No Tradeoffs Here

By Derek Price
Luxury cars are, by definition, a splurge purchase. They go beyond what anyone needs.
If you want a luxury vehicle that still seems somewhat reasonable, though, it’s hard to think of one that makes more logical sense than this one: the Lexus NX.
This compact crossover definitely qualifies as luxurious. It makes its lucky occupants feel pampered in a near-silent leather cocoon, and it oozes the same solid-as-a-rock build quality as pricier Lexus vehicles.
It starts under $39,000, which seems downright cheap in today’s inflation-riddled world, but doesn’t feel as compact as its price would suggest. The smaller UX has taken its place on the bottom rung of Lexus’ crossover ladder, and after a redesign last year, the NX feels like a roomy, substantial car from the inside.
It stands out from competitors in other cerebral ways, too.
Lexus is known for reliability, for one thing, something rare among luxury brands. Most of them are known for creating problems for owners down the road, which is not surprising when you consider luxury cars have more features to break and more fresh technologies that haven’t been thoroughly tested.

The Lexus NX is more substantial and spacious after a complete redesign last year. A plug-in hybrid version is rated for the equivalent of 84 miles per gallon.

Lexus is an outlier in creating bells and whistles that actually last.

That plays a factor in another logical selling point for the NX: Lexus’ resale value. The brand’s reputation for durability helps it command higher prices on the used-car market compared to a lot of other luxury brands whose values tend to tank more quickly.
It even gets good gas mileage.
The NX is available with four different drivetrains, starting with a 2.5-liter base engine that earns a 33-mpg rating on the highway. Other choices include a more powerful turbocharged engine rated for 29 mpg, a hybrid that gets 41 mpg in the city, and a plug-in hybrid that gets the equivalent of 84 mpg, if you believe the government’s wonky rating system.
My tester was the plug-in hybrid, called the NX 450h+, with batteries that take it 36 miles on a full charge before the gasoline engine kicks in.
That makes rating its fuel economy nearly impossible because people who mainly use it for short trips won’t burn any gasoline, and people who take it on long highway drives will burn plenty. Mileage depends heavily on the use case.

Technology takes center stage in the NX. An optional 14-inch touchscreen lets you access its myriad tech features with simplicity.

I put a lot of highway miles on my NX tester, and it was heavenly in that role. The hybrid drivetrain made it cheap to fill up at the gas pump, and its long list of comfort systems — including driving assistance that works flawlessly — made highway trips more refreshing than exhausting.

The NX has one glaring downside for people who aren’t shopping based on logic alone. It doesn’t inspire excitement for drivers who crave that sort of thing.
Its ho-hum acceleration and numb handling don’t bother me because I own a sports car for the times I need thrills. Some drivers want to have it all in one vehicle, though, and the European luxury brands all do a better job at making faster, more exciting crossovers than this one, albeit for a higher price.
As a whole, though, the NX is one of the most tempting vehicles I’ve driven recently because of its off-the-charts logical appeal. It’s a luxury car that doesn’t make you suffer in some way, something difficult to find in a car market overflowing with tradeoffs.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2023 Lexus NX 450h+ Luxury ($56,555). Options: Advanced Park ($250), digital inner mirror ($200), triple beam headlamps ($850), 6.6-kW internal charging ($800), panoramic view monitor ($1,070), 2,000-pound towing capability ($160), illuminated cargo sill ($300), carpet cargo mat ($140), puddle lamps ($325), mudguards ($165). Price as tested (including $1,150 destination charge): $61,965
Wheelbase: 105.9 in.
Length: 183.5 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Height: 65.8 in.
Powertrain: 2.5-liter engine plus electric motor (304 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Gasoline fuel economy: 36 mpg combined
Gas + electric fuel economy: 84 mpg equivalent


Style: 7
Performance: 7
Price: 7
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 10
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It’s a rare luxury vehicle that makes logical sense. It’s spacious, solid, quiet, efficient and packed with thoughtful design and tech touches.

