Ever heard the words "Lexus" and "affordable" in the same sentence?

This nimble SUV crossover checks all the boxes

Recently, I have been fortunate to test drive a few of the smaller SUVs/crossovers on the market, and I can attest that this market segment has a lot to offer the car-buying public. My favorite this year – so far – has been the Infiniti QX 50, which was just the right size, very luxurious and great to drive. Then I heard that I was to drive the new 2016 Lexus NX – this time in the hybrid format, the NX 300h – and I just assumed that since it was a Lexus and a hybrid, it would be nice but expensive.

It was more than nice, but actually what surprised me the most was its affordability. “Affordability” and “Lexus” don’t usually appear together, and if this vehicle had been more expensive it wouldn’t have dampened my experience. But the price actually floored me; more on that later.

First off, I really thought it was a great-looking vehicle right from the start, but I never assume that my tastes are universally embraced. But everyone I came in contact with during my test drive week said the same thing: “great looking vehicle.” And those who rode inside it added that it was also very attractive on the interior, so from a styling point of view this vehicle is a hit. Introduced in late 2014 as a 2015 model, the NX – which stands for “Nimble Crossover” – takes its place in the Lexus SUV lineup slotted below the venerable RX in both price and size, but the NX doesn’t need to take a back seat.

 This is indeed a “nimble crossover,” as I took it all over, up in the mountains, on the highway, in the city, and I found its nimbleness to be quite an asset. It drove great on a very curvy mountain road, it had plenty of power for the highway and city driving, and it was easy to park in even those tight downtown parking spaces that seem meant for bicycles. The nose of this vehicle is pointed, which gives it a sleek look that suggests its nimbleness even when standing still.

The NX comes in three styles, basically: the NX 200t and the 200t F Sport, which carry base prices of $34,965 and $37,065, respectively (both feature a 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine with 235 hp; the F is Lexus’ performance package name), and this 300h. The hybrid has a 2.5-liter gasoline engine coupled with an electric powerplant, which together are rated at 197 horsepower. The power is matched with an electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT) that is very smooth, and together the effect is that this hybrid feels like it has as much power as a much larger gas engine.

Hybrids are, in fact, much more spirited in city driving from dead stop to dead stop because of all the torque in the electric motors, but Lexus, and its family member Toyota, have often used their hybrid power plants to boost performance in almost every setting, and this NX 300h is no exception. I never wanted for a boost when I needed it.

I feel compelled to say this because I hear so many people say they like the idea of a hybrid, but find the power lacking, and I can only assume that they have only driven a Prius and just weren’t used to smaller cars. If Lexus here masked the hybrid, I don’t believe the average person would even know that is wasn’t just a normal gasoline-powered vehicle, and a fast one at that. And I had the All Wheel Drive model of this normally front-wheel-drive vehicle.

Inside the NX was beautiful. The leather seating – two-tone up front (tan and black), tan in back – was supple without being squishy, and on a long drive this was very comfortable and supportive. The leather steering wheel was a plus. The console with the gear shift was very attractive, and carried a little of the dark umber interior trim featured on the door panels, and about my only complaint was that there are no cubbies in the console. My back seat passengers proclaimed the room to be great, and that the back doors are wide and easy to get in and out of. Sometimes you miss that always being the driver. I also liked the power, automatic lift gate in the way back which made it easy to use the ample space.

This is a Lexus, of course, and all of the luxuries you’d expect were here. The standard features included daytime running lights, wonderful door handle courtesy lights, a vehicle theft deterrent system, a backup camera, a marvelous and easy-to-use sound system, power seats, and a power and tilt steering wheel. Also standard is the Lexus Enform Safety Connect, a system that includes automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, an emergency assist (SOS) button, and a 1-year subscription to Enhanced Roadside assistance.

The nearly $5,500 option package added a bunch of very cool things: a Qi-compatible wireless phone charger, a complete navigation system and upgraded 10-speaker sound, the power back door, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, 18” wheels and illuminate door sills.

As I said earlier it’s the price that floored me. The base price on this AWD NX 300h is $41,301. Then you add in the options and the $940 destination charge and the bottom line is $47,818. That is a great price for such a nice vehicle and much less than I expected; if it were $10,000 more, I wouldn’t have blinked or changed my opinions.   

This NX 300h has to be on your shopping list if you’re in the market for a small SUV/crossover, and while there are many on the market that are purchase-worthy, I think this one has the edge. Very impressed.

RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation