Review: Lexus NX 300h Crossover
by Kathy Chin Leong

I've never been hugged by a car before.  Yes. Hugged. The Toyota 2015 Lexus 300h is the luxury brand's newest offering in the SUV hybrid sector priced at $39,720. The posh leather interior is so sweet that the front seats seem to be modeled after wing chairs so that the left and right sides curve forward to cup the driver's body ever so slightly. And the back seat is molded in a similar fashion so no one feels like he is a second class citizen. This is enough of a style element to feel, as I said in the beginning,  hugged... in a good way. But enough about the mushy stuff.

When I was a kid, Marvel comic books littered our home. And I recall that the amazing Flash had a stunning red head-to-toe leotard with a yellow zigzag lightening bolt emblazoned on his chest.  Well, if the 300h existed back then, this would be the superhero vehicle for Flash. The model I drove is fiery red. And the front grill features zig zag grooves, so it would seem to match the Flash's outfit.  While hybrid cars are known for utilizing part electricity and part gas, this is an interesting hybrid crossover.  

Some of the time I felt like I was driving an SUV because of its height and girth, and other times I felt like I was driving a sports car because of the  sleek, trendy design. Having a split personality car can be good and bad.  First, the bad. When you turn around to look through the back window, the arc of the roof slants downward as it would in a sporty automobile, so you get less of a view, and that initially annoyed me when I was parking or backing up.

But now the good. Given that the leather-covered steering wheel is on the smallish side,  you can make U-turns like its nobody's businesses. It is an effortless maneuver.  In addition, while in traffic on the freeway, the car did extremely well.  The comfort of the car with plenty of cup holders and storage space,  and its ability to block outside noise made it bearable for me.  Tinted windows took the edge off the after-2 p.m. glare. And the superior sound system made it very enjoyable to listen to music while trapped in the middle lanes going 5 mph. 

Different kind of movement and sensation
There are a couple of different features that will take getting used to. First, if you never drove a hybrid before, realize that in the electric mode, there is utter silence. The car will back up void of sound.  No engine sounds during this phase of your drive when you stop at a stop sign or red light, when you park the car, and when you back it out - all comes with the gift of stillness.   

 A second major change you will have to adjust to is the fact the visual display does not have touch screen.  You will have to use the touchpad  near the gear shift to do your business whether it's looking for a radio setting or adjusting the GPS. I was stressed out when I was on the road by tapping on the screen, not realizing that this touchpad by my side was there for a reason!

Third, the parking brake is no longer a foot brake or a hand brake. It is more like an index-finger brake. However, you don't even have to worry about it. When you park, the brake automatically sets itself. When you take the gear out of park, it unlocks it so you are ready for action.  If you want to set it manually, you can, but there really is no need to for normal functions.

GPS saved me!
And here's something that really was helpful. I was planning to take the train into San Francisco and park the car in the lot. Due to my being late, I missed the train and had to drive into the city, but I didn't have a map.  This completely threw me off because I was not prepared.  I decided to trust the GPS onboard the vehicle. There is a 7-inch built-in screen that is plenty big to see a map and directions.  Unlike other cars, this GPS system does not react to touch, but instead relies on the user to use a small dark touchpad located in between the driver and passenger.  Once I trained myself to use it, the navigation was fine.  I also liked the fact that the voice activation guidance gives you plenty of warning concerning whether you have to turn left or right. She will say, "In a quarter of a mile, turn left on Gough Street."  You have enough time to obey.  

Other systems I have used give you little to no time to mentally process and make a turn.  Another great feature is the voice command button on the steering wheel. You can depress the button and interact with the system. For instance, give the GPS the address of where you want to go without the hassle of punching it in. . The GPS will automatically plot the route while you drive.  And there's also a goodie called Navigation Assist where a live person comes on the phone to speak to you to answer your questions. When I was in a quandary, the Live Person directed me to the closest freeway. And it worked!

Solid feel
In spite of the sporty feel, the solid feel of this 4.1 ton Lexus is what keeps you sleeping at night. There is a sense of sturdiness and trustworthiness about the Lexus which gets 42 mpg, 43 in the city and 40 on the highway.  When some other car comes alongside you closely, the side mirror blinks. 

Driving settings are created to maximize the car's efficiency: hence the small dial to the right of the gear shift. In Sport mode, you get increased responsiveness. On Eco, the car looks to improve fuel economy. The Snow switch offers more controlled acceleration on slippy streets and pavement.  In EV drive mode, the electric motor drives the car, but the speed has to be about 19 mph or more.  Consider this mode when moving through your neighborhood or inside a parking garage, for example. The car will not increase overall fuel efficiency, but it is saving the planet when it does not spew out any gas emissions.

And there's no need to plug in this car for the electric battery. Like other hybrids, the regenerative braking system also 
StorageFor a weekend trip to the beach, the car handled all our precious cargo. Things like coolers and suitcases did very well in addition to the sports equipment.  Because we did carry so much, I was giddy when I was able to use the remote control to open and close the back hatch.  The promo material says you can stash at least four golf bags comfortably.  That is targeted marketing for you!  In my world, enough room for workout clothes and kids sports gear, overnight weekender bags, and groceries and shopping bags is more my style.  I say thumbs up to the trunk for it is roomy and features fold down seats and a cargo cover to hide your stuff.  

Inside the car, there are the typical water cup holders, pockets behind the front row for magazine and miscellaneous storage. There is strong lighting, and the front interior light can be activated by touching the light itself.  For those who love specs, the NX 300h is 182.3 inches long, 64.8.inches high, and 83.9 inches wide with mirrors. 

Bottom line:Drives smoothly and can turn on a dime. Excellent navigation system with plenty of storage.  Back window is a bit narrow, but you can get used to it.  Interior is as comfortable as a bed!

Lexus NX 300 h Luxury compact crossover
Cost: $39,720


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