This week, I put my preconceived prejudices against SUVs and hybrids to the test and drove the new Lexus NX300h. This hybrid SUV is from a class of cars that has always puzzled me, so I was excited to test it out and see if I was right or wrong.
[Full Disclosure: Lexus wanted me to drive the NX300h so badly it was delivered to my home a day early due to a winter storm. It arrived with a full tank of gas and 75% charge on the battery. An ice scraper was also included to ensure I could survive the winter weather.]
When the NX300h silently crept up my driveway that afternoon I had no idea what to expect. This alien looking SUV was to be my chariot for the coming week, promising me comfort, efficiency, and silence. But, before I had time to really get acquainted with the NX300h, Mother Nature intervened. A major snowstorm hit the area and I was keen to test this SUVs winter weather ability. Since many SUV owners cite winter weather as a factor in their purchase, I was interested to see how the NX300h handled the challenge. The snowstorm hit eastern Pennsylvania, dropping 6 inches a heavy snow, and I ventured out with the hybrid SUV.
The NX300h came with a set of all season eco tires designed for fuel economy not grip in deep snow. Regardless, the NX300h was able to tackle the snow-covered roads with ease. “Maybe this SUV thing isn’t so bad,” I thought. It can allegedly perform electric assisted donuts and even drift in empty snow covered parking lots! The NX300h’s all wheel drive system relies on one electric motor and engine driving the front wheels while another electric motor drives the rear wheels. This clever solution means no heavy mechanical linkages are needed for the AWD system. Instead, the system relies on wires and the clever placement of an electric motor to provide all-weather traction.
A system like this is better than comparable Haldex AWD systems that rely on wheel slippage to send power to the rear wheels. The rear mounted electric motor meant instant power was available when needed. During low-speed acceleration, the system was able to tackle these snow cover roads with ease. The electric driver aids will keep you safe and the car manages power well. I would recommend better tires for those looking for true deep snow traction but I was surprised by the grip of these all seasons.
Besides the clever AWD system, the NX300h is a familiar Toyota formula. The NX300h takes Lexus’s smallest SUV and adds Toyota’s proven hybrid tech in the name of fuel efficiency. The results are an impressive 33MPG city and 30 MPG highway with a hefty starting price of $39,720. For the small $4,000 premium over the gas-only models, you gain 11 MPG city and 2 MPG highway over the NX turbo models. Although a higher initial investment, the NX300h might be the smart choice for someone living in a city.
The more efficient hybrid drivetrain negatively affects performance. With only 194 horsepower to motivate this 4,180 pound SUV, it takes 9.2 seconds to reach 60 mph or an agonizing 2 seconds longer than the NX Turbo. Surprisingly the hybrid system only adds 130 pounds over the NX Turbo. The regenerative braking system may add some of this weight but it makes the act of stopping a power generating opportunity. Efficient driving is promoted by the infotainment screen that shows how the power is shuffled among the different drivetrain components. It coaches you to stay in electric mode for as long as possible even though acceleration is slower than my normal pace.
Drivetrain aside, the NX300h proved to be a comfortable and quite commuter. I found myself driving at much slower pace in the name of fuel economy. This car changed my driving style by the end of my time with it. The well-appointed cabin features some very comfortable heated and ventilated seats but is hindered by Lexus’s touch pad head unit. The NX300h’s interior comfort make it the perfect car for those who chose comfort and silence over all out performace.
When I first drove the NX300h, I thought it was all going to be bullshit. I think of myself as an accepting person but a car like this didn’t make any sense to me on paper. My thought is if you want something fuel-efficient, buy a smaller car and if you want a real SUV, buy a Jeep Wrangler. If you want to save money take the bus. But that’s not the way our world works. We try to cram all of our goals into one compromised package that simply cannot excel at everything.
I’m not young enough to know everything but my arrogance that preceded my review led me to the crucial mistake of underestimating my opponent. Just because a car like this doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense.
The Lexus NX300h was the perfect opportunity to learn about a segment of cars I tried to avoid. Today, well-insulated echo chambers are often effortless to craft because when everyone around you agrees with you, it’s very easy to dismiss differing opinions. In an effort to break out of my own automotive echo chamber, I spent the week driving Lexus’s latest Hybrid SUV and I am glad to say, I was happily surprised.