2018 Lexus NX300h

At Edmonton’s Aviation Museum

Hybridized and Urbanized

Winter’s never the greatest time for a hybrid vehicle to show off their superior fuel economy – everyday driving is harder work in snow, and running the heater (and heated seats and steering wheel, in this case) force the gasoline engine to be in use most of the time.

Nevertheless, I ended a week of driving with figures not too far off the stated FE (which is a combined city/highway consumption of 7.5L/100 km, I got 8.8 during a freezing cold week with a fair amount of snow) in our test subject – the 2018 NX300h.

Here’s a crossover that is riding the wave of popularity that buyers have bestowed on the small-ish utility vehicle segment, and bringing with it a Lexus level of premium build quality in addition to an economical low-emissions powertrain.

As you know, Lexus is the luxury arm of Toyota Motors, the company that has done more than anyone to bring hybrid vehicles to the masses (check back next week, when we’ll be looking at the latest version of their original marketplace gamechanger, the Prius), and in terms of size and configuration (and powertrain) you could think of the NX as being the more elite version of the company’s ultra popular RAV4.

Fitting into the Lexus utility lineup between the recently announced UX and the larger and better known RX models, the NX has been around for about four years now – long enough that it has received a bit of a refresh for the 2018 model year, though not a complete model change.

New front fascia and a sleekening of the grille and front bumpers have helped streamline its appearance on approach; and the love-it-or-hate-it ‘spindle’ grille that the vehicle shares with the rest of the Lexus lineup has been incorporated more seamlessly into the overall presentation.

The rear of the NX has had its taillights stretched a bit, the rear bumper has been lowered and widened, the exhaust tips are larger for this year and an underbody spoiler has been added.

Overall, I think the styling changes work in its favor, this is a good-looking machine that manages to stand out on the road without begging for attention in an undignified or gaudy fashion; unlike a number of ‘premium’ compact crossovers that have sprouted up in the expanding segment.

The NX is more about the occupant’s experience inside it than the overall curb appeal, although it does look sweet perched on those eighteen-inch alloy wheels.

Our test car showed off nice upholstery over comfortable seating (the leather even extended to the wrap on the steering wheel), and brought the newly enlarged information screen to the center-dash display (the display has grown three inches from previous models).

Comfort is always one of the strong points in virtually any Lexus, and our NX lived up to expectations with a fully adjustable driver’s seat, decent room overhead in the front row, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and a heated steering wheel.

Ah, yes indeed. The Remote Touch touchpad. photo courtesy Lexus Canada

Everything is easy to reach and relatively intuitive to operate, but let us draw your attention once again to the interface, which is this touchpad thing here. I find it fiddly and imprecise, to be honest with you, and easy to overshoot the menu items I try to select.

I’ll warn you too, the NX isn’t a huge vehicle. I didn’t find the space bad, but it is noticeably tighter inside than the RX model, and likewise doesn’t offer as much cargo and second-row space.

From a driving perspective, the NX300h boasts a smooth ride and a quiet cabin (although, interestingly, the engine note is reproduced inside the cabin through the vehicle’s sound system speakers, in what the company calls ‘Active Sound Control’. Neat, eh?)

The all-wheel drive system offers a selection of preprogrammed drive modes (Sport, Eco and Normal, as with most of Lexus’ hybrids), and the electric power steering system makes the handling responsive and car-like, overall. Our test car also contained the Lexus Safety System, which brought lane-departure with steering assist.

The Hybrid gets its power from a combination of 2.5L gasoline engine mated to two electric motors, bringing enhanced fuel economy to the NX and a combined output of 194 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque.

So it isn’t exactly a sports car, but frankly I didn’t feel under-powered during my time in the NX. The transmission is a CVT, as seamless as any in the company’s lineup does a great job of everyday driving (and includes paddle shifters as well).

Lexus’ overall rep speaks for itself, the company dominates in data from consumer advocacy agencies in terms of reliability and build quality.

