Review of: 2015 Lexus NX 300h AWD 4dr Executive
2015 Lexus NX 300h: A misstep from the hybrid champ
By Jil McIntosh
May. 12, 2015
The rule these days for automakers seems to be that every hole must be plugged. For Lexus, that was an SUV smaller than its best-selling RX: the all-new, compact 2015 NX.
It’s available as the NX 200t, which uses Lexus’ first 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but my tester was the NX 300h hybrid, which uses a version of the company’s existing Lexus Hybrid Drive with modifications specific to the NX, and all-wheel drive with an electric traction motor to power the rear wheels when needed.
The gasoline-powered NX 200t comes in base trim, starting at $41,450, with five available packages including two F-Sport versions. By contrast, there’s only one hybrid trim, a fully-loaded version for $59,450 that was my tester. It includes every available feature with no available options.
Pros & Cons
- + Interior materials
- + Fuel economy
- + Attention-getting styling
- - Trackpad controller
- - Brake feel
- - Steering feel
The NX features sharp-edged styling, as if the designers simply folded the sheet metal origami-style into its shape. It’s not absolute love-it-or-hate-it, but it is polarizing. Frankly, I rather like it, although I couldn’t help but think about how much damage that protruding grille and its peripherals might sustain in a front-end fender-bender.
All of the lighting is LED, including the low- and high-beam headlamps, fog lamps, and taillights. In keeping with Lexus’ luxury features, all of the expected goodies are here: headlamp washers, automatic high-beams, proximity-key sensors, power-operated liftgate, rain-sensing wipers with de-icer, and auto-dimming exterior mirrors.
The NX’s cabin is expertly finished with top-notch materials, but it does have its quirks. The leather layers on the dash culminate in a weird patch over the instrument cluster, surrounding the head-up display, that looks like someone stuck a mouse pad up there.
Equally odd is the empty space behind the wrist support for the touch pad on the centre console—more about that later—which Lexus’ designers have dubbed a sunglass storage cubby. You access it by taking off a cover that hides a mirror on its other side. The owner’s manual says to store the cover in the cubby box when it’s not needed, but I’m always leery of something that’s easily lost or broken. As far as I’m concerned, the only things that should be completely removable in a vehicle are the floor mats and the key.
As with many vehicles these days, the infotainment system uses a tablet-style screen atop the dash. That’s partly for packaging, since it doesn’t need a huge chunk of real estate lower in the centre stack, and also to keep your eyes up towards the road while you’re looking at it. The climate controls are fairly simple, but I wish Lexus—and all other manufacturers that do this—would drop the decimal point in its auto climate temperature settings. I highly doubt if anyone could actually tell me if it’s set to 21.5 C instead of 21.0 C without looking at the number, but changing the temperature by several full degrees now involves twice as long with my eyes off the road.
The seats themselves are comfortable, but while it’s probably just me, I had a tough time finding exactly the right driving position. The seats come with three settings each for heat and ventilation. The seat’s ventilation fan didn’t do the greatest job of providing relief on a warm day, even when I took the driving mode dial out of ‘eco,’ which cuts back on climate control to save fuel, and put it into ‘sport,’ where I expected a bit more cooling power.
The rear seats fold for extra storage space, and in keeping with the luxury theme, they’re power-operated both for reclining and when folding. They’re controlled by toggles on the seat sides, and also on the dash for the driver to operate them remotely.
The NX 300h is stuffed with stuff: the aforementioned head-up display (with a simple toggle switch to move it up or down, as all should have instead of buried in computer screens), heated steering wheel, ten-speaker stereo, and navigation; a wireless Qi device charging system in the centre cubby box; and such safety features as a backup camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
It also comes with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, and as is common with vehicles that have these, the NX 300h can pilot itself hands-off for short distances by staying within the lines and at the right distance behind other vehicles. As is required by law, it shuts off the lane-keeping after a few seconds and requires you to take the wheel.
The NX’s infotainment screen uses a touch pad on the centre console. This is where the NX and I parted our technology ways. Even after I learned its quirks, I still found it too sensitive to easily use, and I was always moving just a little too far away from the icon I wanted to hit. Some of these touch-pad systems let you trace letters and numbers to bring up destinations or contacts, but the Lexus system doesn’t. It looks cool, but overall, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
The NX 300h uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, with hybrid-electric drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The gas engine spins out 154 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque on its own, but rises to a maximum of 194 horses when the electric motor kicks in.
The company reports that it’s also the first Lexus hybrid with a kick-down function for acceleration, and its battery power is divided between two pods for more space and better weight balance.
But oddly, while Toyota/Lexus is usually the gold standard for hybrids, the NX 300h disappoints. There’s none of that light, eager-to-please performance that makes the RX 450h hybrid so nice to drive. Instead, the smaller NX actually feels heavier and noisier than its larger sibling.
It frequently drones in ‘eco’ mode, and while you can manually shift the CVT’s virtual gears in ‘sport,’ it just feels like you’re running them out for the sake of making more noise. The steering is vague and artificial, and the brakes are unpleasantly grabby. Overall, the NX feels like a hybrid from about ten years ago.
The only real payoff is in the fuel economy. Unusually enough, I even outdid the published figures: against 7.1 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 on the highway, I averaged 6.6 L/100 km in combined driving. And it takes 87-octane regular-grade fuel, too.
Other than in Lexus’ portfolio, there aren’t that many luxury hybrid SUVs out there, other than Infiniti’s QX60 Hybrid, which starts at $54,900, and Porsche’s Cayenne S E-Hybrid, which is larger than the NX and begins at $87,700. To get their best fuel numbers, the German luxury brands tend to go diesel rather than gas-electric.
The NX 300h comes in fully-loaded for $3,800 less than the entry-trim version of the RX 450h, and that’s fine if all you want are the goodies. But I expected much better performance and far more driving satisfaction for something that’s perilously close to sixty grand.
As frequently happens these days, the NX 300h made its world debut not in Detroit or Los Angeles, but in Beijing. I’m not sure if something got lost in translation, but it’s an unusual misstep for a company that usually shows everybody how hybrids are done. This could be a cool little fuel-efficient compact with some tweaking, but until then, it really needs to catch up to the standard we’ve come to expect from Lexus.