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Executive wheels: Lexus’ stinky rose

Jeff Rundles //April 1, 2015//

Executive wheels: Lexus’ stinky rose

Jeff Rundles //April 1, 2015//

2015 LEXUS NX 300h


Right after the press fleet personnel came and picked up my 2015 Lexus NX 300h, I visited a 7-11 and had a sort of déjà vu: The vehicle, I thought, was right there parked at the front door. Only it wasn’t. It was a Toyota RAV4, a virtual twin for the Lexus NX, at least in exterior styling.

The Lexus NX (the name means “Nimble Crossover”), a new vehicle in the luxury line of Toyota that was introduced just barely a year ago, is a RAV4 tricked out with extra, and superfluous, interior styling and technology that can somehow justify the vast prie differential. And this kind of bugs me.

As an auto reviewer for many years I have a heightened sense of what vehicles are coming into the market and it was my impression – from Toyota/Lexus press reports – that the Lexus NX was to be a new, whiz-bang vehicle from Lexus. Unfortunately, many of these luxury line offerings are reworked versions of the regular line chock full of all kinds of extras (technology, mostly) that are, let’s face it, more profitable than the basic vehicle. They went to great pains to have people believe that the NX is an all-new Lexus rather than an expensive RAV4, but it didn’t work on me.

Now, I like hybrids, and I have a lot of experience driving many different kinds. Toyota/Lexus hybrids have always impressed, but they dropped the ball on this 300h NX Lexus. They say the engine in this buggy is a 2.5-liter in-line four coupled with an electric powerplant to make up the hybrid, and that combined it puts out some 194 hp. If that is true, the horses in this case should have left for the glue factory some time ago. I drive a lot of cars in a ton of different situations and I have rarely been left in the lurch this much. The vehicle has no guts, so I’ll be danged if I am going to give it any glory.

Inside, I expected it to be a great luxury car, as Lexus usually is, but once again I was disappointed. Some of these luxury car makers – and Lexus is becoming among the worst – take themselves too seriously and believe that today’s luxury needs to be defined by more stuff. I recently drove the Volvo XC 60 SUV review to follow) and what stood out – what made it excellent and truly a luxury car – was its simplicity. The Volvo was like an elegant art gallery where the room is understated to accentuate the painting. The Lexus NX is like my great Aunt Flossie’s farm house: Twiggy the supermodel couldn’t walk through a room without knocking over 10 end tables and having a hundred doilies stick to her dress.

The ubiquitous LCD screen, 4.2” stuck in the high center of the upper dash, is as obtrusive and distracting as I have ever seen. And it’s not a touch screen like every other car these days; rather, there is a clumsy mouse pad that operates all the systems – audio, climate, car systems — by finger movement and clicking. It too is distracting – and about as easy to use as those smart phone based sales things where you put your signature in with your finger so it looks like your 2-year-old signed for you.

The whole dashboard is just too busy, nearly the entire driving experience a distraction. The volume/tune knobs for the audio system are nearly hidden under a outcrop of the dash. The push-button start/stop is temperamental – sometimes you’re on (or off) and sometimes you’re not. The keyless entry if iffy. Also, there’s a very light green film on the outside mirrors, presumably to dampen glare, but it also dulls the view; besides you’d think in a Lexus they’d make the view rose-colored.

On the plus side, there is a wireless phone charging unit in the console that, once you tune your phone to it, will charge it simply by placing it on the tray.

I didn’t like this vehicle at all, and I was very disappointed. For the record, the base price of the NX 300h in AWD is $41,310, compared with $35,880 for the AWD turbocharged gas model. The mileage is listed as 33 city/30 highway on the hybrid, 22/28 on the gas. On my test-drive mode Lexus added another $10,000 in stuff – a luxury package, sensing wipers (the noisiest wipers ever), navigation, and a whole list of other stuff that, if you had it, would distract you even more. Bottom line $51,113.

I reviewed the RAV4 last fall (read it here). My main objection was the price, and I still feel like it’s a bit high – but it’s all a matter of perspective. Since the Lexus NX is, essentially, a RAV4 in a tuxedo, personally I‘d rather have the RAV4. No, the Toyota didn’t have as much “stuff” as the Lexus, but with a bottom line of $33,808 on the 2015 model – if you’re counting, that’s a little more than $17,000 less than the NX – I will guarantee you there isn’t $17,000 worth of difference. Indeed, I’d rather have the RAV4 because it is simpler. You can concentrate on the driving and the horses here – 176 hp – feel like thoroughbreds.

Skip the pretense – and the ruse of calling the NX all new – and get the RAV4 if you want a small SUV. You will love the RAV4 and you’ll have enough money left over  — well, to buy 2/3 of another one.