Lexus NX review
The Lexus NX has strong styling and a fine cabin, matched with a predictable but ordinary driving experience
The Lexus NX is the first foray into the midsize premium SUV sector for Toyota’s luxury offshoot, and is tasked with taking on the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 and even tackling Land Rover’s alluring Range Rover Evoque.
Featuring bold, concept car styling, an upmarket interior and a hi-tech hybrid powerplant, the newcomer certainly stands out from the crowd. It also comes loaded with standard equipment and is beautifully built and finished.
Under its eye-catching exterior the NX uses the same combination of 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor as the brand’s IS 300h compact saloon. Entry-level S versions of the NX are front-wheel drive only, while all other versions get a four-wheel drive layout.
Later this year the hybrid model will be joined by a 235bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol version, which is exclusively available in F Sport guise. In contrast, the petrol-electric NX can be had in S, SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier guises.
As you’d expect from a hybrid, the Lexus NX delivers remarkable efficiency on paper, with entry-level models emitting 116g/km and a claimed 56.5mpg. Even the four-wheel drive machines promise CO2 emissions of only 121g/km. As a result, the NX is a very attractive company car choice thanks to its low Benefit in Kind tax rating.
Our choice: Lexus NX 300h Luxury
The Lexus isn’t likely to be to all tastes, but there’s no denying that its daring style attracts attention. Influenced by the jaw-dropping LF-NX concept that made its debut at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, the newcomer has a bold mix of sharp creases, curves and chunky SUV styling cues.
All versions get alloy wheels and LED dipped beam headlamps, while SE models are marked out by their useful roof rails. Luxury and flagship Premier versions are given an extra visual lift courtesy of extra silver trim inserts. However, while the NX 300h looks striking from some angles, its busy blend of intersecting lines can be a little jarring, and it’s sensitive to colour, too.
Inside the angular theme is limited to the raised climate control panel, but in typically Lexus fashion the materials are pleasing and the finish tight. Attention-to-detail comes in the shape of a portable vanity mirror on the back of the centre tunnel’s storage bin lid, and a new touchpad control for the 6.2-inch infotainment screen.
Still, there’s no shortage of standard equipment, with dual zone climate control, a DAB radio and a USB music connection featuring on all models. F-Sport models and above also come with a neat wireless smartphone charger housed in the lidded armrest located between the driver and front seat passenger.
As with the styling, the NX’s driving experience is likely to be an acquired taste. A combination of the hybrid powerplant and a CVT gearbox has the ability to provide a relaxing yet intensely frustrating ride. For instance, be gentle with the throttle pedal and the Lexus will glide around town in soothing and near-silent electric mode – although the battery’s range of around a mile looks poor compared to more modern plug-in hybrid models. And on the motorway, there’s very little wind and road noise.
However, when you need to accelerate in a hurry, the CVT sends the revs soaring uncomfortably high. The same thing happens when accelerating up a long motorway incline, meaning you hear a drone from the four-cylinder unit. It never feels particularly responsive, either, as the NX’s rate of acceleration isn’t as rapid as the hard-working engine would suggest.
On top of this, the Lexus’ ability to travel one mile at up to 30mph on electric power looks a little old hat compared to more modern plug-in hybrid models. That said, be gentle with the throttle and the NX can crawl through most stop-start traffic in eerily silent electric mode.
The petrol-only NX 200t will better serve buyers looking for a more conventional driving experience. Its combination of 235bhp turbo petrol engine and conventional six-speed automatic delivers strong acceleration and more relaxed cruising, particularly when overtaking or tackling steep motorway inclines. The gearbox isn’t as smooth or responsive as BMW’s eight-speed unit, but it’s far more effective than the CVT in the hybrid.
The rest of the NX driving experience is something of a mixed bag. Wind and road noise are well suppressed, while the ride is comfortable on the motorway. Yet the suspension feels firm around town, while the light controls deliver very little feedback. The NX also lacks the composure and grip of rivals such as the BMW X3.
And despite its four-wheel layout, the Lexus has limited off-road ability. Unlike rivals systems, the NX’s transmission can’t be engaged permanently – the front wheels are mated to an electric motor and the petrol engine, while the rear axle only gets an electric motor. There’s also no hill descent control or an ability to manually configure the traction control for different surfaces.
Lexus finished an excellent fourth overall in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, with owners raving about their cars’ solid build quality and reliability. And while the NX is new, it shares many of its components with tried and tested models like the IS 300h.
As with every Lexus, you get a standard three-year warranty, and the hybrid components are covered by a five-year guarantee. Although the NX hasn’t yet been tested by Euro NCAP, it’s likely to score five stars thanks to the inclusion of eight airbags, stability control and LED headlamps. However, you’ll have to upgrade to the Premier-spec model if you want adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and blind-spot monitoring.
The Lexus’ jacked-up suspension and high set driving position deliver a commanding view of the road ahead, while the driver gets a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment.
A sloping roofline means occupants in the back don’t get as much headroom as in an Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but there’s a decent amount of legroom. Better still, the floor is almost completely flat, meaning passengers sitting in the middle of the rear bench will be as comfortable as those in the outer two seats.
Boot capacity is a rather cramped 475-litres, although carrying capacity can be extended to 1,520-litres when the split-fold rear seat is lowered. And on the plus side, the boot opening is wide and there’s a totally flat load area, while F Sport models and above get a powered tailgate.
Elsewhere in the cabin, you’ll find plenty of useful storage, including some large door bins, a cooled glovebox and a lidded cubby between the front seats. And thanks to the standard electric handbrake, the centre console is freed up for a pair of large cup-holders.
Unlike rival manufacturers, Lexus does not offer a diesel engine in its line-up. Yet on paper the hybrid NX promise to delivers more than 50mpg at the pumps, which should help keep fuel bills in check.
However, in the real world the Lexus struggles to match these ambitious claims, and the combination of CVT gearbox, bluff SUV aerodynamics and thirsty 2.5-litre petrol mean you’ll struggle to crack more than 40mpg.
On the plus side, low CO2 emissions of 116g/km for the two-wheel drive model and 121g/km for the four-wheel drive machine make the NX an extremely cost effective company car choice. For instance, the entry-level S model will cost higher rate earners £1,884 a year in tax, which is nearly a £1,000 less than a two-wheel drive BMW X3 18d SE sDrive.
And while Lexus doesn’t offer pre-paid servicing deals for the NX, you can expect first rate service from its dealers.