REVIEW: 2018 Lexus NX 300 – A Counterpoint to Sports Sedans

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The Lexus NX 300 compact crossover makes a strong case for skipping that compact sports sedan you’ve been eyeing.

What is it? 

The Lexus NX 300 is a compact crossover with a sporty flair. The designers had sports sedans in mind when they designed the looks, powertrain, and handling. About the size of a RAV4 or Mazda CX-5, the NX 300 offers more space than a sports sedan, and with a substantial portion of the ownership experience.

Pricing and trims

The NX 300 starts at around $38K with front wheel drive. It is offered in three variants. The NX 300, NX 300 F Sport (shown in our story’s images) and the NX 300h Hybrid. Equipped like most premium vehicles, shoppers should expect to pay about $45K for an AWD NX of any trim.

We have driven all of the NX variants, but our tester was a fully-equipped NX 300 AWD with the luxury and Navigation package priced at $45,560. The F Sport trims add a more pronounced grill, lower profile tires, and a few other minor changes.

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Safety

Every Lexus now comes standard with all of the active safety features one would expect in a premium vehicle. The NX 300 scores Good on every IIHS test conducted and Superior for active safety earning it a Top Safety Pick award.

Performance

The vast majority of sports sedans sold in America now come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission with paddle shifters. So too does the NX 300 and NX 300 F Sport. The Lexus small turbo emphasizes smooth, quiet operation with linear acceleration. It does not feel punchy, but toe the power pedal and the NX 300 will pass by any standard crossover its size and keep pace with the BMW and Mercedes crossovers equipped with similarly sized engines. Power is 235 hp, but like all small turbos, torque is higher than one might expect at 258 lb-ft. In normal driveing the NX always feels capable and never feels like it lacks power.

The relatively conventional gear shift lever and paddle shifters make the NX 300 easy to use. Interestingly, Lexus uses a six-speed transmission. We’re happy that option still exists. Unlike 8 or 10 speed automatics, this one never seems to hunt for the right gear. Sport Mode bumps up the RPMs and makes the NX 300 a bit more fun on back roads.

Ride and handling

Ride quality is one of the NX 300’s strong suits. Broken up pavement is never a problem and the NX 300 feels smooth as glass in most situations. Lexus has opted not to put ridiculously low-profile tires on its NX 300 and it proves to be a great advantage over the rock-hard rides of most sporty crossovers and sports sedans we test. Cornering is not as crisp as some other crossovers we have driven, but it is enjoyable and the brakes were tuned just right.

Seating

Lexus isn’t shooting for the very top of the luxury market, as its moderate price point indicates. There are no massage seats with 40-way adjustability here. However, the power heated and cooled seats do have all of the functions you really need to be very comfortable. The seats are also larger than many of the NX 300’s peers. You don’t feel like you are being squeezed. One area that is in short supply is right-leg room. Ours rested against the console during our time in the vehicle.

Seating in back is roomy for kids and fine for adults headed out for the evening. Rear seats tilt and that makes them both more comfortable and also offers a bit more rear visibility for the driver over the headrests.

Cargo

The cargo area of the NX 300 is on the smaller side for compact crossovers. Behind the rear seats is about 17 cubic feet of volume. With the rear seats folded the NX 300 has about 54 cubic feet of volume. That’s about the same as a Subaru Crosstrek. Under the cargo floor is a large added storage area and a compact spare.

Infotainment and controls

Our tester had the optional premium audio which offered great sound. The screen Lexus uses is large and clear. Rather than a rotary knob, Lexus has opted for a square touchpad in the NX. We found it persnickety to operate and wish that more premium automakers could just use touch-screens (like Jaguar / Land Rover does for example). There was no convenient place for our phone and Android Auto is not offered, just Apple CarPlay. Navigation is optional and if you’re one of the 43% of Americans that have an Android device, you’re going to need it, since screen interfacing with Google Maps won’t be an option.

Overall

Lexus swung for the fences when it created the NX line a few years back. The NX offers a very appealing alternative to a shopper who wants a sports sedan but needs more practicality. Highlights include an exceptionally comfortable and enjoyable ride and a smooth drivetrain. Those shoppers who are looking for a premium compact crossover with great looks will find it in the NX 300.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham