2018 Lexus NX

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker
May 23, 2018

Buying tip

If you’re tempted by the sporty looks of the F Sport trim level, be aware of two things: it does little for actual performance, and the largest wheels add notable road noise and ride harshness.

features & specs

NX 300 AWD
NX 300 F Sport AWD
NX 300 F Sport FWD
MPG
22 city / 28 hwy
MPG
22 city / 27 hwy
MPG
22 city / 28 hwy
MSRP
$37,385
MSRP
$39,775
MSRP
$38,375

The 2018 Lexus NX is an expressively styled and comfortable compact luxury crossover, but its mix of features faces significant new competitors this year.

In its fourth year on the market, the Lexus NX compact crossover utility vehicle gets some mild styling upgrades, additional features, and a new model name for the gasoline version. The 2018 Lexus NX 300 (known as the NX 200t in previous years) is available with front- or all-wheel drive, while the NX 300h hybrid continues with all-wheel drive as standard. Three trim levels correspond to the models: NX 300, NX 300 F Sport, and NX 300h hybrid, with a variety of options and packages that add features to each.

We give the 2018 Lexus NX a rating of 6.5 out of 10 on our scale, with extra points for its safety scores and features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The extroverted lines and exaggerated grille of the NX utility vehicle seemed radical when it launched as a 2015 model, but either we’re more used to it or other small SUVs are catching up to it. The F Sport model adds sporty accoutrements to the shape, but in any trim, the interior is more restrained, with the expected trim materials of leather and wood, as well as gray and tan hues along with the standard black.

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The newly renamed NX 300 (nee 200t) is still powered by a 235-horsepower turbo-4 that powers either the front or all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The NX 300h continues with a specially tuned 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to Toyota’s hybrid drive system using a pair of motor-generators, with a rated power output of 194 hp.

Lexus NX comfort, safety, and features

A relatively low seating position gives the NX decently car-like handling, though some body roll remains in this tall utility wagon. While less sporty than the gasoline-only version, the hybrid NX is a smoother and more balanced vehicle on the road in some ways—and clearly more fuel-efficient, at 33 mpg combined.

The front seats of the NX wagon are comfortable and multiply adjustable, but while rear seats have the same luxurious upholstery, they’re less supportive than we’d like. Leg room and passenger head room is good despite a shorter wheelbase than many other compact luxury SUVs. Cargo room is good even with the sloping roofline, and the NX sports an impressive safety record.

The IIHS has rated it a Top Safety Pick and the NHTSA gives it five stars overall. Lexus has upped the safety content for 2018, with the former Lexus Safety System+ now fitted as standard equipment to all models, including automatic emergency braking.

The NX is decently equipped at a starting price around $36,000 for the front-wheel-drive model, but Lexus offers a handful of packages to add bundles of luxury features. Those include a power reclining rear seat, a first for Lexus and a rarity in the compact SUV category from any maker. The F Sport model adds numerous trim items with a sportier look, though very little to change the actual performance. Versions in the mid-$40,000s are handsomely equipped, but the Lexus infotainment system remains a drawback. For 2018, the lack of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is a notable omission as well.

6

2018 Lexus NX

Styling

The 2018 Lexus NX continues to be extroverted outside, comfortable and predictably Lexus inside, and we’ve grown accustomed to its face.

When it launched for 2015 as a new and smaller SUV addition to the Lexus lineup and debuted a new design language for Toyota’s luxury brand, the NX compact crossover was a stylistic shock. One critic described it as looking like an angry vacuum cleaner that wanted to eat your children. It’s still a basic two-box utility wagon, but it does a good job of camouflaging that.

Four years later, other small SUVs are less blockier and more expressive themselves, and we’ve grown accustomed to the lines of what is now the 2018 Lexus NX lineup. Overall, we give this year’s NX a 6 out of 10 possible points for design, with its luxurious cabin earning it an extra point above the average of 5. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

For 2018, the NX gets a handful of minor revisions to its “spindle” grille and redesigned front and rear lights, which continue to lead off with an L-shaped band of daytime LED running lights outlining the thin, swept-back headlights. You’d have to be an expert to notice them unless the new model was next to an earlier one, though. Otherwise, the grille (wide at the top and bottom, pinched inward in the middle) continues to just out and lead the aggressive front end, with a different and milder pattern of horizontal silver bars for the hybrid version.

The sharp creases and pointed shapes includes an accent line that angles up from the bottom of the front wheel arch and continues through the rear wheel to the thin taillights, along with a severe indentation in the door that gives the NX an asymmetrical sill below it.

