Lexus, Infiniti take SUV battle upscale

John Gilbert

Lexus NX300h is a compact SUV tour de force with hybrid power and over 30 mpg — and all-wheel drive. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Lexus NX300h is a compact SUV tour de force with hybrid power and over 30 mpg — and all-wheel drive. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The Lexus NX300h styling is polarizing, but shows some imagination and character beyond other Lexus SUVs. Photo credit: John Gilbe
The Lexus NX300h styling is polarizing, but shows some imagination and character beyond other Lexus SUVs. Photo credit: John Gilbe
Rich interior fabrics and colors and control redesign is important to Lexus NX300h. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Rich interior fabrics and colors and control redesign is important to Lexus NX300h. Photo credit: John Gilbert

There are few combatants in the world of automotives more intense than Toyota and Nissan. Maybe Chevrolet and Ford, or Mercedes and BMW, rival that competitiveness, but the two Japanese giants make a pretty good case for themselves.

One avenue both have taken is their upscale outlets — Toyota has Lexus, which has become a standard of top-level prestige and engineering, while Nissan has Infiniti, an engineering stalwart making serious gains as a performance-luxury brand.

Recently I’ve had the chance to test a pair of the newest vehicles from both Lexus and Nissan, and not coincidentally they are both from among an ever-expanding list of impressive SUVs. Since neither Lexus nor Infiniti has a dealer in Northern Minnesota — both have several dealers in the Twin Cities — we can admire the features of both the Lexus NX300h and the Infiniti QX60, and ponder how they might fit into a Great White North scenario.

However, while both the Lexus NX300h and Infiniti QX60 are loaded with impressive features, only the NX300h has all-wheel drive. The Infiniti QX60 is front-wheel drive. As I’ve explained before, putting the right snow tires on a front-wheel drive car should assure a competent driver to make it through the worst blizzards the Duluth area can generate. But for the price, there are a lot of AWD competitors, even within their own brands.

The NX300h is from out of the latest offerings from Toyota’s vast hybrid stable. It has a drivetrain with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder connected to electric power from the corporate Hybrid Synergy Drive and as the latest version of Toyota engineering skill, the combined output of the 2.5 gas engine and the battery-pack juice comes to 194 horsepower — more than enough to send the NX300h rocketing on its way.

The shape and contours are what they call polarizing. You love it or hate it, with no in-between. Personally, I really admire the new look, with its signature grille and all the slashed contours of the sides and rear. It comes with an electronically-controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission), which may annoy some hard-core driving enthusiasts with the droning feel of acceleration.

My wife Joan, and I, took the NX300h on a trip from Duluth to Brainerd and back to watch the NHRA drag races, and we found the accommodations very comfortable and smooth on the highways. We also registered 33 miles per gallon, which doesn’t seem mind-blowing for a 4-cylinder-and-hybrid set-up, but when you consider that it is an all-wheel-drive SUV that will actually tow up to 2,000 pounds, it becomes more impressive.

Naturally the NX300h has all the latest connectivity and driver-aid systems, such as lane assist and a larger nav screen with an updated audio system and also LED headlights.

Like its Toyota kin, this Lexus model has top safety ratings and a retained value estimate of 55 percent after five years of ownership.

Base price on the NX300h is $38,335, and as-testd it came to $47,165 with all the added on cross-traffic alert, navigation system and 10-speaker premium sound.

Of course, you can also compare the NX300h to the GX, LX, RX and new UX for size variations, although all of them have that similar identifying look. Polarizing. The NX300h, however, can make the others jealous with that hybrid system, and I think the rich finish of the interior panels, such as the seats and dashboard and console, are the best in the Lexus group.

Infiniti QX60 has lots of power, FWD only, and this stunning “Deep Bordeaux” paint job. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Infiniti QX60 has lots of power, FWD only, and this stunning “Deep Bordeaux” paint job. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Infiniti QX60 has size, comfort and luxury even without AWD. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Infiniti QX60 has size, comfort and luxury even without AWD. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Finely finished interior makes the QX60 Infiniti’s luxury SUV. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Finely finished interior makes the QX60 Infiniti’s luxury SUV. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Moving over to the Infiniti selections, there also are several, from the gigantic QX80, to this QX60, and down to the QX50 and the QX30.

I’m a little prejudiced, because I think the QX30 with its low, sporty shape and size is the best of the batch with its sizzling high-torque 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo. Then the QX50 comes along with complete revision and the fantastic new variable-compression-ratio 2.0-liter 4 with unbelievable power. The bigger QX80 is a Titan in SUV clothing, with the big 5.6-liter V8.

In that company, the QX60 is pleasantly smaller than the QX80, and only moderately bigger than the QX50. It only comes, however, with the 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection and 295 horsepower with 270 foot-pounds of torque.

So the QX60 moves well for a larger SUV, but with all that power, I can’t see you getting up and over the EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon highway. More likely you’ll be nearer the 20 mpg city.

The interior of the QX60 demands close scrutiny, because if Infiniti set out to make this one the luxury SUV of the Infiniti line, it accomplished that challenge. Screen monitors in the rear of the front headrests should take care of the rear seat passengers, no matter their age and DVD preferences.

The safety items are impressive too, with all the electronic driver aids, including near-perfect 360-degree surround camera view of yourself whenever you back up. At $45,800, the QX60 started out loaded with features and comfort, but adds the Limited package, the Sensory package, the Proactive package, the Theater package and the Essential package. That boosts the sticker to $65,930, for those of you who think adding $20,000 of fantastic options is doable. And there isn’t a single option you wouldn’t like to have!

The previously available hybrid has been discontinued for 2018, which is interesting.

I have to go back outside, though, to describe the signature Infiniti grille, and the curvaceous side contours that work pretty well, if not a well as on the QX50 or QX30.

But the test Infiniti came in Deep Bordeaux paint, with stone interior leather. The paint probably shouldn’t be called “red,” or even “dark red,” because it’s too captivating to simplify the identification. I guess Bordeaux measures it well.