There has always been a prejudice against hybrids: boring.
No matter how technologically-advanced and fuel-efficient these vehicles are, most people view hybrid drive as uninspiring, not to mention expensive. But ever since the introduction of the new excise tax some years ago, hybrid vehicles appear to be gaining more traction (albeit slowly) in the local market. Take Lexus, for instance.
Back in 2018, the new excise tax actually convinced more Lexus customers to go hybrid. With a 50% tax break covering all hybrid vehicles, it allowed the brand to lower the prices of hybrids, or even match hybrid pricing with the non-hybrid variants.
Pricing notwithstanding, are there hybrids that are actually enjoyable to drive?
We thought we'd try to answer that question with a crossover: the NX300h from Lexus.
Wait, a crossover? For one, it doesn't look bland anymore. When the NX crossover first came out, I wasn’t too keen on its looks as I felt Lexus played it a bit safe. Thankfully, they made the NX look a bit sleeker and flashier for the refresh. From the more aggressive LED headlights to the redesigned spindle grill, as well as the more prominent taillights and bumpers. Lexus definitely upped their game in the looks department.
Banking on the L-Finesse design philosophy, L-shaped elements dominate the entirety of the crossover which makes it all the more stylish. The LED daytime running lights and the triple projector headlight design are a particular favorite of mine as it gives it a more sophisticated appearance. While some loathe the signature spindle grill, I actually like its boldness since it gives the Lexus a crisp signature.
If the exterior of the NX was impressive, the interior is sleek, sexy, and high-tech. Look past the relatively dark interior, and you will be greeted by neat touches of metal, soft-touch materials, and acres of dark leather with contrast stitching. You can even specify your personal NX to come with bamboo trimmings for Asian-inspired sophistication, although the one that I tested came with a dark wood finish which was fine nonetheless.
Sitting front and center on the dashboard is a wide infotainment display. It comes with the usual features such as AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, and USB. But If you still prefer your music via optical discs, the NX does come with a now-archaic CD player. Apart from those, the media display also doubles as a display for the hybrid system. This allows you to monitor just how much fuel you're saving, or whether you're cruising with just the electric motor running.
Both the front and rear seats are electronically-adjustable, meaning you don’t have to reach for a manual switch to find your desired sitting position. Just a few touches on the electronic switch and you’re good to go. It even has a memory function as a standard for the driver's seat. Should you need all of the rear seats folded down for extra cargo space, a press of a button can automatically recline or fold them flat with ease. The switches can be found on the drivers’ side instrument panel and in the luggage compartment itself.
Perhaps my favorite part inside the NX is its huge center console. Instead of just housing the gear selector, Lexus incorporated the electronic parking brake, the drive mode select, the center touchpad for the infotainment system, automatic brake hold, as well as the button to set the EV mode have all been neatly placed on the center for ease of use.
Not everything was perfect inside the NX. As much as I tried to like the center touchpad for the infotainment system, it wasn’t exactly intuitive to use. I’m not sure whether the pad is too sensitive, but the pointer tends to go all over the screen which can be frustrating at times. Perhaps if they could do away with the pointer and let the system work like a tablet’s screen, maybe then it would have been much easier to use.
Taller passengers might also have a hard time getting comfortable at the back. With its sloped roofline and massive moonroof, occupants that are over 5’8 may hit their heads on NX’s ceiling. And, as much as it can seat three at the back, the rear bench is really best for 2 passengers; 3 if they're quite slim.
Under the hood is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 153 PS and 210 Nm of torque. While that may not sound like much, do remember that the NX 300h is helped along with electric motors; yes, there are two. With it, the NX 300 h has a total system output of 194 PS. Power is then sent to a continuously variable transmission, complete with paddle shifters. While it may have not cracked the 200 HP mark, it has more than enough pep, and it's efficient which I'll get to later.
With a push of a button, the NX lets me know it’s ready to go with just a sound of a beep. That’s because like the Prius, the NX 300h starts off in electric mode (provided the battery has sufficient charge). Setting the car to Drive, and the NX just carried on quietly... except for the noticeable tire noise.
Keep a light foot on the accelerator pedal, and the NX can get on electric power alone. There were times that there was sufficient charge on the battery I was able to reach 50 km/h without having to use the engine. You can even monitor how much juice you're giving to the electric motor by changing the rev counter into a digital meter that states whether the engine is running or if you're just using electric power.
Around the city, I was able to average around 15.0 km/l in light traffic. Now while some of you might think it's not that impressive, other similarly-sized all-wheel-drive crossovers can only manage up to 9.0 – 10.0 km/l. In heavy traffic conditions, the NX was able to return about 10.5 km/l. It's no Prius, but this all-wheel-drive NX (the power of the electric motors drive the rear wheels) can easily sip fuel despite its relatively big engine displacement.
Performance-wise, the hybrid is no NX 300 turbo, but do not think that the NX 300h lacks any sort of pulling power. Put your foot down on the accelerator, and the electric motor kicks in to provide extra horses and torque. Meanwhile, the CVT adjusts itself in order to make the revs sharper and acceleration more responsive. And should those not be enough, you can even set the powertrain to ‘Power’ mode which heightens the overall performance of the NX.
As for riding comfort, the NX 300h is a little bit on the firm side. We're not entirely sure if it has something to do with the battery pack or the suspension itself, but if you're driving solo it'll feel stiff. Even with passengers, it felt a bit firm too. But thanks to its suspension setup, the NX is actually agile for a hybrid. Granted, it's not tuned by Lexus' F performance division, but thanks to its light steering and relatively nimble handling characteristics, it is fun to drive spiritedly.
So is the 2020 Lexus NX 300h a hybrid I would consider shortlisting? At PhP 3,678,000, it's PhP 470,000 more than the standard NX but is PhP 30,000 less than the most expensive variant, the F-Sport. It doesn't benefit from a turbocharged engine, but it's easier on the fuel bills and is definitely not boring to drive despite what preconceived notions hybrid detractors might have.
In addition, the hybrid version comes standard with a wide array of amenities and safety kit like hill-start assist, stability and traction control, front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, cruise control, satellite navigation, power tailgate, and eight airbags.
If you're looking to make the switch to a premium crossover and want to try out a hybrid that is stylish, high-tech, and efficient, the Lexus NX 300h ticks all three. I just wished that the government would offer more incentives so that hybrids will become more competitively priced. Perhaps in the near future that will become a possibility.