Looking for something different in the compact premium SUV sector? Then the new Lexus NX 300h could be the car for you. Combining one of the boldest SUV design statements ever with a sophisticated twin-motor E-Four hybrid four-wheel drive system, the NX is the best real world Lexus yet.
(If you’re lucky enough to consider the LFA ‘real world’ then congratulations.)
Oh my. The Lexus NX makes quite the visual impression, doesn’t it?
Legend has it that upon seeing the ultra-wedgy Triumph TR7 for the first time at the Geneva motor show in 1975, prolifically influential Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro paused, walked round the car and said ‘Oh my God. They’ve done it to the other side as well.’
Don’t be surprised if the Lexus NX engenders a similar reaction. It is Quite The Thing to look at.
To be fair, compared to design chief Nobuyuki Tomatsu’s original LF-NX concept, the finished article has been toned down a bit, and we don’t think you could justifiably call it ugly. Striking is more like it. Certainly the NX is going to stand out in car park full of German metal, and let’s be honest few rival SUVs are genuinely pretty.
Good on Lexus for sticking to its guns, we say. Especially since the ‘diamond-shaped’ body’s compactness proved difficult to finesse aerodynamically – hence the lipped rear spoiler. Meanwhile, the razor sharp front end not only features the most extreme ‘spindle grille’ yet, it seems to exude serious überholt prestige.
Which is German for it makes people move out of the way on the motorway.
Alright, I’m almost convinced. But is the NX another disappointing Lexus to drive?
We’ve been pedalling the NX for several days in the UK and find ourselves pleasantly impressed. As a comprehensively competent motorway tool with the added bonus of short-burst EV capability around town, it works rather well.
The steering and brakes are a revelation in Lexus terms because you don’t feel immediately compelled to remark on how dreadful they are; the former offers consistently reassuring heft at all speeds, while the latter have less of the variability hybrids often exhibit due to the regeneration process that harvests braking energy to recharge the batteries. A positive start.
With plenty of sidewall to the tyres – even on 18-inch wheels – the ride is firm yet plush, and more than acceptable on major roads given the roundabout-rinsing body control. It even cuts a dash through the twisty stuff, though bumpy B-road surfaces are likely to spill your latte.
All but the entry-level NX 300h S feature a new E-Four four-wheel drive system as standard. Although fundamentally front-wheel drive via a 2.5-litre petrol and electric motor combination, a second electric motor attached to the rear axle boosts grip when required. Total system output is 195bhp, with enough instant torque – 199lb ft from the front electric motor alone – to take the stress out of overtaking.
I’m sensing a ‘but’…?
Nothing’s perfect. We’re under strict instructions not to call the gearbox a traditional CVT – it’s a planetary gear system – but it essentially does the same job of scooting the combustion engine straight into its powerband with every heavy application of right foot. Which means plenty of high-rev howl… or so you’d think.
Long-standing fondness for a transmission type that’s comparatively light and efficient versus a traditional torque converter auto means Lexus has been putting plenty of work into soothing our ears here. Regardless of driving mode (choose Eco, Normal or Sport), there’s now a sense of swelling revs built in. Plus improved refinement means the noise is really quite a pleasant.
With CO2 emissions of 121g/km (116g/km for the front-wheel drive only S) the NX is one company car tax friendly SUV. Just don’t bank on seeing the claimed 54.3mpg (56.5mpg) too often. This is not a plug-in hybrid, so electric running is limited to short distances; the rest of the time you’re just dragging extra weight around. Our A1 commute resulted in an indicated 35mpg without any special effort either way.
Is the inside of the NX as mad as the outside?
The origami intricacy of the exterior is mirrored on the inside by the multi-layer dashboard – again, it makes a refreshing change to the staid Germanic predictability of rival choices. Material quality is excellent throughout, and neat options include a Mark Levinson hifi and a wireless charging pad for smartphones.
Lexus has also binned off its computer-mouse-with-ADHD Remote Touch Interface controller in favour of a new rotary system – as long as you upgrade to satnav.
This and the associated infotainment system seems to be an attempt to steal all the best bits from iDrive, COMAND and MMI – we’re surprised Audi’s copyright lawyers aren’t already after Lexus for the circular destination entry display – but still suffers from poor graphics, a relatively tiny 6.2-inch screen and a general lack of menu logic. Frustrating.
The shallow windows mean it’s not the lightest cabin, but there’s a generous amount of rear legroom and a 475-litre boot. This has a high floor, but in addition to the inevitable batteries you’ll find a lesser-spotted standard space saver spare under there.
You know what? We like. The NX has a sense of style and purpose about it that suggests you’ll have to spend less time thinking up excuses for choosing one than other Lexus’s might require. It’s thoroughly pleasant to drive, spacious and – in the right environment – likely to prove efficient as well. And we’re sure you’d get used to that infotainment system. Eventually.