The 2018 Lexus NX is a divisive luxury compact SUV that has been with us for four years now. It’s a brave, quirky, and ever so slightly edgy machine that stands apart from the crowd, which is enough for some buyers on its own.
When the NX launched in 2015, there was little doubt that the radical front end had a greater impact than it does now. That’s partly because Lexus has adopted this extravagant design language across the range, and Lexus was ahead of the curve. Subtle tweaks and a low-key reprofile helped the Japanese marque create a much prettier car for the latest evolution and it’s a serious looker from the side and rear.
It is a unique proposition and still stands out, but other brands have adopted similarly aggressive styling and it’s no longer a total oddball. The Lexus has a fighting chance, but this is a tough and unforgiving sector that gets more competitive all the time.
Lexus bet big on hybrids and the NX is still one of the best of the breed. This is the seventh gen hybrid tech on offer from Toyota’s luxury arm, but other manufacturers are closing the gap. So, after four years, does the Lexus NX have more to offer than an unusual face?
The 2018 Lexus NX 300 starts from $35,895, which buys you the front-wheel-drive base model, although you can spec it up with a relatively intelligent four-wheel-drive system that shuffles power to the rear when you lost traction. The two-liter turbocharged engine is a downsized masterpiece that puts out 235 bhp and 258 lb/ft of torque. It hits 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and tops out at 124 mph.
The NX 300 F Sport comes with a totally different character and a $2400 premium. It comes with more aggressive handling and a racier look both inside and out, although you don’t get any more power from the inline four-cylinder engine. It’s noisier and you get lower profile tires, which makes it more fun in the corners, but it isn’t any faster.
Inevitably, the hybrid is all about the consumption. Starting at $38,335, you can only spec the all-wheel-drive version and you get a total output of 192 bhp. It’s also heavier than the gas-powered car, which makes a difference in the bends. It is a frugal beast that looks the part, though, and it should repay your investment in the long run.
You can opt for adaptive suspension that also features in the high-class LC 500. It puts the Lexus into the premium sector and means it can go to war with the best Germany has to offer when it comes to ride quality.
The downsized two-liter turbo should be the poster child for fuel efficiency. It returns 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the open road in two-wheel-drive form.
The hybrid is a sensation in town, returning 33 mpg and it will give you 30 mpg on the highway, so it’s a solid investment if you do a lot of miles in stop-start traffic.
Safety and Infotainment Features
The Lexus NH 300 is there to catch you when you fall. It’s a five-star car on the NHTSA crash tests and an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Lexus has raised its game with active safety, too, and fitted the formerly optional Lexus Safety Systems+ package as standard to every model. That includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist. Lexus doesn’t claim semi-autonomy, but it’s another pair of eyes on the road and a hidden pair of hands on the wheel.
Lexus has fallen behind in the infotainment wars, though, and has stuck rigidly with its proprietary Enform system that doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — which is starting to look like a mistake. You can have SiriusXM satellite radio and Scout GPS, but Lexus is swimming against the tide on this one and would do well to adopt the industry standards.
How It Stacks up Against the Competition
Lexus was always Toyota’s premium brand, so the NX must square up to the likes of the BMW X3 and X4, Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC, and Volvo XC60 as well as more standard fare. That’s a tough task, but it isn’t quite a straight fight. In fact, the NX is about $5000 cheaper than the cheapest of those competitors. Other logical contenders include the Honda CR-V, Infiniti QX50, Mazda CX-5, GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan, Chevy Equinox, Jeep Wrangler, and Subaru Crosstrek.
The XC60 and GLC are class-leaders in terms of safety and onboard tech, and they offer their own hybrids. They look like a station wagon crossover, too, which puts them into a different niche.
The Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are arguably the yardsticks for the sector right now and both push the Lexus close in just about every department apart from the interior finish. Again, they’re much cheaper cars, though, so it’s an apples to oranges comparison.
The Infiniti QX50 is every bit as unusual as the Lexus in the looks department and offers a much more powerful 3.7-liter V6 for the same money. It’s different in its own way, but the pricing pitches them against each other.
A lot of these battles come down to the spec, or the standard equipment, but the compact luxury crossover SUV market seems to come down to price right now. Lexus has ducked the obvious fight by severely undercutting the German opposition, but it has cheaper SUVs asking similarly difficult questions a little lower down the pecking order.
- Unique looks that you either love or hate.
- Downsized turbo engine is powerful enough.
- Standard active safety equipment is a bonus.
- Clever pricing means it’s cheaper than other premium brands.
- Infotainment system isn’t a match for the best out there.
- That nose could be a dealbreaker on its own.
- Fuel efficiency could be better.
- Sport version isn’t any quicker.
- Ducks out of an interesting fight with the German rivals with lower price.