Whybrid, more like, Our Cars, Lexus NX300h, CAR+ November 2015

Published: 18 September 2015

► Month four with our Lexus NX300h
► Hybrids, are they really economical?
► Bug bears with the Lexus’ drivetrain 

Enough mincing around the subject – we’ve really got to talk about the NX300h’s drivetrain. Like most Lexuses (and for a while all Lexuses) it’s a hybrid, which any Californian will tell you means it will save the planet. But our mpg figure of 38.4 has hardly kick-started a polar bear party, and penguins would still be shrugging even if we’d hit the claimed 54.3mpg. In fact the NX is only fifth in our long-termer fleet mpg table. At this rate it might miss-out on the play-offs.

One of the NX’s problems, like all battery afflicted models, is weight. At 1785kg it’s 250kg porkier than the diesel RAV4 – the Toyota group product with which it shares a smattering of structural components. And the RAV4, despite no hybrid to excite Leonardo di Caprio, still claims 49.6mpg. Hardly a gulf in ambition.

From a driver’s perspective, the NX is a puzzle. Motive power is provided 90% of the time by the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with occasional support from the front-mounted electric motor and very occasional support from the other electric motor at the back. There are three drive modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. In the first two modes the large dial on the left is a windy looking drivetrain status display, with a needle that flickers between Charge, Eco and Power like a Fukushima Geiger counter. Impossible to decode. Your best bet is to ignore it and concentrate on modulating the throttle, but trying to squeeze out a smooth flow of power is genuinely tricky. If your input is too gentle there’s no urge whatsoever; too firm, and the CVT ’box sends the engine bananas, without any great sense of accelerative pay-off. That the NX is slow I can cope with, but it simply refuses to reward sympathetic inputs.

Beardy Eco clock (left) gives way to red-blooded rev counter when you hit Sport

Pressing the Sport button helps. It makes you feel instantly more in tune by swapping the Geiger screen for a proper rev-counter, and adds to the mood by back-lighting the clocks in red. More importantly, it sharpens up the throttle mapping and speeds up the gearchanges, making the car easier to drive and much more rewarding. But if you’re going to do that you’re surely better off with a straight diesel.

A conundrum then. It’s lovely inside, but if passengers spend all their time questioning your driving (‘are you ever going to change gear, mate?’) the effect is lost.

Logbook: Lexus NX300h Premier 

Engine: 2494cc 16v 4-cyl, 153bhp @ 5700rpm (195bhp with electric motor), 148lb ft @ 4200-4400rpm  
Gearbox: Electric CVT, four-wheel drive  
Stats: 9.2sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 121g/km CO2  
Price: £42,995  
As tested: £44,640  
Miles this month: 1305  
Total miles: 6263  
Our mpg: 38.4  
Official mpg: 54.3  
Fuel this month: £135.76  
Extra costs: £0

From the driving seat

+ Cabin so nicely made you can forgive it anything    
+ Chassis superbly composed for an SUV  
Shouty, whiny drivetrain less charming than Katie Hopkins  
Touchpad touchier than Jose Mourinho

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies