Adding a smaller hybrid option in the Lexus crossover lineup
Everybody needs a little brother. Isn’t that the automotive theme of the decade? Smaller versions of best-selling models are proliferating and Toyota’s Lexus luxury division is no exception. Its midsize RX crossover has been the pace-setter for the segment since its introduction in 1997. Similarly, the hybrid version of the RX since 2005 has been the green leader for the division — the best-selling hybrid with a Lexus badge.
In the course of its three generations the RX has grown, though, so slotting a model a size below it is a simple exercise. Here comes the 2015 NX, which will play as a compact to the now midsize
RX. Of course, those aware of history will note that the NX comes in slightly larger than the original RX in both wheelbase and overall length.
The 2015 Lexus NX 300h we tested is the hybrid version of the compact crossover, joined in the showroom by two non-hybrid models—the NX 200t and NX 200t F Sport. The 300h is available in front-wheel drive (FWD, the model we tested) and all-wheel drive models (AWD), delivering more than 30 mpg in all versions from its four-cylinder engine, electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) and hybrid system. The FWD had an EPA rating of 35 City/31 Highway/33 Combined, numbers we were able to verify in our drive.
The NX is a classic example of Toyota’s current approach to fuel economy in its internal combustion-engine vehicles. They take a fairly evolved version of a traditional-size gas engine (in this case a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder) with variable value timing (+intelligence in this case, which means an added sophisticated timing adjustments that increase fuel efficiency) mated to Toyota’s long-traveled Hybrid Synergy Drive, allowing bursts of electric-only driving and maximum overall efficiency.
In the NX the 2.5-liter engine combines with an electric motor to produce a total of 194 hp, more than enough to move the 4,055 lb. (4,180 lb. in the AWD model) compact crossover along quite well. It does feature different driving “modes,” an ever-more-popular driver-control method, and in ECO mode, the responsiveness of the engine was noticeably decreased. However, that was the mode that delivered the best fuel economy. The AWD model is the first time the 2.5-liter engine has been used along with a hybrid drive system.
We mentioned the EPA numbers above, but found the real world could make hitting those marks difficult. On a long uphill slog the NX wasn’t able to hit 20 mpg, though it did top 30 mpg on the downhill portion of the trip. Overall, we registered 32.9 mpg on a long (60-mile) mostly highway run that did include some stop-and-go traffic. We found the sweet spot for fuel economy to be 32/33 mpg at freeway speed between 60 and 70 mph. Around down our fuel economy y was not as impressive, rarely breaking 30 mpg and usually in the 24/25 range, even running in ECO mode and driving conservatively. The numbers seem low for a car of this size sporting a hybrid badge, especially when compared to the EPA figures.
The good news with the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is the good suspension comes standard. Lexus recognizes that good handling is key with this class of vehicle since most of the competitors are European and rightly focused on delivering a utility vehicle that also can hold the road.
Starting with the steering, the NX is responsive; it’s an SUV, not a sports car, but it is not soft like the classic Toyota/Lexus vehicles of recent years. Up front the NX has MacPherson struts and coil springs along with gas-pressurized shocks and a stabilizer bar. In the rear is a trailing arm double wishbone and coil springs rear, also with gas-pressurized shocks and a stabilizer bar. The package, topped off with the optional 18-inch wheels and P225/60R18 all-season tires, gives you a good feel and control of the road without any harshness.
The brakes on the NX are four-wheel power-assisted discs with a four-sensor, four-channel antilock braking system (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and regen so braking energy is channeled back to the battery.
Inside the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is where the luxury part of the Lexus equation really shines, particularly in our highly optioned tester. We had the Luxury Package, a $4,505 option that includes the 18-inch wheels and matched tires, Linear Black Shadow wood interior trim, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, power rear hatch, heated/ventilated leather front seats (10-way power driver’s seat; eight-way power passenger’s seat), rain-sensing wipers, premium LED daytime running lights and a power tilt and slide moonroof.
It all looked good and the leather definitely put the luxury feel into the interior along with the upscale wood trim.
The second option package was the Navigation Package, which added the technology expected in a modern luxury car, whether it’s a coupe, sedan or crossover. That $2,140 package included the
navigation system on a seven-inch color display screen with a remote touch pad interface, which for any laptop user is a zero learning curve addition. It definitely challenges those still operating with wheels and knobs and was easy to use with minimum distraction. Also in the package was a one-year trial subscription to the Lexus Enform Destinations that includes navigation assistance, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, an emergency assist (SOS) button and enhanced roadside assistance. It’s essentially Lexus’ version of GM’s OnStar with some added bells and whistles. The final piece of the Nav Package is the 10-speaker premium sound system, which adds two speakers to the standard system. The system does end up giving the driver a plethora of buttons to navigate his/her way through all this technology.
Then there was the coup de grace of the QI-compatible wireless charger, an option I’m sure will be popping up in more luxury cars since it’s so clearly convenient and an almost universal for most drivers.
The last two options are the power-folding 60/40 rear seats ($400) and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), which adds beeps and a visual depiction of how close you are to another car when parking.
Luxury Augmented By Safety
The NX has eight airbags—three for the driver (front, side and knee); three for the front passenger (front, cushion and side) and two side curtains. Add to that the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Warranties and service with the NX include:
- First scheduled maintenance service – Six months/5,000 miles
- Second schedule maintenance service – 12 months/10,000 miles
- Roadside assistance – 48 months/Unlimited mileage
- Basic – 48 months/50,000-miles
- Hybrid system – 96 months/100,000 miles
- Powertrain – 72 months/70,000 miles
- Restraint systems – 72 months/70,000 miles
- Corrosion perforation – 72 months/Unlimited miles
Lexus wants you to compare the NX with some established players in the compact crossover segment, such as the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK 350. Lincoln and Infiniti also have models in the segment. All are similar size and priced within a few thousand dollars of each other, ranging from $35,000 up to the NX 300h’s $39,720 base price.
The Q5 is the only one of the group that also offers a hybrid, though the Audi version doesn’t get as good fuel economy as the Lexus and its starting price is more than $10,000 higher. What the Audi and Mercedes both offer, though, is a diesel option that delivers comparable fuel economy with great performance.
The 2015 Lexus NX 300h Hybrid we tested had a base price of $39,720 but it’s as-tested price rose to $49,195, which includes the $925 delivery, processing and handling fee. The non-hybrid NX
200t starts $35,405 (with the delivery charge) for a front-wheel drive model powered by a turbocharged engine that offers fuel economy only a few mpg below the hybrid.
The NX clocks in with a 182.3-inch overall length, 104.7-inch wheelbase, 83.9-inch width and 64.8-inch height. Its cargo capacity is 16.8 cubic feet until you fold down the second row of seats and expand it to 52.7 cubic feet.
This adds what Lexus hopes is another volume player for its crossover lineup. It becomes the entry-level model for the SUV side of the brand, slotting below the now-classic RX and allowed an alphabetic step up from NX to RX to GX to LX. Lexus’ goal is clearly to combat its competitors relentless model proliferation and try to regain the luxury sales lead from Mercedes and BMW. Having a competitive vehicle in what many are calling the hottest segment in the luxury market. Sales for the 2015 NX have been strong out of box, but as was mentioned the competition is fierce and each brand has an approach that includes both unique vehicles and features as well as a brand image. It may be a little pricey, but the customers stands to be the winner as they all go head-to-head. We’d suggest making sure the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is on the shopping list if fuel economy and Toyota reliability are high on your shopping list.
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