Long-term test review: Lexus NX 300h

16 May, 2016 12:15pm Mat Watson Stuart Milne

Final report: Lexus NX SUV impressed with its space-age looks, but fell a little short elsewhere

Verdict

3
With those distinctive looks, great interior quality, a raft of standard equipment and Lexus’ superb reputation for reliability, it’s easy to see why buyers are attracted to the NX. But a bone-shaking ride, relatively small boot and fuel economy that plummets as soon as you take the car out of stop-start urban traffic mean it still lags behind the best models in its class.

Mileage: 12,896
Economy: 35.8mpg

I don’t know what car astronaut Tim Peake drives, but I wouldn’t count against a Lexus NX waiting for him when he returns from the International Space Station. Many cars promise futuristic, space-age looks, but the NX is one of the few that delivers.

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It carries 90 LEDs, including six in each headlight which twinkle like the stars Peake can see from his office window. Incredibly, it has the same drag coefficient as a Lamborghini Murcielago, which is remarkable for a big, bluff SUV. There’s huge attention to detail, too. There are no exposed keyholes anywhere – a first for Lexus – and the backs of the door handles illuminate as you approach the car in the dark.

You can’t deny that those slashes and bulging wheelarches give it a presence in car parks packed with Range Rover Evoques, Audi Q5s and BMW X3s. It’s no less space- age inside, either. The interior provides a fighter jet-style head-up display, neat milled-effect instruments and electrostatic switches for the interior lights which require the lightest brush to activate. It’s the kind of tech Star Trek promised us in the sixties.

F Sport models, and Premier versions like ours, get wireless smartphone charging as standard. This lets you charge your mobile just by placing it on a tray between the front seats, as long as your phone is compatible.

Elsewhere, a large display and clear graphics make the NX’s entertainment system easy to get your head around. That makes it all the more frustrating that it’s hobbled by an awkward touchpad. It requires the gentlest of touches to move the cursor around the car’s screen. Any more than that and it’ll interpret the motion as a click and you’ll end up browsing a menu that you didn’t ask for.

The 360-degree Panoramic View Monitor goes some way to redeeming the NX’s tech. It uses cameras located around the car to generate a bird’s eye view, a feature that’s becoming more common. What really stands out is its ability to provide a view as if the car was rotating on a turntable, providing a very smart way of seeing any obstacles before you set off. This is a good job, because although visibility is generally decent, the NX feels larger than it actually is.

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Not that you’d notice, but it’s shorter than a Skoda Octavia, although the cabin is much smaller. There’s enough space up front, but the sloping roofline and the panoramic glass roof rob headroom in the rear, and legroom isn’t great. At least the floor is flat, so there’s space for a third rear passenger’s feet.

The seats are typically Lexus, and very comfortable, and on our Premier car, they have both heating and cooling functions. Even though the hybrid system promises impressive fuel economy, during 13,000 miles in the hands of more than a dozen drivers, the car recorded just 35.8mpg. But the NX’s Achilles’ heel is its ride quality. While you might expect a luxury SUV to smooth out the worst tarmac undulations, it crashes over bumps. Potholes that would cause no more than a wince in other cars on occasion led to the Lexus being parked and checked for wheel or suspension damage.

Put simply, the ride was too firm for me, although I’m clearly in the minority. In our recent Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, the NX finished 17th in the Top 150 cars and was rated first in the build quality category and fourth for seat comfort. Yet a 34th place ranking for ride quality was a world away from my experience.

There are clearly many good reasons why you might choose a Lexus NX, but for me its many positive attributes failed to compensate for its drawbacks.

Lexus NX 300h: fourth report

Hybrid SUV's 'bouncy' ride doesn't impress our youngest tester

Mileage: 12,607
Economy: 35.8mpg

Spending time with our Lexus NX hybrid has been revealing – but not for the reasons you might expect. Instead, my daughter has used the SUV to show her potential as a future Auto Express road tester.

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Three-year-old Isla praised the lofty seating position, and loved the full-length panoramic sunroof to look at the night sky – a perk I had missed from the front seat.

But her judgement of the ride quality is what impressed me – within a couple of miles, she said: “This car is very bouncy!” And she’s right: the NX fidgets over larger bumps, magnifying smaller jolts you’d expect this high-riding SUV to shrug off.

It’s not in the pursuit of more sporty pleasures, either. The body feels well controlled through bends, but the steering is lacking in feedback. It seems more susceptible to crosswinds on the motorway than I had expected, too.

Because of this, I’m grateful we’ve got the top-of-the-range Premier model, and not the F Sport variant, which features even firmer suspension on its spec list.

At least the seats are typical Lexus – they’re extremely comfortable and provide plenty of support. The steering wheel adjusts electrically for both reach and rake, so you can get snug and comfortable behind the wheel. It’s a shame, as this all adds up to a sensible long-distance cruiser – it’s only let down by that firm ride.

