In 2005, Lexus became the first luxury carmaker to deliver a hybrid to market. The RX 400h was an all-wheel drive 3.3-liter V6 with a pair of electric motors, one for each set of wheels. Lexus had the luxury hybrid market to itself for several years, so if you wanted a luxury ride with a side of green, it was the only game in town.
At the cusp of the 2019 model year, however, there are now plenty of options to choose from—including some promising EVs from the likes of Jaguar and Audi. But Lexus—the second-most-popular luxury badge in the US—is still in the game, with five models at different price points.
Starting at $38,535, the NX 300h sits at the low end of the luxury-SUV price spectrum. Marketed by Lexus as a compact SUV, the NX 300h measures 182.3″ (4,632cm), which is just a couple of inches shorter than an Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or BMW X3. The NX 300h got a makeover at the beginning of 2018, adding a larger infotainment display, enhanced safety features, modest design tweaks, and a larger touchpad on the center console. While the NX 300 (formerly the NX200t) has a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the NX 300h has a larger 2.5-liter inline four coupled with a pair of electric motors that charge via the internal combustion engine and regenerative braking. Combined, the hybrid power plant is capable of 194hp (144.7kW) and 152lb-ft (206.1Nm) of torque. It’s no speed demon, getting you from zero to 60mph in 9.1 seconds.
The NX 300h has full-time all-wheel drive, with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. It weighs in at a hefty 4,180lb (1,896kg), about 200 pounds (91kg) more than the non-hybrid version.
While the base price of just under $39,000 is reasonable, getting the specs comparable to the competition will require you to dig deeper into your wallet. The model we drove included a $4,705 luxury package, which added 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and other niceties. Throw in $1,800 for a navigation package that includes “premium” sound, another $500 for a power liftgate with kick sensor, and a couple of other miscellaneous bits, and our model came in at $47,158. That’s a few grand shy of a comparably specced Q5.
Better a trackpad than a mouse
Do you like cladding and angular design? Lexus sure does. The NX 300h is loaded with angles and edges, with sinister-looking headlights and taillights. It also sports the ridiculously large front grille that’s part of Lexus’ current identity that reminds of the cowcatchers found on old locomotives. If you’re a fan of the Lexus design language, you’ll like how the NX 300h looks.
The interior is a mixed bag. The seats are comfortable (although the passenger seat lacks lumbar support), and the reclining back seats offer enough legroom for a pair of adults to sit comfortably. You can even stick someone in the middle without too much pain, as the floor of the vehicle is only slightly raised. There are no USB ports in the rear, which will disappoint teenagers looking to charge their phones on the way to soccer practice. The NX 300h offers a modest 16.8 cubic feet of cargo area, 53.7 cubic feet with the back seats folded down (although they do not fold flat). That’s more than, say, an Alfa Romeo Stelvio but several cubic feet shy of a Q5 or X3.
As an NX 300h driver, the feeling is like being enclosed in a cockpit. The epic center console forms a demarcation between you and your passengers. Sight lines are decent, about standard for a smaller SUV-slash-crossover, but I didn’t feel as high above the road as I do in other SUVs. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your tastes.
Now, about that center console. It’s huge, and it’s a mess. Let’s start with the worst bit: the trackpad. Truth be told, I am a big trackpad fan, having used one with my desktop computer for well over eight years. Please don’t make me use one while I’m driving—or while I’m parked. Perhaps realizing the limitations of this input format, Lexus did increase the size of the trackpad for the 2018 model year, but that’s like slapping a couple of extra cherubim and curlicues on an overstuffed chesterfield—when it’s all said and done, you’ve still got a gauche rococo sofa in your living room. When you move the cursor over a menu item or icon, there is haptic feedback to help you out, but it can be imprecise. I found myself overshooting my target on occasion, despite the silent buzz of the trackpad.
The 10.3-inch display is nice and sharp, but the Lexus infotainment UI looks dated with its black-and-blue gradients. Also, the display is positioned farther back on the dashboard than any other car, which could lead to legibility issues for some drivers.
The rest of the center console is a confusion of brushed metal knobs, buttons, and switches. There’s no apparent unifying design theme here, other than “here are all the possible ways to interact with your car.” Worst of all, the console is trimmed with a matte chrome finish, which throws up a reflection in the windshield. I abhor dashboard clutter in large part because I hate seeing a reflection of a parking pass in the windshield, so the chrome trim is a big non-starter for me.
The instrument cluster has two analog dials and a small screen in the middle to show the usual stuff, in this case battery status, trip info, radio station, and driver assist mode. In normal or economy mode, the left analog dial—which is actually an HD display—shows whether the car is charging or using the battery. In sport mode, the display changes to show an analog tachometer.