There’s little to dislike here, as I find with most of the company’s products, and if you find the price a bit on the ‘high’ side (which it is, let’s not lie to each other here, gentle reader),I am going to suggest cross-shopping the NX against the Toyota RAV4 hybrid (coincidentally the 2019 model was just unveiled in New York), which sports virtually the same powertrain in a more budget-conscious machine but at roughly ten grand less.

Here’s the sheet (pdf): NXh 963 – BXWV 682 EN

This one here, though, a 2018 NX300h, came to $55,300 (and that’s before freight and taxes, the full sticker was $57,471.25 CDN)

Don’t forget to check out our video of the NX on Youtube!

 

2018 Crashed Ice in Edmonton

Well, that was pretty entertaining.

We took in Redbull’s Crashed Ice event on its Edmonton stop this past weekend, the last stop on a globe spanning tour that has seen this Ice Cross Downhill World Championships stop in cities from Finland to France to the US and Canada – in fact, the race was in La Sarre Quebec before bring the action to Edmonton, the final stop on the tour.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with the sport before we attended the Edmonton; but it isn’t too hard to get your brain around the concept, it’s a downhill skate race over a course that looks pretty extreme.

The skaters go off in heats of up to four, and rocket down an elaborate elevated course with a heavily iced surface, first one to the finish line wins. Sounds straightforward enough, right? But its easier said than done when you’re traveling at speeds of up to 80km/h.

No question this qualifies as an extreme sport, my friends, and I have nothing but respect for all the athletes who made it to the Edmonton final round.

(Incidentally, the overall winners were crowned here Saturday night, and American Amanda Trunzo took the honors in the women’s division, and Canada’s Scott Croxall won the men’s.

The full results can be seen here on Redbull’s Crashed Ice page

But it wasn’t just about the races themselves, this was a full-on, get-out-and-enjoy the spectacle in downtown E-town, where the streets around the Shaw center were closed off and people marched down Grierson hill to a site filled with a really decent crowd around the ice-cross track.

Adding another level of interest, this is the first year that Hyundai Motors has partnered with Redbull for the Crashed Ice show, the Korean manufacturer is using the extreme sport to showcase a couple of their more extreme vehicles – the newest generation of pumped-up Velosters.

The three door hatchbacks are being groomed for rally sport with the introductions of the 2019 Veloster Turbo and their halo hatch, the Veloster N

The Turbo was on display up at street level, showing off for the crowd with a sporty leatherclad interior and matte paint-job on it that looked pretty appealing.

This one boasts 201hp 195 lb.-ft. of torque (and I’m told it will be available with a manual transmission as well), but the monster Veloster, the N, was strictly on display at Crashed Ice.

Mirko Lahti of Finland, Alex Schrefels of the United States, Jesse Sauren of Finland and Joni Saarinen of Finland compete during the Junior Competition at the tenth and final stage of the ATSX Ice Cross Downhill World Championship at the Red Bull Crashed Ice in Edmonton, Canada on March 9, 2018.

Here it is up on a pedestal in front of one of the first drops on the ice course, looking sporty; and when it hits the streets and showrooms this car will really be bringing the performance.

A 2.0L turbocharged engine pushing 275 horses and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, riding on an electronically controlled suspension and offering a selection of driving modes tuned for track performance; with distinctive body sculpting and detailing to differentiate this top of the line model from the Turbo and other members of the Veloster lineup.

The N won’t be available until later in the year, so this is our first look at it, but we’ll be hoping to take a drive in this little monster when it arrives.

And on a less adrenalizing but perhaps more practical note, Hyundai had their newest urban-oriented utility vehicle on hand as well – here’s the 2018 Kona at their display in downtown Edmonton.

Now if you’re like me, gentle reader, you probably realize that while you may want the Veloster, the Kona is the one that makes a better case for purchase as all-round everyday vehicle for all seasons.

And that’s about it. Having seen this year’s Crashed Ice competition, I’m a fan; and having seen Edmonton’s support for the event and the good time had by everyone I met there I’d bet the event’s sponsors and promoters are fans of us too.

