Rivals may have caught up to it in the design department, but the 2018 Lexus NX remains a comfortable, well-equipped, compact crossover with a wide range of standard driver-assistance features. At the same time, it disappoints with mediocre handling and fuel economy, a fussy infotainment interface, and the lack of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability.

Best Value

Pricing for the 2018 NX 300 starts at $36,980 (including destination) for a front-wheel-drive model in base trim and can top out at over $54,000 for an optioned-up all-wheel-drive F Sport. Only one engine/transmission combination is offered: a 235-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Although the F Sport looks more menacing, the tweaks are largely visual while the performance differential is minimal (summer tires are optional on F Sport models). That being the case, we'd forego all-wheel-drive and stick with the base trim that includes a plethora of standard features including a rearview camera, LED low and high beam headlights, fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, power folding outside mirrors with LED turn signals, keyless push-button start, faux leather seats (power driver and front passenger), dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a GPS-enabled clock, an eight-inch touchscreen with remote touch interface, satellite radio, Siri EyesFree, and HD Radio with traffic and weather.

Also standard this year is the Lexus Safety System+ with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and automatic high beams. We'd also opt for the Premium Package that adds a number of luxury and safety touches.

Here’s how we’d build our Lexus NX:

  • Model: 2018 Lexus NX 300
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 235 hp / 258 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 22 City / 28 Hwy
  • Options: Premium Package ($3,270, auto-dimming outside mirrors with auto tilt-down in reverse, heated and cooled front seats, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, 18-inch alloy wheels, power tilt and slide moonroof, power-adjustable steering wheel, driver's seat and steering wheel memory system, enhanced daytime running lights and turn signals), Navigation System Package ($1,800, required with Premium Package), Electrochromic inside rearview mirror ($125, required with Premium Package)
  • Base Price: $36,980 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $42,175

Performance

The MacPherson strut, coil spring front and trailing arm double wishbone rear suspensions do a nice job of soaking up everything from minor road irregularities to large potholes. Off-center steering feel and brake pedal feedback is very good, it's easy to modulate the brake pedal, and there's a nice initial bite to the brake pads. The F-Sport takes things up a notch with standard all-wheel drive and lower-profile tires (stickier summers optional) on larger 18-inch wheels. The transmission also receives a Sport mode that sharpens it up over the base model. The F-Sport also pumps engine noise into the cabin on demand, making it sound sportier, as well.

But make no mistake, the NX's overall performance is only average compared to its peers, with Lexus' smallest crossover not feeling particularly quick or light on its feet. In the "normal" setting, body roll is noticeable in sharper turns, while the F-Sport's low-profile tires are louder and offer up a harsher ride without any discernible improvement in handling. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 235 hp – more than many competitors – but it and the transmission are tuned for fuel economy rather than performance, while turbo lag makes smooth power delivery hard to manage.

Finally, an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 combined is surprisingly average for the class, despite some fuel injection trickery to increase efficiency. In addition, those numbers (and, it should be noted, the horsepower figures) are achieved using premium gasoline – a significant additional expense these days. If fuel efficiency is important, consider the hybrid-powered NX 300h (covered separately).


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Style

It may have been the first Lexus crossover to sport the brand's more aggressive styling cues when it made its debut in 2014, but much of the competition has caught up – and what once was shocking is now taken for granted. It all starts up front with the signature spindle grille containing horizontal bars on the standard model and a more menacing blacked-out cross-hatch design on F-Sports that's enhanced with a larger chin spoiler and re-worked, horizontal fog lights. Bracketing the grille are narrow, triangular-shaped headlight enclosures that rest above thin, L-shaped LED daytime running lights.

Along the sides, a deeply-sculpted, triangular-shaped, lower character line rises from the base of the front wheel wells to the mid-point and leading edge of the rear wheel wells. The door handles are lit with LEDs that also act as puddle lamps, while the front and rear wheel wells are surrounded by prominent arches.

In back, the L-shaped theme from the front fascia carries over to the three-dimensional taillight lenses that ride high on the fenders, while twin chrome exhaust ports are integrated into a blacked-out lower fascia.

That highly-stylized and creased exterior is wrapped around an interior that's far more restrained, although the shape of the raucous spindle grille is cleverly integrated into the three-dimensional upper center console. The doors and upper and lower dash areas feature soft-touch surfaces, while the center console sports soft “kneepads” on either side. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard, and an available fuel-saving “S-Flow mode” can detect the absence of a front seat passenger and direct airflow only to the driver’s seat.

The front seats are very comfortable, with Lexus taking the extraordinary step of first sewing the seat covers and then injecting them with foam to avoid any air pockets. The materials used throughout feel upscale, with F-Sport models getting a unique interior with more firmly-bolstered sport seats that grip better in tight turns, along with black or red upholstery.

But all is not perfect, as the haptic touch pad remains a fussy distraction while driving, the infotainment system still lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, while the overall design promises a sportier character that the NX is capable of delivering.

The Best and Worst Things

Despite a starting price that's a bit higher than competitors, the list of standard features, including the addition of a suite of driver-assistance features, makes it a compelling pick.

At the same time, the performance of the NX 300 is disappointing and hardly befits the exterior styling. The engine wants to be efficient instead of playful, but fuel economy numbers are still only mediocre.

Right For? Wrong For?

Empty-nesters and small families looking for luxury, safety, and comfort should appreciate all the NX has to offer.

At the same time, enthusiasts won't be fooled by the sporty trimmings of the NX F-Sport.

The Bottom Line

Despite a fussy infotainment interface and mediocre handling and fuel economy, the 2018 Lexus NX is a well-equipped, safe, and competent small luxury SUV – attributes that make it a top pick in its class.