A funny thing happened on the way to the diesel pump: gasoline prices dropped, big time. Suddenly, the primary reason to suffer stinky pump handles and rattle-clatter engine notes – the promise of generous dollar savings on fuel – was largely erased. Maybe those gasoline-slurping machines aren’t so bad after all.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s North American divisions continued to ignore the brand’s diesel offerings available elsewhere in the world, instead focusing their enviro-crusading efforts on hybrid technology, including models found in the upscale Lexus brand.

Funny then, that just as diesel first looked less appealing, and gas prices crept back up, Lexus introduced the NX 200t and NX 300h compact crossover utility vehicles. The former with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine; the latter with a tried and tested 2.5L four-cylinder backed by hybrid electric power. Both turn good ol’ gasoline into thrust, and post efficiency numbers compelling enough to make the Germans rub their chins and re-think the whole hybrid thing.

Or do they?

Our subject vehicle, the Lexus NX 300h is an attention-grabbing compact luxury sport ute. Its styling may be polarizing, but it unquestionably fits within the current family lineup, resembling its rowdiest siblings – the IS and RC models – that are likely to appeal more to a younger demographic than, say an ES mid-size sedan. This is mildly amusing to those of us in the know, since it’s the ES 300h hybrid’s powertrain that resides beneath the NX 300h’s hood.

Those sporty and aggressive looks are really brought to life on our test vehicle wearing its Matador Red Mica paint that’s simply radiant in the sunlight. The finish is flawless as expected from a Lexus, and gives a great first impression of the quality to be found throughout this machine.

Inside, more youthful exuberance is evident in the dashboard layout, that again recalls closely the switchgear and styling of the IS / RC models. And that’s a good thing.

The thick-rimmed steering wheel feels great in hand, wrapped in perforated leather. Secondary controls are organized on a ledge that protrudes out of the upper dash, presenting buttons to the front seat occupants, while a pair of knobs reside beneath the upper dash cliff to control stereo volume and tuning. Ah, proper spinning knobs – a sad rarity in this day of touch screens and haptic “buttons”.

Unfortunately, not all the ergonomics are as sensible. Lexus has endeavored to move beyond its “mouse controller” set up for the infotainment systems found in earlier generations of other Lexuses, and given a new touch pad on which the driver must trace his or her finger to dispense commands.

In theory it should be simple, but out on the bumpy roads of reality it proves to be a highly tedious operation especially to navigate through large volumes of information (such as iPod tracks). The Germans still have Lexus beat with their combined touch pad + rotary knob that’s easier to manipulate on the fly. Still, the associated screen for this system is crisp and clear and presented high up on the dash close to the driver’s field of view.

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