Earlier this spring, Toyota announced it will start building the compact Lexus NX luxury crossover at its Cambridge, Ontario factory in 2022. The NX assembly line will replace that of the Corolla, whose assembly line moves to Mexico this year.
Despite the loss of that popular car model, the move should be a good thing for Ontario’s manufacturing sector: The NX is part of a growing field of crossovers that are displacing traditional car models. It’s one of Lexus’s best-selling vehicles in Canada, second to the RX mid-size SUV—which, by the way, Toyota also builds in Cambridge.
By the time NX production moves into Ontario, Lexus will have redesigned it into a second generation. The automaker introduced the current NX (which is built in Japan) in 2015 and updated it in 2018 with refreshed styling, suspension changes that promised a smoother ride, and the Lexus Safety System+ suite of driver aids as standard equipment.
Our test car was an NX 300; Lexus also offers a hybrid version called NX 300h.
Road and engine noise
Shortly after its launch in 2015, the Lexus NX impressed us with refinement that was unusual for a small vehicle, but the compact SUV class has advanced since then. While the NX is still a pleasant driver, it thumps and clunks over broken pavement and transmits a surprising amount of road noise into the cabin. It’s an uncharacteristic soundtrack compared with the recently redesigned ES sedan and the larger RX.
Lexus has done a better job filtering out other mechanical noises. You do hear and feel the turbo four-cylinder engine during quick acceleration, but it never sounds out of place.
2.0L turbocharged performance
Like many small turbo motors, the NX 300’s 2.0L feels strong from a stop, but the six-speed transmission’s widely spaced ratios aren’t the best match for the engine.
By comparison, BMW and Audi use eight-speeds in their X2 and Q3 compacts, and Mercedes-Benz puts a nine-speed in the GLC-Class. Most engines perform at their best in a relatively narrow speed range, and having more gears makes it easier to keep the engine in that range. Lexus knows this: The larger RX uses an eight-speed with its V6, and the IS compact sedan matches an eight-speed with a 2.0L turbo engine similar to that in the NX 300.
2019 Lexus NX fuel economy
Lexus’s fuel consumption estimates for the 2019 NX 300 are 10.7/8.5 L/100 km (city/highway). Our test car averaged 11.3 L/100 km in a mix of city and highway driving in cold, late-winter weather.
Lexus also offers the NX 300h with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. It’s less powerful, but promises better fuel economy, with estimates of 7.2/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway).
Interior space and comfort
Despite its compact label, the NX has a useful and roomy interior with rear-seat space similar to cars at the small end of the mid-size sedan segment. It feels smaller up front, with seats squeezed in on either side of a wide console.
- Climate control: We don’t like the centre stack that houses the NX’s climate and infotainment controls. The climate buttons are positioned high and within easy reach, but the angled panel makes them awkward to use.
- Infotainment screen: Our test car had an optional 10.3-inch infotainment screen that replaces the base model’s 8.0-inch display. It looks great and can be set in a split-screen mode to show info from two applications at once, like audio and navigation.
- Touchpad: We appreciate the effort Lexus put into the touchpad that controls the screen. It’s haptic, so as you trace your finger across the touchpad to move the cursor, you can “feel” when the cursor reaches one of the available menu selections. Interfaces like this are designed to reduce driver distraction, but the irony is that the touchpad is hard to use while the car is moving. BMW’s and Audi’s rotary dial-based infotainment systems are easier to use on the go.
Pricing and options
Lexus prices the 2019 NX 300 at $44,050. That price includes items like power-adjustable heated front seats, LED headlights, passive keyless entry, forward collision detection with automatic braking, radar cruise control and lane-departure warning with steering assist.
Our tester came with the top-of-the-line Executive package. For $12,750, you will get the following features:
- a heated steering wheel with power adjustment
- a 10-speaker stereo
- blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert
- leather seating
- ventilated front seats and heated rear seats
- wireless smartphone charging
- a hands-free power tailgate
- front and rear parking sensors
- auto-dimming side mirrors and rain-sensing wipers
Adding that package pushes the NX’s price to nearly $57,000.
That number begs a question we ponder often: Is a luxury vehicle defined more by its features or its levels of refinement and comfort? Our NX tester was well-equipped, but for about the same money, you could buy the larger, Ontario-built RX with optional navigation. That price includes many of the features included in the NX’s Executive Package, and you get the RX’s added refinement and interior space on top of that.
If you want to stay in the compact arena, the more powerful Acura RDX’s price tops out at $55,000 in Platinum Elite trim. That package includes adaptive suspension, rear-seat climate controls and 16-way adjustable front seats.
Lexus also faces competition from an unexpected comer, the Mazda CX-5. For 2019, Mazda offers its compact crossover in a new Signature package that’s very nicely equipped for $41,000. It has a powerful turbo engine and nearly matches the NX for driving refinement.
In our opinion, the Lexus NX’s biggest advantage is its optional hybrid powertrain, which is unique in the category. However, the gas-powered version is less compelling when considered against its wide range of competitors. Despite being a well-executed vehicle, we’d wait to see what Lexus does with the next generation of NX. Then, if nothing else, you’ll be able to feel good about buying local.
2019 Lexus NX 300
- Vehicle category: Compact luxury SUV/crossover
- Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder, turbocharged; 235 hp, 258 lb-ft torque
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Notable standard features (MSRP: $44,050): LED headlights, heated front seats, 17-inch wheels, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, electric parking brake, push-button start, heated front seats, forward collision detection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure with steering assist and automatic high beams.
- Notable standard features (Executive Package, as tested; MSRP: $56,800): Heated steering wheel with power adjustment, navigation, a 10-speaker stereo, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, leather seating, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, wireless smartphone charging, a hands-free power tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming side mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.
- Fuel economy, ratings (l/100km, city/highway): 10.7/8.5
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