The Lexus RX is the best-selling luxury crossover in America. By combining the comfort of a sedan with an SUVís cargo capacity, the company delivered a versatile product that pioneered an all-new segment when it arrived on the market way back in 1998. But is this just a case of beginnerís luck or can the same formula work on a smaller scale?
Premium compact crossovers are hugely popular, with rival models like the Audi Q5
, Acura RDX
,Range Rover Evoque
and even Lincoln MKC
selling in large numbers across the country. Not one to remain parked on the shoulder as other brands pass it by, Lexus has developed a competitor of its own, the NX.
The company offers several flavors of this vehicle to please the palates of a diverse buying public, but unquestionably the most economical variant is theNX 300h
, which, predictably, features a hybrid drivetrain.
Tapping into parent company Toyotaís immense experience building gasoline-electric vehicles, this amped-up crossover is the Lexus brandís sixth hybrid model, following the RX
and, er, well, you know the rest.
Disguised by its nearly comical overbite, the NX 300hís drivetrain consists predominantly of a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine. This internal-combustion propulsion unit is joined at the hip, or rather, bellhousing, to a continuously variable transmission
of unique design. Unlike most CVTs, which feature a pair of variable-diameter pulleys and a special chain, Toyota developed an ingenious ratio adjuster that consists of two motor-generators paired with a planetary gear set. This configuration is incredibly effective and cleverer than should be legal. Completing the powertrain picture is a nickel-metal hydride battery
pack that stores excess electrons and releases them as dictated by the driverís right foot.
Engineering intricacies aside, the NX 300h packs a modest 194 combined horsepower, though torque output is unknown, as one is not listed in the press release. But donít worry, thereís never very much twist on tap, so smoking the tires is never a concern.
However, the company is happy to share this vehicleís fuel-economy scores, which are quite impressive. When equipped with all-wheel drive (as our test model was) the 300h should average 33 mpg in urban driving; on the highway that figure drops but is still noteworthy at 30 mpg. Combined, this vehicle should average a claimed 32 mpg. Predictably, front-drive models are even more efficient.