The optional F Sport package adds a black mesh grille, black side mirrors, and other racier trim accoutrements. For 2018, it adds what Lexus calls a “larger faux air intake,” as well as accent piping and black or red upholstery for its well-bolstered sport seats. Just like race cars, the pedals and footrest are drilled aluminum—ahem. The F Sport also features 18-inch wheels, but owners wanting the ultimate in wheels can pay their dealer almost $4,000 for optional 19-inch alloys with low-profile tires. (Our main impression was that they increased ride harshness and road noise.)

Perhaps smartly, the interior of the NX is far more restrained. The usual Lexus palette of muted silvers, dark greys, and matte-grain woods supplements the standard black, and we found the metallic accents to offset the softer upholstery and trim materials nicely.

Large round gauges and a wide, angled dash with a protruding console give something of a cockpit feel, tying the brand’s smallest current utility vehicle as much to its sportier sedan models as the larger family RX crossover. We note with amusement and approval that Lexus has switched back to standard rotary switches for the ventilation controls; hurray for intuitive interfaces.

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5

2018 Lexus NX

Performance

The 2018 Lexus NX is only in the middle of the pack for performance these days, and its turbo engine isn’t the smoothest or most enjoyable to drive.

The 2018 Lexus NX comes with two very different powertrains. The standard 238-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission to drive either the front or all four wheels. The hybrid uses a specially tuned 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with the Toyota two-motor hybrid system, and now comes only with all-wheel drive. Overall we rate the 2018 NX at 5 out of 10 for performance, meaning it’s average in its segment. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

There’s no V-6 in the NX, but the turbo-4 not only uses direct injection but varies between conventional operation and the more efficient Atkinson cycle to operate as economically as possible. Its fuel economy, at 24 or 25 mpg combined, is only average nonetheless.

The F Sport package, which includes all-wheel drive as standard, doesn’t change the engine power at all. The suspension is retuned and it has more aggressive wheels and lower-profile tires, which combine with the “Sport” mode to make the only version of the NX that’s truly enjoyable to toss around curvy roads. That mode keeps engine revs higher and sharpens the acceleration, likely at the price of real-world gas mileage.

The F Sport also adds an impression of sportiness, using on-demand active sound control that amplifies the engine note through the cabin. On or off, the sound is perfectly natural—and the additional engine noise, on nice mountain curves, makes a driver feel sportier. But the F Sport’s more aggressive 18-inch wheel-and-tire combinations mostly increases road noise and ride harshness. The standard 17-inch base wheels are quieter.

On most roads, the NX proved extremely quiet. Roadholding and handling is good, aided by a slightly lower seating position than in some other compact crossovers, including the Toyota RAV4 that lends its underpinnings to the NX. Body roll is correspondingly lessened, though not entirely absent in what remains a tall utility vehicle. But in the “Normal” driving mode, the NX just isn’t that sporty. A mix of fuel-economy-maximizing engine settings and turbo lag means delays in power delivery in most cases, so the driver ends up accelerating harder and producing exaggerated power delivery when it finally arrives.

As for the hybrid NX 300h model, Lexus added a “kickdown switch” that maximizes power when the accelerator is floored. Aside from maximum acceleration, the hybrid suppresses engine howl very well, to the point where drivers have to watch the power meter to know when the engine has switched on.

The NX 300h adds an electric-only mode to the Normal, Sport, and Eco choices. That powers the car only on electricity, below 30 mph, for a mile or so of gentle acceleration. We largely ignored the “Eco” mode, by the way, which makes the NX noticeably less pleasant to drive on anything except flat roads, in slow traffic, on nice days when the cutbacks in climate control aren’t noticeable.

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7

2018 Lexus NX

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Lexus NX has a quiet and comfortable interior, but front-seat occupants definitely make out better than those in the rear.

The 2018 Lexus NX is a comfortable, quiet, pleasant place to spend time, with luxurious interior materials—but front-seat occupants fare better than those in the rear. Overall, we rate the NX at 7 out of a possible 10 points, giving it extra points for front-cabin comfort and nice materials even among small luxury SUVs. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Despite similar overall lengths, the NX has a wheelbase up to nine inches shorter than those of some competitors. Its interior room is comparable, with supportive and comfortable multi-adjustable front seats and a slightly lower seating position than taller competitors, which gives it a more car-like driving position. We liked the sport seats in the F Sport model even better; their substantial bolsters make the front feel more like a sport sedan. The head room is generous too.

In the rear, the picture’s not quite as good. Compared to the front seats, both rear-seat cushions are slightly flat. Individually adjustable backrests in the optional power folding rear seat help somewhat, but the sharply angled roof pillar just aft of the rear door requires rear-seat riders to crane forward to see out the window.