The driving environment is a rather satisfying place to be, with a neatly designed dashboard featuring an analogue clock in the centre. I’ve yet to work out how to change the time, though, meaning it’s been an hour ahead since last October. Still, at least I’m no longer late for appointments.

It always takes me a little while to get accustomed to driving an SUV, as they tend to feel much larger than they really are. That’s not a problem on the move, but parking or manoeuvring into tight spaces can initially feel tricky.

Thankfully, the NX’s clever parking cameras come to the rescue. These can build a composite image that animates a 360-degree view around the car when stationary, and can display a birds-eye view to aid parking.

While the Lexus feels big, rear passengers don’t really get the benefit, with a sloping roof and that standard panoramic glass both restricting the headroom. Unfortunately, legroom isn’t great, either, but there is at least a flat floor which will benefit the third rear passenger.

It’s a similarly mixed bag when it comes to the boot. There’s a reasonable amount of space inside, but because the batteries are located under the boot floor, it’s not as deep as you might expect. The lip to lift luggage over is quite high, too. There’s a limited amount of storage space under the floor, but the trade-off is a proper spare wheel in the boot, which is a definite advantage.

With a £43,000 price tag, our NX 300h Premier certainly isn’t cheap, but I could fill this page with a list of the standard kit. The highlights are LED headlamps with effective automatic high beam, electric leather seats, which can both heat and cool your behind, and a sensational Mark Levinson stereo, which sounds as good playing Radio 4 as it does Rage Against the Machine. You can even charge your mobile wirelessly, if you’re lucky enough to have the latest generation of smartphone.

It’s just a shame that this space-age kit list is matched by a space hopper ride, as it detracts from the SUV’s luxury car finesse.

Lexus NX 300h: third report

Mileage: 10,642  Economy: 35.0mpg

Thanks to my role presenting videos for Auto Express and our sister site, Carbuyer, the Lexus NX 300h from our fleet has often been used as a film support car. It has carried our cameras and kit across the country to shoot various reviews, plus it’s acted as a tracking car, with a videographer shooting out the back. The best part of all of this, however, its that it’s taken everything I’ve thrown at it in its stride.

But it wasn’t until the car’s on-board computer flashed up a service warning as the odometer tripped over 10,000 miles that the NX ended up being in front of the camera, rather than behind the scenes.

The Lexus wasn’t the star of one of our videos, though; instead, it took centre stage at the brand’s Edgware Road dealership in north London. Just 48 hours after I called to make the booking, the car was in for its routine check-up – clearly Lexus’ efficiency extends beyond its hybrid models.

I was familiar with the dealer, as I had visited it a few years earlier when I was running our CT 200h, so I knew exactly what to expect: first-class service and my own VIP room to wait in should I desire.

However, this time there was a new option I could try: the video maintenance report. It’s a ‘free’ scheme, which many dealers from various franchises are now offering. Essentially, the technician who’s working on your car records a little video explaining the work they’re doing and points out any issues they may have spotted. You’re then sent a link to watch it online.

This service is designed to give customers added peace of mind that work has been done properly and that they’re not being charged for anything unnecessary. Yet the reality is that I’ve never had any concerns when I’ve visited a Lexus dealer anyway.

For starters, servicing has a fixed price: £245 for the NX’s first visit at any franchise. Plus, the dealerships have a great reputation – they’ve consistently finished on top in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys.

As part of the NX’s service, Lexus Edgware Road fixed an issue with a slightly loose speaker on the dashboard, and the technician also discovered that there was a nail in the centre of one of the tyres. I was aware of this, as the tyre pressure warning light had come on a few days earlier. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had time to repair it because I was in a hurry to get to a video shoot of my own. The puncture was slow, so it was safe to drive on, as long as I kept the pressure topped up.

And it looks like I’ll be delegating the tyre repair to somebody else, as my time with the NX has now come to an abrupt end. Another member of the Auto Express team, who has a young family, is taking the reins of the Lexus, and they will certainly make better use of the car’s excellent practicality. Being a single man, I didn’t use its full capacity very often, although I have to admit that the NX 300h definitely grew on me during my time with it.

What I’ll miss most is how special it made me feel. For me, few cars manage to make an impact with their styling and remain elegantly classy at the same time, yet the Lexus did exactly that. Plus, my driveway will seem a lot duller without this piece of mobile modern art adorning it. And I fear that film shoots will feel a little less glitzy without my upmarket, Japanese-made dressing room.

Lexus NX 300h: second report

Mileage: 9,985 
Economy: 37.1mpg

Our Lexus NX 300h has clocked up 9,985 miles since it joined the fleet earlier this year, yet most of that is courtesy of other members of the Auto Express team. The demand of our new car review videos means I’m often in different vehicles, but the NX has been providing stylish transport for a number of my colleagues.

So it seems only appropriate to hand this report over to them. Our film crew regularly use the Lexus when it’s available to lug their kit about, which saves them the hassle of renting a van. Filmmaker Edward Day said: “You certainly feel like you’ve stepped up in the world.

