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 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

2017 Hyundai Ioniq

Ioniq-6You know, there are times I wish a car had a navigation system. No lie, citizen; I’m the kind of person could get lost in a room with one door, and have a poor relationship with geography, even here in my beloved home city.

Combined with my uncannily poor sense of direction it can become a problem, especially if looking for an address in the west end. Or anywhere outside the Henday ring road, frankly.

My test car, a 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, is unable to help me with my tragic, lifelong problem; for it contains no navigation module or app.Ioniq-9

And that right there is my one big problem with my test ride, pretty much everything else I really like.

The Ioniq is positioning itself to be perhaps one of the very few true rivals to Toyota’s ownership of the hybrid segment with its world-beating Prius line, and if the likeable Ioniq holds up in terms of long-term quality it’s a contender

(This nameplate is new, but Korean manufacturers have been putting on a pretty Hybrid show, lately, with well-received offerings like Kia’s Optima Hybrid)Ioniq-2

There are actually three Ioniq models. The test car I used is their straight-up hybrid (which employs a gasoline engine combined with electric motor), but Hyundai also makes an all-electric version and a plug-in hybrid, which allows the battery to be recharged via a power cord module.

My gas-electric tester is the way to go, as far as I am concerned, doing away with the range anxiety of an all-electric car and also not adding another piece of equipment to the mix with an external charger. No matter what the charge level of the battery, it is a comfort knowing that there is a 1.6L internal combustion engine to fall back on.Ioniq-1

Even without considering the science of the whole thing, though the Ioniq functions very well as just a straight-up ‘car’. Better-than-adequate power is delivered by the system (the company claims a combined output of 139hp for the hybrid), made peppier with a Sport mode for the six-speed automatic transmission.

That’s kind of a rarity in itself, eh? A regular transmission on a vehicle like this, where I am accustomed to CVTs on hybrids. And not a bargain-basement tranny, either, but a dual-clutch rig that delivers fast and appropriate shifts (and allegedly rivals a continuously variable transmission for fuel-efficiency as well).

My navigation problem aside, the Ioniq delivered a comprehensive list of inclusions inside the cabin. Heated seats with memory function (and heated steering wheel) are a great creature comfort to have, ditto the LCD screen for the information display on the center stack.

A digital speed display is one of the fields available for between-the-gauges information, always a favorite for me, in any car. The driver’s seating position is made more comfortable with a steering column that allows a better range of tilt-and-telescoping than I have found in Toyota’s Prius.Ioniq-3

In an unrelated similarity to Prius, Hyundai has also split the rear window horizontally with a crosspiece, which has the effect of compromising rear visibility; as do the fat C-pillars of the Ioniq.

This is mitigated by the car’s backup camera, rear cross-traffic detection and blind-spot information systems, though, and I frankly didn’t have any complaints about the visibility during my time in the car.

Headroom up front is good, rear seat roominess is what you would expect in a compact car (i.e., not super, but the seats fold down for additional cargo – which is how they would spend their lives if I owned the car anyway).Ioniq-5

Overall, the Ioniq delivers a genuinely nice compact car that brings great fuel economy (I averaged 4.5L/100 km during my time in it) and styling that is attractive to look at – this isn’t an ugly car, nor is the sheetmetal overly far-out to attract attention just for the sake of it.

Screen shot 2017-05-15 at 10.54.55 AMIt comes with a pricetag that isn’t alienating, either. My test model, a “Blue” trim level Hybrid model, enters at $24,299, although you can push it up over 30K at the high end if you opt for the Limited trim with Tech package.

Which is probably where my navigation system is found.Ioniq-8