A Singular Hybrid | 2016 Lexus NX 300h

October 2016 View more

NMAG01016_ForTheRoad_2015_Lexus_NX_300h_004_20140706225603117_800pxIt was just a few years ago at the glitzy Geneva Auto Show that Lexus announced it would be bringing a version of its spaceship-styled small crossover concept vehicle to showrooms. Building on the long-running popularity of the Lexus RX crossover—and recognizing that many buyers might be interested in something a bit more compact—the company introduced the NX. The front- and all-wheel-drive options were predictable. So, too, was the hybrid version; gas-electric models are popping up across the automotive landscape as manufacturers chase better fuel economy for their fleets.

But it turns out that the all-wheel drive NX 300h is the only small, luxury-class, all-wheel-drive hybrid crossover you can buy. Score one for uniqueness and for the ever-shrinking segments that are defining our automotive shopping.

NMAG01016_ForTheRoad_2015_Lexus_NX_300h_006_20140706225603242_800pxThe five-seat NX 300h defines itself with sharp styling but soft handling. For all its sheet metal creases, all its angled lights and its bold Lexus grille, the NX 300h is tuned for comfort. Steering takes extremely little effort, the independent suspension does its best to absorb the indignities of potholes and speed bumps, and acceleration is on the leisurely side.

Lexus says that the NX 300h with either front- or all-wheel drive will get to 60 miles per hour in 9.1 seconds. By comparison, the gas-only NX 200t with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive does the deed in a much more competitive 7 seconds flat. Some buyers will notice, and care, about those two seconds, others will not. Most drivers will, however, note the hybrid’s slower acceleration from a rolling start, like when you want to juke into the center lane so you can get past a Pace bus.

NMAG01016_ForTheRoad_2015_Lexus_NX_300h_013_20140706225603663_800pxAs with other hybrid vehicles, the NX 300h posts bigger fuel economy numbers in city driving where the regenerative braking system can capture more energy. Lexus claims the all-wheel-drive NX 300h will return 33 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway, the front-wheel-drive version, which is a few hundred pounds lighter, is rated at 35/31. An EV mode lets you drive, briefly and slowly, on just electric power.

Both hybrid models compare well in city driving against the NX 200t, which Lexus says will deliver 22 miles per gallon with either front- or all-wheel drive. On the highway, where the gas-only model gets 28 miles per gallon, the difference is much smaller.

Inside, the NX 300h feels sporty and well-crafted, with comfortable seats and a pleasingly weighted shift knob. The center stack is a veritable cascade of controls and information, starting with the large display screen mounted vertically at the top of the console. At night, all these backlit controls do a convincing approximation of an airplane cockpit—a complex visual reminder of all the options you have at your command.

Moving down the stack, you’ll find dual-zone climate controls and buttons for heated and cooled seats. Lurking under an overhang halfway down are the stereo controls, and beneath that the driving functions that include a button for EV mode, a knob for selecting eco, normal, or sport modes. Tying many of the functions together is a “remote touchpad” that lets you control many features with fingertip gestures just like on your smartphone.

The all-wheel-drive 2016 Lexus NX 300h is the top of the NX model line, starting at $41,310. A front-wheel-drive model shaves that price down to $39,720. By comparison, the gas-only NX 200t starts at $34,965 front-wheel drive or $36,365 all-wheel-drive.