Check out the Youtube here:

 

 

 

2018 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Wagon

This time out we have a wagon, and not just any wagon, mind you, but a premium vehicle from Mercedes, in the form of a long-roofed C- class: a 2018 C 300 Wagon.

I’m a big fan of hatchbacks, so it stands to reason that a wagon-bodied car is equally appealing to me; what with them bringing the convenience of a five-door vehicle, just, you know, longer.

This bodystyle seems to make an appearance from time to time in cars from a number of manufacturers, hangs around for a product cycle or two and then fades away. I’m thinking of a few that I have liked over the years – Mazda’s Protege5 (and later the Mazda6 wagon from the mid-aughts, Subaru’s Legacy wagon, heck even the Dodge Magnum, I’ll count that too.

But this German family-friendly conveyance is a bit different. More of an upper-class status machine, more executive caliber, fancier all around, and with more bells and whistles.

Its a good time of year to flail about in the C Wagon, for as you see it is a pretty cold day out there; with repeated dumpings of snow over the past few days. The Benz tester sport Mercedes awd system (called 4MATIC by the company) and has been handling itself admirably.

Now that’s a cluster. I always opt for the digital speedometer display, of the choices the C 300 offers

Notice, too, that the C isn’t a crossover, so it doesn’t have quite the ground clearance that you would get in models like the GLC, but I haven’t got the car stuck yet and it grips the road competently and handles well in these conditions.

It has power enough, although the C 300s 2.0 litre turbo engine isn’t at the top of the class, but 241 horses and 273 lb.-ft of torque haul it around with ample to spare. Acceleration is good, in any of the drive modes (I ran it mostly in Eco, just for the fuel economy benefits, but the C comes alive with Sport and Sport+ modes that tailor the combination of engine response and transmission behavior to a more active driving style.

A 9-speed automatic transmission marshals the engine power (and there are steering mounted paddle shifters if you like to get involved in changing your own gears, but really, I found the C’s 9G-TRONIC just fine making its own decisions).

Outwardly, this is a good-looking wagon – more so than it looks in the photos, as it is covered in ice – and easily recognizable as being part of the Benz family.

It is a piece of art inside as well, very comfortable (in a ‘cozy’ sort of way, as the C class is smaller overall than Mercedes’ E or S class vehicles. The seats are upholstered Artico leather (or ‘leatherlike substance’, if you will) comfortable in both rows and favoring the driver with a cockpit-like feel.

I loved the Burmester sound system in the test model, and the additional (and optional) technology included in this one fleshed out the space age appeal of the C with a 360-degree bird’s eye view simulation displayed on the center console monitor.

In case you haven’t been in a Benz for a while, here’s the main controller set for the company’s COMAND system for accessing the various onboard functions. It… requires some getting used to, but frankly I think I like it as well as Lexus’ touchpad, or BMW’s iDrive.

The car rides beautifully, of course, and that is the company’s main claim to fame. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Benz – and I mean any of the models – that anyone I had out for a ride didn’t remark on the incredible smoothness and quiet that almost leaves a passenger disconnected from the road. It’s actually a pretty relaxing way to be ferried around.

Through and through, the 2018 C 300 wagon is quite a machine, certainly more practical and versatile than the sedan version of the C, and this one here is very well equipped; but there’s a ‘but’ attached to this statement my friends.

For you see, to make it this well equipped, many an option package was included with the car, and as you might imagine it all comes at a price.

Starting at an initial buy-in of $46,000, the wagon got a $5000 Premium package, Premium Plus package, Selenite grey paintjob, heated steering wheel, satellite radio and the upgraded sound system, all at additional expense, in addition to the ‘dark ash wood trim. Here’s a breakdown: C 300 Wagon_2018_WDDWH4KB7JF579954

And that took the whole thing up to $57,865. Now of course that’s nothing to a couple of high rollers like you and I, gentle viewer, but make no mistake, that’s getting up there.

And this is a thing that always kind of bugs me, when an already pricey car requires a suite of add-ons to bring it to the level of desirability that attracted you to the brand in the first place.

Nevertheless, that’s just me.

Feel free to check out a quick video of the C Wagon on our Youtube channel!