Buy one, get one free: it’s the kind of thing you see in the cracker aisle, or maybe the clearance rack—not so much the car dealership. But it’s something that may pop into your head when you get behind the wheel of the 2018 Lexus NX 300. Sure, the invoice says you paid for one vehicle; driving out of the lot, however, you can’t help but feel you’re taking home two, each with distinct character and vibe.
This multidimensional personality is a big part of what has helped the NX 300 not only conquer the luxury SUV market in Canada, but reinvent it. Its introduction with the 2015 model caused something of a stir within the normally staid market, demonstrating that a high-end SUV didn’t have to be boxy and indistinct with an unadventurous, thoroughly suburban persona. Instead, it could offer both capability and charisma—something that could turn heads as well as it could move people from point A to B.
Fast forward to today, and Lexus clearly has received the message that you don’t mess with a good thing. And so, the 2018 version of the NX is more the refinement of a winning formula than it is a down-to-the-chassis relaunch.
At first glance, the NX has an aggressive, angular design. Absent are the sanded-down corners and the easy, flowing curves of other luxury models; in their place are a multitude of edges that speak to urgency and agility. Even the arrow-inspired “swoosh” of the daytime running lights have been chiselled and sharpened to a fine point—all the better to suggest the speed that lies within. The grille is perhaps the most notable aspect of this aesthetic. The distinct spindle design makes it clear that the NX isn’t really looking to make new friends—you either embrace it for what it is, or you drive on.
Inside, the NX reveals a more restrained personality. The interior is clean, comfortable, and attractive (would you expect anything less from Lexus?). The contoured, heated leather seats envelop your lower body; the design and controls are attractively minimal; the finish feels rich and well put-together, without being opulent or ostentatious. There aren’t a lot of cutting-edge ideas here—the standard paddle shifters, the 10.3-inch navigation screen, and the remote touch pad are more “it’s great to be alive today” than they are “welcome to the future”—but there also isn’t much to quibble with. This is the Lexus definition of luxury: a practical, everyday kind of exclusiveness, one that feels equally at home running down to the corner store and showing up to the world premiere.
They call it a “compact” SUV, and they’re not lying. Driver and passenger have plenty of room, and back-seat commuters have their fair share as well. As for cargo, the groceries won’t be a problem, and those two suitcases will fit fine on the way back from the airport; the kid’s hockey bag, however, might have to find another way home. All in all, this is the perfect choice for the downtown dweller, the empty nester, the one-kid family. For the Brady Bunch, not so much.
On the road, the NX is a pleasant combination of its two personalities, expressing both the speed-loving roadster and the soft, forgiving city-mobile in fairly equal measure. Taking the car on a test drive from Kelowna to Penticton, as this author did, showcases its true prowess. Sure, if you’re looking to go to Nürburg, you’re in for a bit of a let-down, but the tested 2.0-litre turbocharged engine provides enough muscle for most. Standard all-wheel drive and a revamped suspension hug country roads nicely without being racecar-stiff on the downtown commute. Safety-wise, Lexus offers a class-leading suite of standard features, including lane-departure alert and full-speed dynamic radar cruise control.
Clearly, the NX is comfortable being more than one thing. And, if we’re being honest, this is probably how most of us experience driving. Heading up to the cottage for a long weekend, we’ll put on our aviators, roll down the sunroof, and push the pedal to the metal; driving home from a difficult end-of-day meeting, we’re looking for something calmer, quieter, and more comforting. The NX gives us a fair helping of both, without having to sacrifice too much of either.
The best of both worlds—nothing wrong with that. And you didn’t even need a double-sized garage to get it.
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