Something interesting happened as the Great Recession faded from view.
Automakers found an appetite for luxury among buyers of small vehicles, especially small crossovers. Suddenly, pint-size rigs dripping with leather, real wood trim and high-end sound systems flooded the market.
Lexus was prepared. Its RX was the country’s best-selling midsize luxury crossover. Adapting lessons learned from developing the RX, Lexus turned its attention to a pair of smaller rigs, the subcompact UX and today’s tester, the compact NX 300.
The 2019 Lexus NX 300 is a five-passenger CUV available in two trim levels: the NX 300 ($37,380) and the NX 300 F Sport ($39,770). A hybrid version, the 300h ($39,370), is marketed separately.
Boldly drawn inside and out, the NX challenges Lexus design orthodoxy and aims to win over a new generation of buyers.
Its low-cut floating roofline, deeply creased body panels and so-called “spindle” grille strike a youthful pose.
Inside, Lexus’s new asymmetric dashboard design is fresh and ergonomically correct. All relevant buttons and knobs lie within easy reach of even small drivers.
The NX cabin is cozy but hosts four adults comfortably. The sloping roofline cuts into rear-seat headroom, though only tall passengers will be affected. Cargo space behind the second-row seats trails the segment leaders. Drop the seats, though, and the NX dishes up a class-appropriate cargo hold.
Casual cabin storage is limited to a set of narrow door pockets, a small glovebox and a small center console bin.
Anxiety-free freeway merging
A235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers non-hybrid NXs. It’s
paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The powertrain drives the NX to a 7.0-second 0-60 sprint, several ticks slower than the segment leaders. There’s enough acceleration for anxiety-free freeway merging but passing on two-lane roads calls for careful judgment.
The 300h is slower yet, but yields 32 mpg on the highway versus the gas engine’s 27 mpg.
Properly equipped, AWD gas-powered NXs are rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds.
The NX steering system is lightly weighted and the little CUV is a breeze to pilot in traffic. The system responds quickly and accurately but minimal feedback for the driver to get a sense of what the front wheels are doing. At parking-lot speeds, the effort lightens up for easy maneuvering. As speeds go up, the weighting also increases, providing confidence on the highway.
Out on the road, the NX is smooth and quiet. It feels settled and stable and a good on-center groove makes foreffort-free straight-line tracking.
Cozy but comfy
Most drivers will find a comfortable driving position, though taller ones may find their right knee rubbing against the center console. Rearward vision is seriously impacted by the narrow rear window and rear-seat headrests.
The suspension is set for comfort, not performance, and the NX’s high center of gravity gives it a somewhat top-heavy feel in the corners.
Even our F Sport tester, with its sport-tuned suspension, lacked the sharp and responsive dynamics of the German competition. Available adaptive suspension dampers would likely narrow the difference.
Standard NX gear includes LED headlights, foglights and running lights; automatic high beams; adaptive cruise control; forward-collision warning and mitigation; lane-departure warning and intervention; keyless entry and ignition; power-folding mirrors; a rearview camera; automatic dual-zone climate control; power-adjustable front seats;convincing simulated-leather upholstery; a 60/40-split folding and reclining back seat; in-car Wi-Fi; Lexus Enform Safety Connect emergency communications; an 8-inch infotainment display with a touchpad interface an eight-speaker sound system and 17-inch wheels.
Small rig, big comfort
The F Sport trim adds aggressive exterior body extensions, special interior trim and color schemes, aggressively bolstered front seats, a unique gauge package, a sport steering wheel and 18-inch wheels.
The infotainment system is driven by the challenging Remote Touch interface. New features this year include Apple CarPlay and Siri Eyes Free integration.Alexa and Google Assistant are available via the Enform Remote app.
Launched in 2014, the NX is now Lexus’s second best-selling crossover, living proof that small rigs and big comforts are natural companions.
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2019 Lexus NX 300 F Sport
Vehicle base price: $37,380
Trim level base price: $39,770
As tested: $51,584 (includes destination and handling)
Options included heated/ventilated front seats; intuitive park assist with auto brake; hands-free power rear door; navigation; Mark Levinson 14-speaker, 850-watt surround sound system; moonroof; rear bumper protector; illuminated door sills; more
EPA rating: 24 combined/22 city/27 highway
Premium gasoline specified