Eric's Autos: 2021 Lexus NX 300h
Buying a hybrid is beginning to make economic sense again, because the price of gas is going up again. Which can make up for the higher buy-in price of the hybrid.
And maybe even more.
How much you save -- or don't -- ultimately depends on how high the price of gas goes. Right now, it's looking like it'll be at least $3 by Memorial Day, and it's already higher than that in some parts of the country.
Which makes paying a little more initially for a hybrid something that could well be worth the expense, especially given what you might be having to pay at the pump by Labor Day.
What It Is
The NX 300h is the hybrid version of the Lexus NX, which is a compact-sized/two-row luxury crossover very similar in appearance and layout to the better-known and midsize Lexus RX.
It stickers for $40,160 to start.
A top-of-the-line NX 300h F Sport Black Line trim lists for $46,910.
The Black Line trim is new -- and unique to the NX 300 hybrid. It includes leather sport seats with contrast blue stitching that's not offered in the nonhybrid NX, plus a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled driver and front passenger seats and a firmer-riding suspension.
It's a lot like the RX for a lot less than the RX.
You can't control gas prices -- but you can control how much gas you use.
There are redundant manual controls for important functions such as the climate control and stereo -- which still comes with a CD player, too.
What's Not So Good
The mileage advantage is almost entirely in city driving situations.
It's not as speedy as the RX.
The trackpad interface is hard to use accurately when the NX is moving.
Under the Hood
Like other hybrids, the NX 300h can be more accurately described as a part-time electric car.
It has a gas-burning engine that powers the drive wheels, like any other car. In this case, it's a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. But like an electric car, it also has a high-voltage (nickel-metal hydride) battery pack that feeds volts to electric motors that can also power the drive wheels and accessories such as the air conditioning, which continues to work even when the gas engine is off.
The advantage to this combo layout is an electric car without the disadvantages of an electric car.
You don't have to worry about how far it can go before it runs out of range -- or how long you will have to wait to recharge.
It is capable of delivering 33 mpg in city driving -- which is in the same ballpark as many compact economy cars and a very impressive 11 mpg higher than the nonhybrid NX 300 delivers.
On the Road
There is another functional advantage the hybrid can tout to justify its higher price: its silence. This isn't just a quiet vehicle. It's an almost noiseless vehicle. All you'll hear as you roll down your driveway to the main road is the sound of gravel under your tires.
The gas engine comes on once you're on the road and rolling faster than about 25 mph, but it's quiet, too. Toyota (the parent company of Lexus) has been selling hybrids longer than any other car company and has refined the art of the seamless transition from silent electric drive to combustion-engine drive to an ... art.
At the Curb
Lexus built the NX, hybrid and not, to appeal to customers who like the larger Lexus RX -- which created the luxury crossover SUV class when the first one came out back in 1998 -- but who'd also like a bit less of it.
The midsize RX 350 isn't huge, but it is larger than many people who are looking for a luxury crossover need.
Enter the NX, which is about a foot shorter end to end (182.7 inches versus 192.5 for the RX). This makes it easier to park, and it takes up less space when it is parked.
Interestingly, the NX has slightly more cargo room behind its second row (16.8 cubic feet) than the RX with a significantly larger footprint (which has 16 cubic feet) and almost as much space for stuff with its second row folded flat (53.7 cubic feet versus 56.3 cubic feet in the RX).
Even back-seat legroom is close. The NX offers 36.1 inches versus 38 for the RX.
The RX is speedier -- it comes standard with a powerful 3.5-liter V-6 -- and it is capable of pulling twice as much (3,500 pounds versus just 1,500 for the NX), but there's a great deal of overlap, otherwise.
It is hard to find a new car that still has a CD player. The NX is one of the few that still does. This is a nice feature to have if you haven't transferred all your CDs to digital format or just like playing a CD every now and then.
The Bottom Line
Until just a few months ago, when gas was only about $2 per gallon, it was hard to make an economic case for any hybrid. But that was then -- and hybrids are beginning to make a little more sense again.
And maybe a lot more tomorrow.
Eric's latest book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.