Posted in Lexus

VW’s First EV Sets Tone

By Derek Price

When one of the world’s biggest car companies decides to build its first electric car from the ground up, the result can be telling.

In the case of Volkswagen’s ID.4, its first clean-sheet EV design that debuted a couple of years ago, this German brand thinks electric vehicles ought to be quirky, roomy and smooth-riding.

The fact that VW would pack a few eccentricities into the ID.4 should be no surprise given its history with the Microbus, the Vanagon camper, the Thing and the various Beetles, old and new.

Idiosyncratic design touches, including a twist-turn gear selector behind the steering wheel and almost complete lack of physical buttons, make the ID.4 seem very different — although not necessarily better — than regular, gas-powered VWs.

Instead of regular buttons, the ID.4 makes liberal use of touch-sensitive switches, magical hand-gesture reading and voice control. It gives the car an imaginative, sci-fi feeling, adding to its offbeat vibe.

Other things about it seem out of character compared to yesterday’s VWs.

It’s remarkably roomy, for one thing, with an oversized cargo area in back that makes it useful for doing SUV-like cargo hauling. It holds 30.3 cubic feet of cargo behind the back seat or 64.2 cubic feet if you fold the seat down.

Volkswagen’s first car designed from the ground up for electrifc power, the ID.4 combines family-friendly practicality with quirky design.

The ID.4 is smaller than the Tiguan but, thanks to clever interior packaging, has about the same total interior volume, 100 cubic feet.

It also has a surprisingly mushy ride.

Given VW’s long history of building sporty, fun-to-drive cars, I’d hoped the ID.4 would follow that same vein. Electric cars can be legitimately enjoyable for enthusiast drivers, as cars like the BMW i4 M50, Polestar 2 and Kia EV6 GT have shown me in recent months. They’re all EVs that are exciting to drive, albeit more expensive than this one.

In contrast, the ID.4 is more about comfort. It’s the most softly-sprung EV I’ve driven, something that helps keep road noise comfortably out of the cabin at highway speeds and makes it a joy to take on long trips. It’s a car I’d buy because it’s soothing, not necessarily exciting.

The ID.4’s cabin is spacious and focused around technology. It lets the driver use hand gestures and voice to control many features in the car and has a noticeable lack of physical buttons compared to most vehicles sold today.

Still, acceleration is strong, just as in all today’s good EVs. People used to the comparatively slow response of most gasoline engines will be impressed by the instant feedback and freight-train-like torque from a 201 horsepower electric motor on the base model.

The new-for-2023 base model, called the Standard, comes with a lower starting price and lower EPA-rated range to match, 209 miles.

If you upgrade to the Pro, it increases the range to 275 miles thanks to a bigger, 82-kWh battery. Yet another upgrade, the Pro AWD, adds a second electric motor to increase the horsepower to 295 and provide all-wheel-drive traction, but it reduces the range to 255 miles, according to the federal government.

Volkswagen made several changes to the ID.4 for 2023, including tweaking the styling by adding gloss-black trim and premium lighting on the S models. A 12-inch display is now standard on all versions.

Pricing starts at $38,995 for the Standard model and tops out at $55,245 for the AWD Pro S Plus trim.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2023 Volkswagen ID.4 ADW Pro ($47,795). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $49,090
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Length: 180.5 in.
Width: 72.9 in.
Height: 64.5 in.
Powertrain: 82 kWh lithium ion battery and dual electric motors (295 total system horsepower)
EPA fuel economy: Combined 107 MPG equivalent

Style: 8
Performance: 7
Price: 7
Handling: 6
Ride: 9
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s Volkswagen’s take on the pure-electric car, one with some innovative and quirky design elements. It has a soft, comfortable ride and ample cargo space for its class.

