Daily Driven: 2018 Lexus NX 300

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Aggressive good looks in a premium package

Sitting in mercurial silver paint with a glowering stare that might make a Cylon blink, the Lexus NX 300 makes a mean first impression from the front. Renamed from NX 200t for the 2018 model year, the NX 300 features the same 2.0L turbocharged I-4 as before, making the same 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Intimidating, indeed.
Of course, the NX 300’s menace seems a bit affected, since the SUV shares a good deal of its bones with more plebian Toyota products—in fact, the RAV4 Hybrid we drove recently donated much of its structure to Lexus when the company decided to introduce a small crossover. The RAV4 Hybrid’s powertrain also makes its way into a hybrid NX, producing the same 194 hp as it does in the less expensive Toyota. So would this NX 300 be just an aggressively styled rehash of an aging compact crossover platform? Fortunately for Lexus, not by a long shot.
Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300

  |   Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300

Somehow, the NX avoids feeling anything like the boring—competent, but boring—2013-2018 Toyota RAV4. It rides on the same 104.7-inch wheelbase, but it’s 1.2 inches longer, an inch wider, and 2.3 inches lower to the ground. Accordingly, shoulder room improves for all passengers, while headroom is a bit tighter. And unfortunately, most of that increased body length seems to be concentrated on the acres-wide front overhang. Most importantly, however, the Lexus immediately impresses with a bespoke, luxury feel when the driver climbs aboard.
Interior styling is expressive, with a center stack that reminds us of a futuristic fighter jet or spacecraft. We loved the burnished-look metallic trim on the interior, as well as the buttery-soft NuLuxe seat upholstery—we couldn’t believe it wasn’t genuine leather. A large, centrally located analog clock is a Lexus signature, lending a mature comportment to the little SUV. Don’t look terribly close though, as the clock’s cheap-feeling plastic bezel coordinates well with the hard plastics found on the lower dash and door panels. Fortunately, most of the driver and passenger’s touch points are soft and pleasant to look at.
Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 Interior

  |   Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 Interior

We’re also a bit bummed the passenger side dashboard trim doesn’t match the driver side—the broad swath in front of shotgun is trimmed in stitched, soft-touch materials, while the driver is treated merely to sorta-soft plastic. And while the Remote Touch Interface’s trackpad-style ergonomics are a vast improvement over the funky joystick of earlier Lexus infotainment systems, we’d still prefer a traditional touchscreen or more hard buttons.
Waking up the NX 300’s turbocharged powertrain helped us forget some of those minor materials issues, as the engine’s full spate of torque is available from just 1,650 rpm. A faint turbo whistle was slightly audible, adding drama and excitement to the drive. And we normally detest audio system–sourced fake engine sounds, but this Lexus’ Active Sound Control added a futuristic bark that made us cane the throttle just to hear it growl. Optional Adaptive Variable Suspension should really be standard on the NX 300 F Sport, as the $770 option actually adds a bit of flexibility to the ride—stiff in the curves and smooth on the freeway.
Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 Front

  |   Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 Front

Our week of testing availed itself to a trip to Southern California’s legendary El Mirage dry lake bed. This off-highway vehicle recreation area gave us the chance to test stability in a safe, controlled environment, helping us prove the NX was easy to drive at extra-legal speeds. Nearing triple digits, the NX was rock-solid, even amid the lake bed’s frequent crosswinds. In its transformation for Lexus duty, the NX’s platform exorcised one of the most prevalent complaints in our drive of the RAV4 Hybrid—less-than-ideal freeway stability in wind or over rough surfaces. We felt no such poor behavior from the Lexus NX.
Our all-wheel-drive NX 300 F Sport tester carried a base price of $39,775 plus $995 destination. It would be possible to build an equally sporty F Sport by adding just the Adaptive Variable suspension and required F Sport Premium Package, and the total price would be $44,435, which is right in line with competitors like the Acura RDX A-Spec and Audi Q5. Our F Sport carried an additional $3,090 worth of goodies, including a power liftgate, navigation package, and parking assist, for a total price of $47,525. And the F Sport is reasonably efficient too, notching an overall average of 20.22 mpg in 527 hard-driven miles.
Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 3 4 Rear

  |   Daily Driven 2018 Lexus NX300 3 4 Rear

That’s a heady price for a machine that shares a lot with the $25,000 Toyota RAV4, but it feels as premium as its price would indicate. Lexus isn’t an upstart in the luxury space anymore, and even its least expensive models reflect that 30-year heritage. We wish for a more intuitive way to operate the infotainment system, and some of the cabin’s hidden materials are a bit cheap. But in terms of driving flavor and behavior, the NX matches its luxury competitors in lock step.

Vehicle: 2018 Lexus NX 300 F Sport

Base price: $35,985 (NX 300), $39,625 (NX 300 F Sport all-wheel drive)
Price as tested: $47,525
Engine: Turbocharged, direct-injected Atkinson- and Otto-cycle 16-valve 2.0L I-4
Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission
Horsepower: 235 hp @ 4,800 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 rpm
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
EPA fuel economy rating: 22 city/27 highway/24 combined
Actual calculated economy, 527-mile trip: 20.22 mpg
Passenger volume: 72 cubic feet
Cargo volume, seats up/down: 17.7/54.6 cubic feet

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