Different strokes for different folks, a tool for every job. Those are mantras you want to keep in mind when considering the Lexus NX 300. Where the entry-level crossover from the Japanese marque sticks is its pocket-friendliness – it’s almost a tenth less costly than its luxe competitors. A gateway vehicle, if you will, to the rapidly-expanding world of the luxe SUV. As we find out with a weekend in the car, it delivers admirably on that premise, though not on much else.
Therein lies the duality: it’s a great contender for the family or that family member who wants Lexus build quality mixed in with the conveniences of an SUV – but a marriage of top-end performance and exhilaration that the bigger boys in the Lexus stable bring, it is not. All that said, the NX line remains one of the best-selling in the category, at least in the U.S., so the brand is doing something right.
FEEL GOOD MOMENTS
Those familiar with Lexus offering’s might recognise the 2018 NX 300 as a subtly-reskinned 200t, which was so named for its 2.0-litre turbo back in 2015. Shedding those digits for a “300” while retaining the engine is a sidestep in naming convention that may confuse prospective buyers – it’s the same clanker underneath. To be fair, this is a liberty that other big-name automakers take fairly often. We got our mitts on an F Sport variant, which doubles down on the facelift agenda.
Chiselled lines sharpen the visage of the already aggressive grille, and extend into the fenders for even more of a hawk-faced scowl. A few more folds and we’ll have a Transformers logo on hand. Lexus has plumped up the wheel arches with a bit of muscle and lifted the lines joining the B- and C- pillars (roughly around the passenger doors), imparting jaunt where there was none. Chrome trim limns the windows, mimicking the aesthetic of a coupe.
Inside, a two-tone touch luxe-ifies everything a prospective buyer wants to pay for: some of the comfiest sports seats to grace this segment, aluminum pedals and metallic gearshift and buttons, a steering wheel clad in perforated leather that makes even roundabouts feel important. In the F Sport Premium package, said wheel telescopes toward you and retracts when one starts and stops the engine, so you don’t have to fuss with the knees when clambering aboard or during a hasty exit. It’s a ritual that never gets old or superfluous. Watch the pencil if you’re already in the dealership; you may find yourself squandering any financial savings with a NX 300 purchase on the toys Lexus has to offer.
GHOSTS OF LEXUS’ PAST
Inescapable, though, are the artefacts left when a car receives a facelift and not an overhaul. There has doubtless been progress. The Remote Touch Interface, previously controlled by an impossible mahjong-tile-and-joystick hybrid, now works via a touchpad. This makes navigating menus somewhat manageable on the roads (you would have had to pull over previously – it was that bad). Yet we still estimate weeks of practice before an owner learns not to careen over the intended buttons with the digital cursor. The software is otherwise orderly and a joy to use. Thankfully, you’ll be able to supplement the touch input with passable voice controls – as long as you aren’t pushing too hard on the rather loud engine.
Right out the early 2010s, too, is the six-speed automatic transmission that may do it for those of us that aren’t spoiled by the smoother seven- to eight-speeds of most contemporary cars. Put it in Sport Mode and the torque does help to bridge awkward gaps between ratios. Barring some understeer issues, the car handles comfortably thanks to a wealth of dampers and suspension tweaks – making it ideal for trips in city and highway settings.
The verdict? The NX 300 is not for those with a bent for high-octane spurts or nail-biting corners, but an attractive package for cocooning loved ones in the relative safety, comfort and style of a Lexus ride. If you’ve been a cynic about spending up to double the sum in the relatively new marketplace of luxury SUVs (the top-end RX costs one-and-a-half NXes), here’s a chance to dip the toes in without singing the wallet.
ENGINE 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo (AWD optional)
POWER: 238hp at 4,800-5,600rpm
0-100 7.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 200kmh