Posted in Volkswagen

For the Enthusiasts

By Derek Price

Over the past decade, Nissan hasn’t given car enthusiasts many reasons to celebrate.
Sure, small crossovers like the Rogue and Kicks have helped the company’s bottom line, and installing continuously variable transmissions across the lineup has improved gas mileage.
But where’s the fun in that?
Even Nissan’s spectacular all-conquering halo car, the GT-R, was allowed to wither on the vine with few updates over the past decade, getting so pricey and long in the tooth that there are questions about whether it’s going to stick around for another generation.
All those sins can be forgiven after a drive in the new Z.
For 2023, Nissan gives its iconic affordable sports car a thorough update that drops the 370Z’s numerals while adding a whole lot of style, power and charm.
The 2023 Z is a stunningly beautiful car, something confirmed every time I stopped for gas or pulled into a parking lot during my weeklong test drive. People want to talk about it, gaze at it and lust for it.
It has the sleek, modern shape of a thoroughly contemporary sports car, but it also pays homage to the Z’s rich heritage. To my eyes, it’s a perfect blend of the fresh and the timeless, a difficult mix to get right.

Nissan’s affordable sports car, now simply named the Z, has been redesigned for 2023. It has a fresh look with more than a nod to its storied past.

The front end is reminiscent of the classic 240Z, a car that’s commanding obscene prices in recent auctions at least in part because it’s so breathtakingly pretty.

Its rear end looks more like the 300ZX, one of the best-looking cars to come out of the 1990s.
Decades from now, when people wax nostalgic about the most beautiful cars of the 2020s, this one is surely going to be on the list.
Even better, it has performance to back up the sexy body.
A 400-horsepower, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 delivers smooth, muscular power to the rear wheels along with a delicious exhaust note, one that sounds sporty without ever crossing the line into brash or annoying.
The steering and suspension fall into that same wonderful category, delivering fun and precision when you want it but also enough smoothness that long highway trips don’t feel like a slog. It’s cozy but comfortable.
Best of all, at least from the enthusiast’s standpoint, you can get it with something God intends for every sports car: a manual transmission.
The shift-it-yourself Z isn’t perfect — my tester was a little fussy going into fifth gear — but it is far, far better than the blasphemy of automatics. Nissan deserves serious kudos for keeping manual transmissions alive at a time when they seem like an endangered species.
Put it all together, and the new Z gives me an impression that’s sure to be controversial: it’s a whole lot better than the GT-R.
It’s not even a close race in my mind. The GT-R is faster, obviously, but also a lot more intimidating to drive. Even if a driver has the skill and guts to handle a GT-R at its limits — which I don’t — you can’t come close to pushing those limits on public roads without risking jail time. It’s more frightening than it is fun.

The new Z’s cabin is cozy but comfortable. A compliant ride makes it enjoyable as a daily driver.

In contrast, this new Z is plenty quick but also playful as a puppy. It’s approachable and friendly, a car that makes you want to take the long route home just for the sheer joy of driving it.

To me, that’s the sign of a great sports car. There are precious few exceptional ones, and the 2023 Z makes the list.
When it comes to pricing, there’s good news and bad news.
On the positive side, Nissan has priced the new Z extremely well, starting under $40,000. I think that’s an almost unbelievable bargain for the power, features and style it delivers.
The bad news is that Nissan dealers know that, too, and are likely to expect buyers to pay well over MSRP for it, at least in the short term. When supply is low and demand is high, capitalists turn into extortionists.
Fortunately for those dealers, the new Z hits all the right notes to fire up enthusiasm and open checkbooks. While other companies are abandoning affordable sports cars in favor of dull crossovers and government-mandated EVs, some folks at Nissan are still carrying the sports-car banner and doing the job right.
To the people inside Nissan who created this machine, and especially those who made sure the six-speed manual was a part of the package, we enthusiasts notice. And we salute you.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2023 Nissan Z Performance M/T ($49,900). Options: Premium two-tone paint ($1,295), floor mat package ($400), illuminated kick plate ($500), interior accent lighting ($445). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $53,655
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Length: 172.4 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Height: 51.8 in.
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin turbocharged V6 (400 hp, 350 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 18 city, 24 highwayRATINGS
Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 9Why buy it?
This new Z is proof that Nissan hasn’t forgotten about driving enthusiasts. It’s a spectacular update to an iconic vehicle.
Posted in Nissan