By Peter Perrotta
When it comes to hybrid technology in automobiles, Toyota, or its luxury division Lexus, are at the head of the class these days.
For me, the Toyota Prius sets the gold standard for hybrid achievement. It is boldly designed, exciting to drive, energy efficient and miserly on gas.
The trend these days is for the car manufacturers to make hybrid versions of their models more and more available.
To that point, I recently jumped behind the wheel of the 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport crossover SUV for one week to see how this model measures up to what the Prius is offering.
As far as efficiency goes, this compact SUV has it.
The NX 300h is powered by 2.5 liter Atkinson cycle, four cylinder engine combined with a high torque electric motor. The unique transmission in this vehicle varies the power between the gas engine and the electric motor or combines both on an as-needed basis.
The result is a combined 194 horsepower system.
Moreover, regenerative braking changes the electric motor to a generator that captures the kinetic energy of the wheels when the brake is applied, storing it in the nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
When this vehicle is in the EV drive mode, under certain conditions, the NX 300h can run solely on the electric motor at lower speeds – below 25 mph. A hybrid system indicator and fuel consumption indicator located on a 4.2 inch screen help coach the driver to operate the vehicle as fuel efficiently as possible.
The result of all this cutting edge hybrid technology is an amazingly efficient and eco-friendly SUV.
The government’s EPA fuel consumption ratings for this NX 300h come in at an impressive 33 miles per gallon for highway driving, 30 mpg in city driving, netting an overall rating of 31 miles per gallon.
The EPA estimates that this vehicle will cost a miserly $1,300 per year to operate as it only uses about 3.2 gallons of gas per every 100 miles driven.
Personally, I found this NX 300h F sport an overall pleasure to drive. The hybrid operation is seamless and the gas engine/electric battery combination operates smoothly.
However, when it comes to the ride and handling, I found an issue.
At normal highway and around town speeds the NX 300h passes the test. It’s fairly nimble and easy to navigate through most daily driving situations.
However, I found that at higher speeds – used more aggressively on the Turnpike or Interstate – to make an aggressive pass this vehicle loses its grip on the road a bit and gives the driver a bit of an uneasy feel. It feels a bit top heavy at higher speeds.
If you compare just the ride of this NX 300h to the competitors in its group, it comes up a bit short in that category, but far superior in the hybrid technology offered.
The BMW X1 or X2, for instance, or the Mercedes GLA or GLB, offer a sportier drive and feel to their compact crossover SUVs. In the German vehicles I feel that a more secure command of the road is offered at higher speeds or while commandeering more aggressive driving maneuvers.
The 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport I drove for a week has a base price of $46,810. There were no additional options added to this tester besides a $1,025 charge for destination and delivery, bringing the bottom line sticker price to $47,835.
The F Sport black line special edition package my tester came equipped with as standard included: sport tuned suspension; heated steering wheel; front fog and cornering lamps; aluminum pedals; 18-inch F Sport wheels and more.
The editors at Car and Driver gave the NX 300 high marks for its “chiseled styling, proper SUV seating and spacious interior.”
I would have to agree. This vehicle is quite comfortable and spacious inside for a compact crossover SUV.
For low points, the folks at Car and Driver dinged the NX 300 for its “fussy infotainment controller, middle-of-the-pack acceleration and aged styling”.
I am not sure I agree about the acceleration knock or the styling comment, but I most certainly do agree with the infotainment controller issue. On the center console, just below the gear shifter, sits a touch pad controller for all the infotainment functions in this vehicle. The touch pad is very sensitive and if you are trying to adjust different functions in this vehicle while you are driving, it can be a very frustrating task.
New for 2021 for the NX 300h is blind spot monitoring and the rear cross traffic alert as standard features; an updated low profile wiper blade design; power folding automatic dimming reverse tilt mirrors; and an updated Mark Levinson amplifier for the sound system.
Overall, this NX 300h F Sport makes for a quite impressive package, albeit not perfect.
Peter Perrotta’s On The Road column appears weekly. For comments and questions, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.