On one hand, Toyota and its Lexus sub-brand campaign several large, gas-guzzling crossovers and SUVs.
On the other, no other maker promotes green tech more aggressively. After popularizing hybrid technology with the Prius, Toyota is electrifying its entire lineup.
Today’s tester, the 2020 Lexus NX 300h, a compact crossover, is just one of seven hybrids in the Lexus stable.
In its non-hybrid form, the little CUV shuffles off the showroom floor for $36,870. Adding all-wheel-drive bumps that to $38,120.
Narrow cost differential
The hybridized NX 300h is available only with AWD and pricing opens at $39,270.
That’s a price differential of just $1,150 between an AWD 300 and the 300h. Depending on your driving habits and the length of time you own the car, it’s a differential that’s easily absorbed by improved fuel efficiency.
The NX 300 with AWD earns 24 mpg in combined driving; the NX 300h is good for 31 mpg.
What’s more, the turbocharged four that powers the NX 300 requires premium fuel, while the 194-hp hybrid is happy with regular.
There are downsides, of course. The NX 300 is not a quick car and the 300h is slower yet, with the 0-60 sprint rolling up in about 9 seconds. Even so, our hybrid tester was peppy enough to allow trouble-free highway merging.
The hybrid powertrain is less smooth than the 300’s gas engine. It’s mated to a continuously variable transmission that sends engine revs soaring under hard acceleration.
And, while gas-powered NXs can tow up to 2,000 pounds, the hybrid is limited to 1,500 lb.
Otherwise, the stablemates offer the same high-quality ride, relaxed driving dynamics and luxury-level accouterments.
The NX is fairly engaging but not sporty. Its responses are muted by measures meant to isolate occupants from the rigors of the road. Its ride is firm, yet comfortable, and body motions are well controlled.
With its small footprint and lightly weighted steering system, the NX is a breeze to park and pilot in traffic. Steering is quick and accurate but communicates little information from the road surface. As speeds rise, steering weighting increases and the NX settles into a stable and settled groove.
A strong on-center channel makes for effort-free straight-line tracking.
The impact of most broken road surfaces are absorbed without drama and the body stays steady and controlled.
Ride quality enhanced
For 2020, the NX twosome receives a light freshening. Suspension tweaks boost ride quality and the infotainment system now includes Android Auto compatibility (on models built after Oct. 1, 2019). The driver-assist package adds low-light pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Lexus also extends its hybrid battery warranty this year, from 8 years/100,000 miles to 10 years/150,000 miles.
The NX is boldly drawn inside and out, challenging Lexus design orthodoxy and aiming to win over young 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 infotainment system is saddled with the frustrating Remote Touch touchpad interface.
The NX’s cozy cabin hosts four adults comfortably. Its sloping roofline curbs rear-seat headroom, though only taller passengers will notice. There’s limited cargo space behind the second-row seats; drop the seats, though, and the NX dishes up a class-appropriate cargo hold.
Casual cabin storage is limited. The door pockets are narrow and the glovebox and center console bin are quite small.
The 300h is available in a single trim, with a set of available options packages.
Standard gear includes keyless entry and ignition, automatic dual-zone climate control and Lexus NuLuxe simulated leather. Driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning and mitigation and lane-departure warning and intervention.
A Comfort package adds blind-spot monitoring and heated/ventilated front seats. The Luxury package summons leather upholstery, navigation, the Mark Levinson stereo and a host of other upscale features.
As Toyota and Lexus update the big rigs they, too, will gain the benefits of electrification. For now, the companies offer green-minded buyers abundant alternatives.
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2020 Lexus NX 300h
Vehicle base price: $36,870
Trim level base price: $39,090
As tested: $50,343 (includes destination and handling)
Options included: triple-beam LED headlights; navigation, Mark Levinson audio; intuitive parking assist with auto-braking; hands-free liftgate; heated/ventilated front seats; moonroof; blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel; cargo mats, cargo net and wheel locks
Tow rating: 1,500 pounds
EPA rating: 31 combined/33 city/30 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified