical buttons to activate whatever feature you need. To some, this design may overwhelm (and it did for me initially) and might be considered too busy. But like all things Japanese, the beauty lies in the functionality and how everything is on hand when you need it.
No fancy swiping through the front-center dash mounted 10.3” display screen. If you want you heated seats, you press a button. Want to warm up the driver’s side temperature? Push up on a scroll wheel. Want to dial up the sportiness of the car? Turn a knob just to the left of the shifter, a sensibly placed one at that. The only thing I have to complain about is the rather cheap-looking analog clock located at the center of the dash – why plastic arms? A brush of silver to match the interior would have been a nice complement.
With all these physical input devices, this makes the interior cabin rather snug as the buttons all occupy real space and chip away at the interior room. That being said though, the driving and seating position is quite good and the F-Sport’s eight-way power adjustable heated and ventilated seats will lock in the proper seating position for pretty much anyone. The dash is laid out so that the steering wheel will not block vision of the tachometer or speedometer unlike some other vehicles.
Outward visibility is rather good but with a slight impairment to the shoulder check due to a thick B-pillar, but this NX 300 was equipped with the blind spot monitoring system as well as a host of passive and active safety systems like rear cross traffic alert, clearance and backup sensors, dynamic radar cruise control and lane departure with steering assist.
The Lexus touch interface with haptic feedback continues in the NX 300, and while it works when you are at a stop, it’s difficult to acquire the precision and accuracy to make quick adjustments while driving. I would compare it to using a touchpad on a laptop. If you were sitting still and had to use it, it feels natural and works. On the other hand, if your hands were preoccupied elsewhere and you had to reach over, not only do you have locate where you are on the pad (without looking at it) and where that translates to the cursor on the screen.
Aside from navigation, the display screen is fairly unused short of the rear and front view cameras. The instrument cluster is easy to view without taking your eyes off the road, and the semi configurable heads up displaying showing speed, tachometer and instantaneous fuel economy make the ergonomics of piloting the vehicle quite simple and straightforward.
While the NX is no sports car, the proclaimed “Sport-Tuned Suspension” with Variable Front Suspension and Adaptive Variable Rear Suspension combine for a deceptively enjoyable drive when it comes to the twisty roads. The chassis seems to be a capable dance partner with the wheels and suspension, which can lead to some fun moments during on-ramps and any switchbacks. That said, the Lexus has a tendency to lean towards understeer and the all-wheel-drive drivetrain will behave like a front-drive vehicle when driven anywhere close to the limit.
Equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine (why Lexus chose the 300 moniker is beyond me) and paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, the NX is capable of getting to speed quite competently utilizing all 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. The lack of an eight-speed gearbox is an omission considering rivals like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 (reviewed here) all have more than six gears. From a fuel efficiency standpoint, the car is rated for 10.6, 8.5, and 9.7L/100km (city/highway/combined), and throughout our test, I managed to get 10L/100km in wintery conditions on premium fuel.
At a base MSRP of $44,050, the Lexus NX 300 goes up against fellow luxury crossovers such as the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 (reviewed here), and the BMW X3. Like all luxury brands though, pricing is an apples to oranges comparison when it comes to options. The F-Sport package our tester came with costs a whopping $12,625, which brings the final total MSRP up to $59,371. Base for base, the NX 300 makes for a compelling argument against its German rivals, and even with this package, it’s still right in line with the others.
All of that being said, our time with the 2018 Lexus NX 300 F-Sport AWD was surprisingly pleasant, and this is definitely a vehicle I would consider as a good option for the young professional with a plus one coming down the road in the family. The sensibility of having buttons, and the fun-yet-responsible character can make for a good family-mobile and the 500L cargo capacity offers just enough space for a stroller and groceries. It isn’t the ace of all trades but a good argument can be had that it can be the master of your family’s vehicular needs.