Lexus doesn’t have the long history of Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac or BMW but over the years it has succeeded in pushing innovation and change within the luxury segment, which for most of the auto industry’s history was built around expensive sedans.
However, as the prices of new vehicles have climbed and what was once considered luxury equipment winds up in more and more cars, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks, brands such as Lexus are being forced to reconsider what defines luxury.
The 2018 Lexus NX 300h certainly doesn’t look like a traditional luxury vehicle, inside or out. But it has plenty of the attributes long connected to luxury vehicles such as a quiet cabin, comfortable interior and a smooth ride powered by some of the latest and most sophisticated technology.
Toyota, Lexus’ corporate master, has been working on the hybrid powertrain for the better part of three decades in keeping with the company’s philosophy of continuous improvement. The result of the long and arduous effort is a powertrain that is powerful and efficient.
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It delivers 31 miles per gallon on the highway and 33 mpg in the city for a combined rating of 31 mpg, which is very impressive in the compact SUV segment where fuel economy is a selling point for many of the buyers.
The NX 300h’s powertrain utilizes the output from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a small high-torque electric motor with a continuously variable transmission. Both the gas and the electric motor provide power to the system, which is capable of producing 194 horsepower.
The NX 300h also is equipped with regenerative braking that recharges the electric motor using a generator that captures the kinetic energy of the wheels as the brakes are applied and stores it in the nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery pack, providing some extra range in EV-only mode.
In EV mode, under certain conditions, the NX 300h can run solely on the electric motor a little less than a mile at less than 25 miles per hour, which, for a for a substantial number of commuters, is actually enough to cover the distance on city streets from the freeway to their parking space.
To help plot the EV-mode travel, the Lexus NX 300h is equipped with Indicator to coach the driver to operate the vehicle as economically as possible and even maximize its electric range.
For 2018, the NX 300h offers the Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel-Drive System. Instead of transfer gears and a driveshaft to the rear wheels, the system employs a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed to help maintain optimal traction.
Overall, the driving characteristics of the NX 300h are nicely blended, making the inner workings of the hybrid powertrain virtually invisible to the driver or passengers. Not only have the Lexus engineers eliminated the clunky noises and shifts that have been one of the hallmarks of the hybrid powertrain over the years, the power from the two motors is available quickly.
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The nimble response means the NX 300h can easily maneuver around other vehicles on the freeway. In addition, Lexus has reworked the suspension, which gives the vehicle a better grip on the road through curves generally while maintaining a level ride. The power steering is crisp, offering the driver ample feedback while the regenerative braking package insures that NX 300h has plenty of stopping power.
I liked the interior of the NX 300h because it was laid out cleanly — it was very functional without a lot of extra knobs or buttons or gauges. The one drawback, I suspect, there are some motorists who will find it rather spare since Lexus, while furnishing the cabin tastefully, hasn’t used lavish materials for touch points.
However, the cabin is quite spacious for what is a relatively small vehicle.
The exterior of the Lexus NX 300h is also clean and contemporary. The front fascia and grille have been softened a bit to make the face more appealing and while the NX 300h’s 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, an 18-inch alloy wheel all-season tires were given a new darker finish for a more depth out on the road.
The Lexus NX 300h is also packed with safety features and other technology.
The Lexus Safety System with its driver assistance features such as forward collision warning, blind-spot detection and lane keeping assist is standard on the NX 300h and there is also an 8-inch multimedia screen in the center screen and separate screen in the instrument cluster to track vehicle systems and a backup camera. The NX 300h also is equipped with eight airbags, including full-length side curtain airbags as well as seats designed to lessen whiplash injuries.
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However, I have to assume that customers purchasing or leasing a new vehicle, carrying a price tag of almost $49,000, have come to expect plenty of features. Fortunately, the Lexus NX300h deliver them in a compact package.