Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

2019 Lexus NX 300 AWD

2.0-liter turbocharged four (235 hp @ 4,800 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

27 city / 33 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.6 city / 8.5 highway / 9.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

20.3 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $38,910 US / $46,225 CAD

As Tested: $46,000 US / $58,975 CAD

Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,175 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

“Ask the man who owns one,” Packard once implored readers from the glossy depths of various Depression-era magazines. While clearly not interested in courting the female buyer (I hope they’re dragged on Twitter for this insensitive tagline), Packard’s core message still holds up today.

No one loves poo-pooing other people’s buying decisions quite like auto journos, but each and every buyer has their own reasons for choosing the way they did. Shocking though it may be to some, buyers often walk (okay, drive) away quite pleased with their purchase — even with crossovers plucked from a homogenous pool of now limitless depth.

And, barring quality headaches down the road, their feelings might stay that way, too.

While I never held any deep dislike for Lexus’ compact NX, aside from the fact that its nose is undoubtedly the most prominent — and unprotected — in the industry, desire or even “interest” were never needles that budged off the baseline. What could change this perception? Driving one.

For some, the NX’s… um… bold styling may be too great a hurdle to cross. Lexus was certainly out to get noticed when it debuted this thing for the 2015 model year. I consider myself a member of the camp that offers Lexus lukewarm applause for at least making its vehicles identifiable; bucking the now waning trend of building blander and blander boxes for fear of offending buyers (at the risk of stimulating no one).

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Yes, the NX snouts its way into traffic like an early ’70s Pontiac, only with a greater likelihood of steep repair bills should a driver in front stomp the brakes unexpectedly. Its body is a cornucopia of oblique creases — from the signature spindle grille and headlamp eyeliner, all the way back to taillights that look either like earrings or pendants from the 1980s, or maybe a deformed Pontiac badge.

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This NX isn’t a hybrid (see Chris’ review of that model here), meaning a single propulsion source rests under the hood. Surprise — it’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, as we’re all turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders these days. All my friends are, too. And while a turbo four boasting 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft is substantial power in a sedan, its ability to motivate this 4,050-pound crossover fell into the category of adequate. Decent, perhaps. Unfortunately, the turbo/automatic setup also delivers a hefty dose of lag, though things become more enjoyable when underway. The six-speed automatic stays mainly in the background.

This tester’s cabin broke up the often dour crossover ambiance with high-contrast, two-tone, soft-touch surfaces punctuated by somewhat convincing metallic-like trim, though the driver’s chair was docked a few points for insufficient lumbar support. It’s adjustable, but the lower seatback is just too concave for my creaky frame. Spinal implosions loomed, yet never pounced. Legroom was ample and armrests, well, those can only be described as pillowy.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Out back, headroom and legroom doesn’t feel pinched, but the NX shows its age with a single 120 volt/110-watt outlet — no USB ports in sight. If carrying connected passengers is in the cards, this could pose a problem. Folding that split rear seatback won’t, however. Not only are there power switches for the 60/40 seatback in the decently-sized rear cargo hold, there’s a set up front, accessible to the driver.

Sadly, those backseat occupants won’t be able to lend assistance as the driver struggles with Lexus’ touchpad controller. Like a crude ICBM, overshooting the target on the optional 10.3-inch iPad infotainment screen is this bit of hardware’s forte, at least until a delicate touch becomes old hat. It’s a common gripe of Lexus products; I’m adding my name to a long list of detractors.

Overall, the cold March week spent in the NX would have ended in a snooze had I not endeavored to take the thing a few inches off the beaten path. Sure, the steering boasts typical Lexus execution (meaning: quite firm, with a solid, reassuring on-center feel), and the suspension did seem to offer a good compromise of road isolation and athleticism, but doing the urban runabout thing is a drag. I headed for the hills, which, due to Mother Nature’s wrath, were as icy and rough as a scorned wife.

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Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Let’s get one thing straight before the adventure begins: the NX 300 has the most lackluster “sport” mode I’ve yet encountered. When engaged, I felt no discernable boost to steering firmness. Pedal weight decreased only mildly, and the six-speed auto saw no reason to remain in a lower gear. I flicked that dial at differing speeds, and never caught a downshift. “Normal” or “eco” it was, then.

North of my city lies a narrow, riverside road dating to the pioneer era. The land below it is not original land. It’s quarry fill laid atop a bed of unstable Leda (“quick”) clay, sitting immediately adjacent to a fast-moving river that’s prone to flooding. Each year, the road slides ever so slightly towards the river, but never in a uniform fashion. It’s so broken, bent and uneven, I wouldn’t take my daily driver down there in July.

For you, B&B, I opened the NX up and let its legs do the talking. The result? I walked away impressed, as this denizen of upper-middle class neighborhoods everywhere handled the suspension torture test with grace, even clearing a severe trough (one I would have braked for, had I the time) and subsequent, abrupt rise without the front MacPhersons bottoming out. For a second, I was sure there’d be pain.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Not bad, I thought, turning from a road that could turn into black water in a second and into an old, semi-abandoned industrial area. The NX’s all-wheel drive system had already proven itself in an impromptu hill climb test (the icy graveyard behind my house), but I was eager to up the challenge. A real hill presented itself, on which multiple rainstorns had created a glass-like ramp of solid ice. Down we went, the 18-inch mud & snows doing their best to keep the descent controlled. After reaching the bottom of the dead-end path, the real test began. As the NX comes with an AWD lock button, the grippy rubber and 50:50 torque split would either get us back to the top, or I’d spend the afternoon in search of a Frenchman with a winch.

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Thankfully, I didn’t need to bone up on another language. Both NX and driver made it up the hill and out of the area on the first try. Good thing, too, as someone was poking around in the abandoned building immediately adjacent to the path. I have enough friends, thank you very much.

Suffice it to say my opinion of the NX changed that afternoon. Having proven itself in wilder climes than just gentrified streets, a newfound respect blossomed in our relationship. The NX drives well, handles well, feels well put together, is reasonably quiet at speed, and won’t flake out when the going gets rough. The only two considerations that might nip a fledgling romance in the bud, however, are looks and content.

For an AWD compact crossover that starts at $38,910 (U.S., after destination), you’d think Lexus could include features like Apple CarPlay, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard kit. Or maybe heated seats. Or a power tilt and telescoping wheel. Or perhaps that rear-seat plug-in point. As it is, buyers will have to pony up extra to bring these goodies (and more) on board.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

This Canadian tester lumped the contents of every available package together in a $12,750 Executive mega-package. Ouch. It’s everything you want (minus some rear seat USB ports not available to anyone), but man, the “value” element found in most premium vehicles disappears after checking that box.

Lexus has a good thing going with the NX, attracting more buyers with each passing year. Last year saw a 4.6 percent U.S. volume increase, but danger looms on the horizon. Acura’s redesigned RDX, a direct NX rival, is a hit, and its newfound on-road prowess and 10-speed automatic make the Lexus look antiquated in comparison, all virtues aside. There’s a new Lincoln Corsair (née MKC) coming this year, too, and Cadillac’s XT4 just hit the market.

Having read the writing on the wall, Lexus has a revamped NX waiting to defend its claim in the premium compact crossover space. Expect that model’s appearance sometime next year.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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