Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Lexus NX 300h

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 If you're looking for a compact luxury crossover that's also a hybrid, you're almost out of luck. In fact, the 2016 Lexus NX 300h is practically the only game in town. There's exactly one other vehicle in this class with a hybrid powertrain, and that's the Audi Q5 Hybrid. We hope you like Lexus or Audi products; otherwise, you'll have to settle for a hybrid in a different body style or size class, at least for this year.
     Fortunately, there's a lot to be said in the 2016 NX 300h's favor, starting with its class-leading fuel economy and unmistakable styling. On second thought, you might find the styling unmistakably bizarre, so that's not necessarily a strong suit. But without a doubt, the NX 300h is one of the most distinctive vehicles ever to wear a Lexus badge, and in the luxury realm, distinctiveness tends to be desirable. You can also expect Lexus' customary levels of comfort, technology and build quality, though it's worth noting the NX 300h is considerably slower than its conventionally powered sibling, the NX 200t.
     As noted, the only other hybrid in the compact segment is the Audi Q5, which offers more cargo space and superior acceleration (it's actually even quicker than the regular NX 200t) but comes up 6-7 mpg short of the NX 300h in mixed driving, according to the EPA. Otherwise, as a consumption-conscious consumer, you're looking at either fuel-efficient diesel engines (the Q5 and the BMW X3 offer good ones) or generally less frugal four-cylinder gasoline engines like the one in the NX 200t. You might also consider the larger and more expensive Lexus RX 450h, which benefits from a full redesign for 2016.

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     The 2016 Lexus NX 300h is a five-passenger compact luxury crossover SUV. It is available in a single trim level. The non-hybrid NX 200t is reviewed separately. 

     Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, automatic LED headlights, LED foglights/running lights/taillights, rear privacy glass, heated mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way driver lumbar), 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seats, "NuLuxe" premium vinyl upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear climate vents, a cargo cover and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Standard electronic features include a 7-inch central display screen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Siri Eyes Free voice control for iPhones and an eight-speaker sound system with HD and satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port. Also standard is Enform Service Connect, a service that provides remote vehicle status checks and maintenance alerts through a website or your smartphone.
     Other packages are also available, though availability can vary by region, so you'll want to check with your local dealer. The Premium package adds 18-inch wheels, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and driver memory settings. The Luxury package includes those items plus a power liftgate, automatic wipers, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel and wood trim. A power-folding rear seat can be added to the Luxury package.
     The Navigation package includes a navigation system as well as the Remote Touch electronics interface, two additional speakers, voice controls and various Lexus Enform smartphone-integrated apps.
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 Stand-alone options include some of the above bundled items plus front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control (includes a forward collision mitigation system), upgraded LED headlights and a wireless charging tray for Qi-compatible phones.

    The 2016 Lexus NX 300h features a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a pair of electric motors supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Together, they produce a maximum output of 194 horsepower. Opting for all-wheel drive adds a third electric motor that sends power to the rear wheels for added all-weather traction and energy recuperation under braking. On the other hand, fuel economy is the best in the segment. EPA testing rates the NX 300h at 33 mpg combined(35 city/31 highway) with front-wheel drive and 32 mpg combined (33 city/30 highway) with all-wheel drive. 

    Every 2016 Lexus NX 300h comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a front passenger cushion airbag that prevents occupants from submarining under the seatbelt and off the seat. A rearview camera is also standard, along with Lexus Enform Safety Connect telematics that includes automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assist button.

     Optional features include a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a frontal pre-collision system (included with adaptive cruise control) that warns of a possible collision and can automatically apply the brakes in the event of driver inaction.

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     In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NX 300h earned a five-star rating overall, including four stars for total frontal protection and five stars for total side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway awarded the 2016 Lexus NX a Top Safety Pick+, meaning it earned the highest possible rating of "Good" in each test and received an "Advanced" (three out of five) rating for front crash prevention.

     The NX's cabin isn't as polarizing as the exterior, but it nevertheless exudes a cool, modern vibe that ensures it won't be mistaken for anything else. Construction is absolutely top-notch, with materials that look and feel rich, especially in the available two-tone color schemes. Soft leather lines the seats and passenger-side dash, and we appreciate the padded areas that cushion the center console to keep your legs from whacking against a hard surface. Details like contrast stitching, wood trim and a modern analog clock are tastefully applied.

     The high-mounted climate controls are easy to reach and see, while other secondary controls are intuitive. The infotainment controls are less so, however. The standard Display Audio system utilizes a knob-and-screen interface similar to Mercedes' COMAND system. We haven't had a chance to try the NX 300h with Display Audio, but most NX models are likely to leave the dealer lot with navigation and thus a more elaborate control system called Remote Touch. Various menus and icons are selected with a console-mounted touchpad, much like a laptop's. There is haptic feedback through that pad when you click something, but in general, we find that using Remote Touch draws too much of your attention from the road.
     Moreover, tech-savvy users might be disappointed by the absence of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. Instead, Lexus offers smartphone integration on models equipped with navigation though an app called Enform. Owners must download the app to their phone to allow the NX access to other apps.
     Rear passengers in the NX should find a generous amount of space, at least compared with most other compact luxury crossovers. Cargo space is skimpy, however, even if the NX 300h avoids the typical hybrid problem of significantly reduced cargo capacity relative to the traditionally powered version. Its 53.7 cubic feet of total volume falls short of all competitors, and the raked liftgate seems to make it even less versatile than this modest number suggests. That's driven home by its 16.8 cubic feet with the seats raised, making it less spacious than even some subcompact crossovers.
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    The NX 300h retains the pleasing driving behavior of its turbocharged NX 200t stablemate, with responsive steering and good body control through corners and over bumps. But from there, the two diverge. While the 300h may be more fuel-efficient, its hybrid system also produces less power and weighs more, hampering acceleration.

     Instead of the NX 200t's punchy and smooth turbocharged torque, the NX 300h features the sort of hybrid driving experience that current owners of Toyota or Lexus hybrids should find familiar. That includes quiet, all-electric propulsion when accelerating gently from a stop or coasting, with the gasoline engine engaging seamlessly as more power is demanded. Hard acceleration produces loud droning noises and adequate pace, although most rival SUVs pack a bigger punch. But given the hybrid NX's superior fuel efficiency, it's a trade-off you may be happy to live with. 

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