By now you have definitely done a double-take on seeing the 2015 Lexus NX on the road. At first, another of the RX cavalry. Then new creases, new LED graphics and a sleek and low roofline make clear this is no RX.
With the lean and chic nose look off the RC and IS, the NX is a deeply stylish crossover in all three of its trimlines: NS200t, NX F Sport and the NX300h tested here. Both the base turbo four and this uplevel Hybrid model share their appearances, with only the F Sport getting the aggressive front chin spoiler, unique mesh grille and special sills and bumpers all around.
The standard and NX300h wear a much more conservative single-frame grille. The still makes a full-height intake, but dons gloss-black horizontal slats as the internal grille graphic.
We really love the style of all the NX triplets, and time spent in the hybrid with a subtle dark grey and liquid silver wheel style proves the design is a winner in any color combination. If any will just fade into the traffic background, it would be a shimmery grey metallic.
Yet as you have seen, the car is quite a looker on the roads.
How does the very energetic and youthful performance of the NX200t F Sport compare with the ultra-smooth and efficient NX300 Hybrid? And how does the bump in price to a loaded $51k for the test truck fare versus the new Mercedes GLC or even the latest RX350? These basically come down to two themes: Performance and Value.
The NX300h appeals to a vastly different target audience than the NX200t and especially the NX200t F Sport. Where those crossovers drive with the frisky turbo zest of an Audi TT or GTI VW, the NX300h is much more reserved. This NX Hybrid is all about supreme smoothness and amazing MPG stats. The difference is not too obvious when driven slowly, with the Hybrid edging out its siblings with a better rating for quietness, suspension smoothness and overall tranquility. The NX Hybrid is a dream around town, where it just glides effortlessly through the normal stop signs and city gridlock. For drivers seeking classic Lexus sensory-isolation, this is a godsend versus any other crossover we can think of. No lumpy gearshifts, and just a slight whirrrr of hybrid components to let you know the regenerative braking is doing its job like a boss.
When you start to push hard -- either on throttle or around corners -- the NX300h starts to lose points. For a sporty driver, the NX300h is just too cushy to hang on tight around on-ramps. The eco tires start to feel mushy at about 7/10ths of their grip, and are a bit howly ay anything above 8/10ths. And while the trunk-mounted battery helps deliver amazing serenity over bumps in a straight line... it doesn't feel like it helps the cornering balance of the Hybrid. The NX300h can be driven hard and fast, but does not crave the fast corners like the NX F Sport.
On full throttle, the NX300h is also far from an enthusiast's delight. The Prius-style runup of the gasoline engine zings the motor high in its rev range, winding out acceleration as the engine speed stays pegged high in the tachometer range. It is normal for hybrids, of course, to drive like this. But that does not make it any more fun trying to merge onto the expressway. The NX300h is decently rapid up to about 40-mph, but then starts to lose momentum in places where the turbo would be on full chug.
And that is the crux of it: both other NX models have a stellar turbo four-cylinder and new six-speed automatic transmission, the F Sport even snapping up and downshifts on command via paddles. Along with the F Sport steering wheel, pedals, seats and cabin design... you can push the NX hard around corners and come out the other side grinning.
The NX200t feels so much more special and unique than you would expect behind the wheel of a Lexus. It is fun and very Germanic -- a testament to this drivetrain not appearing on any Toyota models. The hybrid is much more familiar -- for RAV4 Hybrid and Camry Hybrid drivers, the NX300h will feel very re-assuring.
If being stylish and smooth are the key criteria for choosing a premium crossover, the NX Hybrid tops the F Sport. It also definitely delivers on its promise as a more nimble, more youthful kid brother to the best-selling RX350/RX450h.
The NX300h is a rockstar for delivering such premium equipment, features and materials throughout. The cabin is comfortable, ultra-modern and very roomy in the back seat versus the BMW X1 (or X3) and Mercedes-Benz GLA250. A power folding or reclining second row of seats is deeply comfy once inside -- only a slightly pinched NX doorline makes entry tougher for tall people than the bigger RX Lexus.
When it comes to value and the NX Hybrid decision, you have to weigh improved efficiency versus the steeper entry price. The premium for the NX300h is about $5k over a similarly-equipped turbo four, which can be make or break for hipsters lured in by entry prices in the $30s. The NX300h is barely in that ballpark: a base of $39,970 is $41k without any options. Making up the Hybrid price premium in fuel will take around three years of driving.
Does not sound like much savings, right? But actually, imagine saving about $1500 bucks a year versus the NX200t and filling up half as often? Sounds better when calculated like that. With previously skyhigh gas prices, that savings is more like $3k a year, assuming the typical ballpark of 12k annual miles.
Long story short?
The NX300h makes the most sense in the past (and/or future!) when gas prices are higher than the current two-buck Brent. Even with its substantially better mileage than the NX turbo, the downsides are too steep for sporty drivers. The NX200t is faster and cheaper --- and is taking more than 80 percent of sales so far.
For tomorrow's world? The NX300h is definitely prepared! Whatever comes your way in 2016 and beyond, the NX300h will be stylish, posh and right for the times!
Superb mileage and very sexy style outside make the NX300h a fantastic next car anyone who loves hybrid range, silence and eco-karma.
For corner carvers and speed freaks, though, the NX200t is the one to pick for max smiles-per-gallon.
2015 Lexus NX300h Review
2015 Lexus NX Pricing
2015 Lexus NX 200t F SPORT Starting at $36,580*