It’s so posh to travel in yet is still very practical – the boot is really useful for carrying our kit. We often need to load it to the brim, so having space under the floor to store the parcel shelf is handy.

“I’m less of a fan of the electric tailgate, though – when you’re in a rush, it’s just quicker to open and close a boot manually.”

You can actually turn this feature off – as I found out after climbing back in. When the tailgate didn’t open automatically, I thought there was a fault with the system. Then I remembered I was in a Lexus, and that they don’t break. So I checked the manual.

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Someone, probably Ed, had disengaged the system. And this is one of the risks of lending your car out to all and sundry – you never find it quite as you left it. The Bluetooth list was full of colleagues’ phones, the radio was pre-set to questionable stations and the seat was in the wrong position – yet the memory function soon sorted this.

Some things are less easily rectified. The panoramic glass roof of our NX eats into headroom, meaning taller passengers feel cramped despite the bright, airy ambience. Still, the seats reap lots of praise in our office. Senior road tester Sean Carson said: “They are among the best and comfiest I have ever sat in and compensate for the Lexus’ firm ride.”

News reporter Lawrence Allan added: “The cooling function is brilliant. And the best part is that they are standard on higher-spec cars. I just wish the infotainment system was a little easier to use.”

The touchpad tech has received criticism from most who have borrowed the Lexus. Video reporter Rebecca Chaplin told me: “It’s almost an exercise in how not to do it. And this is a shame, because the Mark Levinson stereo sounds truly awesome.”

Indeed it does, but this brings me on to the only fault that has developed so far during our time with the Lexus. The front left dash speaker has worked loose slightly – maybe Rebecca’s addiction to bass shook it free. It’s not a major problem, but it bothers me. So I’m going to get it fixed… well, if I ever manage to get my hands on the keys.

Lexus NX 300h: first report

Mileage: 5,868  Economy: 34.9mpg

Looking sharp. No, not me. Our shiny new Lexus NX 300h… With its aggressive angles and sharp creases, it’s a piece of modern architecture that stands out against a skyline of generic SUVs. 

Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sold on the design when Lexus revealed the first pictures. But as with any sculpture, to fully appreciate it you really need to experience the form in three dimensions. 

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I’ve been living with the NX 300h for more than a month, and even now I still turn back for one last admiring glance when I park up and walk into my flat. Its interior is nearly as stunning, although not everyone in the Auto Express office agrees. Yes, guys, I know there are “a lot of surfaces going on”, but at least there is SOMETHING going on.

From a design point of view, the NX can go straight to the top of the art class. And it gets full marks for kit, too. Our Premier is the range-topper, and so it’s fully loaded – and not in a German way that means you have to spend ‘only’ £10,000 on options instead of £20,000. In contrast, the only option fitted to our Lexus is metallic paint.

There’s too much standard kit to mention here (I’ll go into more detail in the next report), but highlights include the 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, panoramic sunroof and cooled as well as heated seats. Speaking of which, Lexus does awesome seats. They’re right up there with Volvo’s! 

So far, then, you’re probably thinking the NX 300h is brilliant. And it is…. as long as it’s not moving. Within a few minutes, let alone a month, it becomes obvious the Lexus is a one-trick pony – and a lame one at that. 

Take the suspension. You imagine an SUV to smother bumps. But somehow, even on seemingly smooth roads, the Lexus fidgets around like a shopping trolley on cobbles. It’s as though it’s been designed for a bizarre Japanese sadomasochistic endurance game show, as it strangely manages to seek out and then amplify imperfections to telegraph every nook and cranny into your spine.

Then there’s the powertrain. The last car I ran was the superb BMW i3 range-extender. Swapping its cutting-edge hybrid tech for the Lexus’ ancient system would be like writing this article on a Commodore VIC-20 instead of my Apple MacBook. The batteries in the NX 300h, for instance, are made from nickel hydride – the same as those in the Tamiya radio-controlled car I had as a kid.

Meanwhile, when you prod the throttle you must wait while it, the petrol engine and the electric motor reach a consensus before the car accelerates. When it finally does, the unimpressive progress is underlined by a strained mooing from the engine. I daren’t drive past a farm because the owner will think his Friesians are calving… 

All could be forgiven if the hybrid was saving money at the pumps. But our 34.9mpg average is less than the 35.3mpg we had out of our VW Golf GTI. Experience with a CT 200h has taught me it should be just about possible to eke out the claimed 53.4mpg… but only if I drive slower than Miss Daisy. Quite frankly, life is too short. 

All this is a shame, because I want to love the Lexus. Really I do. But so far it appears that beauty is only skin deep.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three penalty points.

Key specs

  • Model: Lexus NX 300h Premier
  • On fleet since: April 2015
  • Price new: £42,995
  • Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl/electric motor, 192bhp
  • CO2/tax: 121g/km/£110
  • Options: Metallic paint (£645)
  • Insurance*: Group: 31, Quote: £601
  • Mileage/mpg: 12,896/35.8
  • Costs?: First service
  • Any problems?: Loose speaker surround