There’s plentiful interior storage among various trays, cupholders, a large glovebox, and a generous console bin. But the sloping tailgate limits cargo volume to 54.6 cubic feet with the seat folded down, among the lowest in the segment. With the seat up, it’s 17.7 cubic feet. The tailgate can also hamper long, rectangular boxes or other bulky cargo. The NX offers a two-piece, folding “tonneau board” that eliminates the side gaps found with conventional vinyl roller covers over the cargo bay. It’s dressier, for sure, but its storage compartment under the cargo floor requires an empty load bay—which is not always how the real world works.

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8

2018 Lexus NX

Safety

The 2018 Lexus NX stays near the top of its segment with excellent safety scores; more standard safety features have been added this year.

The 2018 Lexus NX gets good safety ratings from two separate agencies, and this year Lexus has added some formerly optional active-safety features as standard equipment. We give it a rating of 8 out of 10 on our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IIHS not only gives the NX its top rating of “Good” in every test it performed, but designated it a Top Safety Pick, the second-highest possible honor, reflecting its advanced electronic active-safety features. The NHTSA also rates the NX at five stars overall and five stars for side-crash safety, though it misses a full five-star sweep with four-star ratings in frontal crash and rollover safety.

For 2018, the formerly optional Lexus Safety System+ package has been made standard equipment. That means all NX models now come with adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert, forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. The last component of that package is automatic headlight control, which dims the high beams when it senses a car ahead (either oncoming or traveling in the same direction), and works fairly well in our experience.

One of the few safety drawbacks to the NX is lousy rear-three-quarter vision through its tiny third side window and thick pillars. In fairness, the NX is hardly alone in that problem; the combination of more expressive SUV styling and tougher federal requirements for roof-crush strength mean more restricted rear and side views in most new vehicles.

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7

2018 Lexus NX

Features

The 2018 Lexus NX comes well equipped and offers lavish options for its size, but the infotainment system remains sub-par.

For its starting price around $36,000, the 2018 Lexus NX comes with plenty of gear, and various carefully chosen packages and options can take into very-well-equipped territory. We gave it extra points for good standard equipment, good optional equipment, and its enlarged 8.0-inch standard touchscreen display, minus one for a substandard infotainment system. That takes it down from 8 out of 10 possible points to 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

All 2018 NX versions come with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, infotainment controls on the steering wheel, automatic headlights, and Bluetooth connectivity.

The 2018 model year sees some tweaks to the options bundled into packages. The Comfort package adds heated and ventilated front seats, electrochromic mirrors, and blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic monitoring. The Luxury package adds leather upholstery, a power liftgate, interior wood trim, and the self-dimming mirrors and blind-spot warning.

The F Sport model of the NX 300 gets various visual enhancements, a tuned suspension, and the tunable active noise-enhancement system that amplifies engine sound inside the cabin. A few individual options are offered a la carte, including a new power tailgate with a kick sensor, a power moonroof, parking assist, and a navigation system that comes this year with a 10.25-inch touchscreen.

Operating the Lexus NX infotainment system requires moving a finger across the touchpad on the console that moves a cursor on the dashboard display. It’s no better than the previous fixed mouse-like controller, and is far safer when used by a front-seat passenger than by the driver. Moreover, even in 2018, neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay is available on any model of NX—a drawback in our eyes. Lexus has extended the free period for its Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect connected services from a 1-year trial to 10 years, though the Enform wi-fi service keeps the 1-year trial.

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6

2018 Lexus NX

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Lexus NX offers adequate fuel economy unless you opt for the hybrid, but some larger luxury SUVs now do almost as well.

While the hybrid version of the 2018 Lexus NX compact luxury crossover provides good fuel economy for a small SUV—33 mpg city, 30 highway, 31 combined—it’ll represent only a small percentage of overall sales. It comes standard with all-wheel drive.

On our standard rating scale, we give this year’s NX a rating of 6 out of 10 for its gas mileage. (Read more about how we rate cars.) Buyers should also note that premium gasoline is recommended for all versions of the NX except the hybrid, which these days adds significant expense.

The base gasoline version, with its 238-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 and 6-speed automatic transmission, comes in at a less impressive 22/28/25 mpg in front-wheel-drive form, losing 1 mpg in its combined rating if you add all-wheel drive. The AWD F-Sport version gets the lowest fuel economy of all, at 22/27/24 mpg. That’s not that much higher than the best entries among larger mid-size crossovers.

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6.5
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 7
Fuel Economy 6
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