Mountain Wheels: Smaller Lexus crossover hybrid might be just the right size
2016 Lexus NX 300h
MSRP: $41,310; as tested, $47,818
Powertrain: 194-HP combination 2.5-liter four-cylinder/generator hybrid system; electronic CVT automatic transmission
EPA figures (combined/city/highway): 32/33/30
If you’ve ever spent any time on those 80-mile-per-hour limit interstate routes up in Wyoming, the antithesis of Carter-era austerity, you know the bliss that is really, really moving, especially through the land of the bland.
It was those sustained stretches of rolling and hilly road, requiring a considerable amount of power, that proved to be the only issue for the otherwise very likable and appropriately sized Lexus NX crossover — and its otherwise seamless and efficient hybrid variation.
It’s the Lexus I’d now consider most closely for a personal vehicle, being a fully Lexus-ized adaptation of the Toyota RAV-4, equipped with a 194-HP-output hybrid system blending a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, three electric generators and a 244-volt battery pack.
Powerful as that may be for almost all of your standard outings, the oomph necessary to reach an 80-mph cruising speed and maintain it (not unlike the power that’s going to be required to keep it nailed while heading across the passes) was just slightly impaired by that system and, most specifically, the electronic continuously variable transmission.
But the resulting 30-plus MPG on the highway, and 33 in the city, does make it one of the most efficient vehicles in the Lexus fleet, and still equipped with all-wheel drive — a setup that is now standard on all NX hybrids.
While most hybrids don’t like to show you exactly how much effort their engines occasionally require to get you going, I did appreciate that the NX’s instrument displays offered the ability to call up an actual tachometer.
And minus those long-distance trucking issues, NX’s size and scale is the best of all worlds for those who do not feel that a full-size SUV or pickup truck is the best choice for their motoring lifestyle. If you want brilliant design, high-quality leather and a bunch of those classy doodads that Toyota can’t provide, the NX 300h or its gasoline-engined variation may be a good choice.
It is indeed big enough inside to comfortably fit three rear seat passengers — maybe not for a Wyoming-worthy roadtrip, but certainly to Denver and back — with curved front row seatbacks adding extra legroom.
Storage is also ample, with 53.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are dropped, and some under-deck space, a self-lifting cargo cover and even aluminum sill plates under the liftgate all class things up.
Overall design is not that much more radical than RAV-4, though the angles and futuristic oddity did garner a few dead-in-their-tracks stares. There’s a comfortable roundness to all that angularity, like a slightly more approachable and cuddly version of the larger RX SUV, and the extremely angles of the nose and front fascia mean some potentially useful off-road capability, should you ever manage to get the car off-road.
Its own version of the spindle-shaped grille, the slashes of headlamps and LED lights are more subtle than the larger Lexuses, though it’s all very striking — including the thick Shrek-styled side mirrors, which are happily positioned so as not to cut down on forward vision.
From the rear, when parked with other vehicles, the design is however consistent with the new contemporary crossover style, meaning that it looks a hell of a lot like a Ford Edge, or one of another half-dozen futuristically swept new automobiles.
A premium package on this tester (a 2016 model; the 2017s are out, but are unchanged) added attractive 18-inch wheels with spokes that looked like tuning forks, ventilated seats, upgraded LED running lights and a moonroof.
The interior is where all the Lexus design magic really happens, and it’s a major reinvention of the much-updated newer RAV-4, and also one of Lexus’ more pleasant combinations of stylish technological access.
Seating is indeed sporty/comfortable and while you’re not going to get the giant spaces of one of the more goliath SUVs, it’s actually not so bad, and felt comfortably scaled up front even for a long, long road trip.
The console and center channel is an intriguing, busy but useful stack that includes an off-the-dash navigation screen, nicely arranged controls for stereo and climate, and then an elegant layout for the shift knob, a touch-control trackpad for the navigation system and, even a strange little storage cubby with a pop-off lid containing a mirror. The center armrest is comfortable — leather with highlight stitching, as is the look throughout — plus a cordless smartphone charger deck and USB inputs.
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