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Lexus vs. Volvo: An end-of-year tiny crossover competition

So you're looking to spend a lot of money on a small premium crossover? You could do worse than to try the 2019/20 Lexus NX300, which may not be easy on the eyes but is plenty of fun on the road. It battles next week's installment, the 2019/20 Volvo XC40.

The 2019/20 Lexus NX 300 still looks like a Remington MicroScreen.
The 2019/20 Lexus NX 300 still looks like a Remington MicroScreen.Read moreLexus

2019/2020 Lexus NX300 AWD: vs. Volvo XC40 T5 AWD Inscription: So, you want to pay a lot for a little bit of crossover.

This week: Lexus NX300.

Price: $50,063 as tested. With a base price of $37,785, options included (deep breath) the $4,705 Luxury Package, which added 18-inch tires, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt and telescope, heated and ventilated front seats, and more; panoramic backup camera, $800; Cold Weather Package, $100; Intuitive Parking Assist, $535; power rear door with kick sensor, $500. More below.

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the “handling agility, interior fit and finish” but not the “hampered visibility, frustrating touchpad,” or “snug interior.”

Marketer’s pitch: “The crossover, in its most visionary form.”

Reality: If you don’t need to operate the infotainment system, or just aren’t generally driven to smash annoying stuff, maybe.

What’s new: The NX was introduced in 2015 and received a refresh in 2018. Mr. Driver’s Seat tested a 2019 model, which will be fairly unchanged for 2020, though some new safety features and stereo updates have been added.

What’s not new: The blasted stereo touchpad. If you can’t get past this, then it’s game over for the Lexus, and personally, I don’t think I could. (Yeah, I’m not buying a Lexus anyway, but someday I might have the money, and I still won’t.)

The asinine reality of the touchpad came to me because I had the NX300 right after the Toyota Corolla. The interfaces in the stereo system are almost identical; the screens are the same except for some graphic touches. But the NX300 has the console-mounted Lexus touchpad, designed to mimic a laptop touchpad and operated while one’s arm rests atop the armrest. It forever misses its target, and requires eyes off the road twice with every move to remind myself (1) where’s my hand and (2) where’s the cursor. Every single time.

The Corolla, on the other hand, uses a touchscreen, and once you get a feel for the distances to different buttons, it requires only occasional glances.

Up to speed: It’s a shame because the NX300 does almost everything else stupendously. The acceleration is quick, as the 2.0-liter four creates 235 horses that rocket the small crossover to 60 in 6.9 seconds, according to Motor Trend. There’s also plenty of power for passing and other on-the-road fun stuff.

Shifty: The 6-speed transmission helps the power along easily enough. I mainly left it in automatic mode because it worked so well, but shifting is not a problem. The lever is a bit of a push, but the paddles work smoothly. This seems like an antiquated system for the price, but it works.

On the curves: The NX300 also delights on winding country roads. It zips from turn to turn effortlessly, and even roundabouts can be taken at warp speed. Sport mode definitely helps with the fun, but even regular mode is not bad at all.

Driver’s Seat: The driving controls are easy to find, and seating position in the leather seats is comfortable. The seat is a hair narrow, so larger people may find it too small.

Friends and stuff: We piled tall Sturgis Kid 4.0 into the backseat for a trip to Lancaster, and he found the room back there to be generous. Legroom was fine behind Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat, which is not often the case in vehicles this size. Headroom and foot room are also ample.

Cargo space is 16.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat, and 53.7 with the seats folded. The NX300 included a power fold feature for $400.

Play some tunes: I do need to mention that the sound from the stereo system delights. And, yes, volume and tuning knobs do help the situation, but every time I had to do something with the touchpad, I just asked myself, “Am I really that dissatisfied with what I’m listening to?” And then, dopeslap — wait a minute. I would have just paid $50,000 for the privilege of driving this thing, and I’m willing to let it tell me what song to listen to?

Night shift: The headlights sit just right and overhead lights don’t interfere with vision.

The view: The small, angular side-view mirrors and small rear windows make seeing what’s going on in the next lane and behind a challenge.

Keeping warm and cool: My first day with the NX300 was a cool and rainy one, so I sat in the vehicle hunting through the bevy of buttons protruding from the center of the dash, which jutted out at me like a monkey face. And I had a heck of time finding the defrost and such.

It became clearer that evening when everything was lit up. In fact, I rarely find a nighttime dash to be that much clearer than daytime.

Fuel economy: The Lexus averaged about 25 mpg in my usual raucous driving, but it wants only the best fuel for the job.

Setting the pace: Still uses the cruise control stalk. I like.

Where it’s built: Miyawaka, Japan

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts a 5 out of 5 for reliability.

Next week: 2019/20 Volvo XC40.