Test Drive: Lexus NX 300h disappoints

In the automotive world, a famous nameplate and jaw-dropping styling can prove to be a disadvantage. You may expect more than the car can deliver. That sums up our experience with the Lexus NX 300h.

Across its lines of sedans, sporty coupes, crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, the Lexus brand often is viewed as the ultimate in luxury and technology.

But the NX 300h is a very expensive compact crossover, and in our experience, midsize crossovers and SUVs almost always are preferable to compacts. This is true of the Chevrolet, Ford, Mazda and Nissan models we’ve driven. And while we haven’t driven the bigger RX, GX and LX SUVs by Lexus, we have a strong suspicion we’d opt for the RX if we ever found ourselves checking out the SUV alternatives in a Lexus showroom.

So, how expensive? The base 2017 NX 300h started at $39,720; the price for 2018 has been reduced to $38,335. A similar NX, lacking the fuel-conserving hybrid technology, starts at $35,985 for a front-wheel-drive model and $37,385 for an NX with all-wheel drive.

Which brings us to the first disappointment: fuel economy. The NX ought to deliver good mileage, and it does: 33 mpg city, 30 highway. But the NX is only 2 mpg thirstier than the NX 300h. Knowing what we know about Lexus and its parent company, Toyota — a pioneer in hybrid power — we expected better from the NX 300h.

The second disappointment was the touch-pad controller between the front seats. We much prefer dials, which are included with some Lexus models. That’s why we, and quite a few other people we know, plug conventional mouse units into laptop computers rather than using the standard touchpad.

We also were frustrated by the 300h’s navigation package, a $1,815 option that stubbornly refused to accept driver instructions to lock the multi-information display into audio mode. It persisted in going back to the map, which we didn’t need for our daily commute and local errands.

Of course, we had our share of “likes” with the NX 300h. It has a modern, high-tech look and a roomy, luxurious, meticulously assembled interior with consistently high-grade materials. The ride is smoother and quieter than any other compact crossover we’ve driven, and the handling is more responsive than most. And even without the long list of options that brought the sticker price to $51,187, it was equipped the way a luxury car should be…with one exception. NX 300h buyers must pay $660 extra for a package that includes highly desirable blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

The NX 300h received a 5-star overall vehicle score in government crash tests, and has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

A worthy alternative to the NX 300h is the Infiniti QX30, a stylish, near-luxury compact crossover that delivers the same highway fuel economy as the Lexus and costs thousands less. Infiniti models we’ve driven have been impressive.

2017 Lexus NX 300h

Price: $51,187

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four with gasoline-electric hybrid system, 194 horsepower

Transmission: continuously variable

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 6.7 in.

Weight: 4,180 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear

Wheels: 17×7-in. alloy

Tires: 225/65R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 16.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 53.7 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 14.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 33 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.