BOSTON — We’re nearing the end of 2019 and thus everyone has a smartphone. It’s a given. We use them for everything: buying stuff, making plans, taking pictures, playing games, listening to music, getting directions, sharing pictures, arguing about politics with people you barely remember from high school. For most people, the smartphone is the first thing we look at when we wake up and the last thing we look at when we fall asleep.
Let’s leave the social implications of that for another day and just all agree that iPhones and Androids are ubiquitous and that if we don’t have them within arm’s reach at all times, we get a little antsy. That’s why the first thing I look for in every car I test drive is whether there’s a good place to put my phone.
Car development cycles are very long, perhaps a half-decade these days, and it’s easy to tell when an older vehicle wasn’t designed with today’s smartphones in mind. It might be because it has a nicely designed space for the iPhone 4 that is wildly inadequate for today’s monster iPhone Pro SuperMax. It might be because there is a single USB port when there should be five times that number — note to car designers, one per seat at least, please.
And then sometimes I slide behind the wheel of a car that isn’t old, yet still leaves me wondering “where the heck does my phone go?” This brings us to the 2019 Lexus NX, which is a terrific crossover in nearly every way except for one.
You can think of the NX as the Lexus RAV4. It’s the same size as the venerable Toyota crossover, but luxuriously Lexusified. The engine is better, it’s quieter, more comfortable, better equipped, more refined and more expensive. It’s less trucky and boxy. And, on the F Sport version that I tested, it has a switch that adds extra engine noise to the cabin via a dedicated speaker.
It’s called Active Sound Control and I like it and if you hate it, you can turn it off via a simple switch on the dash, which is something that all carmakers should do. Other things I like that you might hate include the body-hugging sporty seats, an inexplicable removable mirror that hides a little cubby in the center console, and the clock on the center dash.
Then there’s the enormous screen at the top of the button-filled center stack (thanks for still giving us buttons, Lexus), which looks great when you have it plugged into CarPlay (it supports Alexa too!) and terrible when you don’t. There’s a useless storage cubby above the equally useless CD player. There’s also a vestigial analog clock in the middle of the dash.
And then there are two cupholders which end up being a smartphone holder because there is literally no other good place to put your phone. Believe me, I checked.
The exterior looks great, though the hourglass front grille is too big in the same way that driving to Florida on I-95 takes too long. The headlights and taillights look sharp and give the NX a nice bit of personality.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is fantastic, as are all Lexus engines, producing 235 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque. Lexus tells me that the engine has fancy valve timing that allows it to start in the Otto cycle and then run in the Atkinson cycle at cruising speeds. I don’t know what any of that means, but they’re pretty smart and they say it makes the car more fuel efficient.
EPA estimates put the F Sport NX at 22/27/24 city/highway/combined which isn’t great, but there is a hybrid version of the NX that gets fuel economy in the 30’s if you’re concerned about such things, though it’s not nearly as F Sporty.
My fully-loaded tester landed at $49,348, which is about $10,000 more than the fully-loaded Toyota RAV4 that I drove recently and… it’s worth the extra money. The RAV4 drives like a truck and looks like a truck and feels like a truck. The Lexus NX F Sport feels like a refined sports sedan that happens to be a comfortable luxury crossover.
It includes all the good safety and tech stuff I like. It looks good. It’s comfortable and performs well. It’s very competitive with others in its segment.
But there’s nowhere to put my phone.