Lexus NX 300h 2017 facelift review

Can updates to the Lexus NX 300h save it from mediocrity in a competitive class? We drive it in the UK to find out…

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Updates to the NX aren’t significant enough to change its standing within the mid-size SUV class. The Lexus remains a striking, well-built and stylish family SUV, but it’s neither practical nor comfortable enough to trouble the best in the sector. The hybrid powertrain does give strong low-speed refinement, but under acceleration it’s coarse and unpleasant. Add in a frustrating infotainment system and the NX remains a left-field choice.

The backbone of any premium car company’s product line-up these days is a mid-size SUV. The NX is Lexus’ offering, and to keep it fresh in a sector where buyers have the option between the plush Volvo XC60 and racy Alfa Romeo Stelvio, it has been given a bit of TLC.

Lexus sells its mid-size offering on its striking looks, so that’s where a chunk of the updates for the latest model have been focused, although you’ll struggle to notice.

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There’s a set of subtly tweaked LED headlamps and a slightly slimmer grille, flanked by new vertical air vents. Add in some new alloy wheel designs and a pair of new tail-lights and that’s your lot. It’s far from a dramatic makeover, but there’s no denying the NX remains one of the most eye-catching SUVs in its class.

Climb inside and it’s a similar story; little has changed, but the cabin remains a well built, attractive and pleasant place to spend time. The biggest change is the larger 10.3-inch display for the NX’s Premium navigation system, which replaces the old seven-inch unit. A larger touchpad controller on the centre console comes with it, but the Lexus’ infotainment system remains a maze of menus and confusing graphics, not helped by the unresponsive touchpad. You could complete a cryptic crossword quicker than programme the navigation in the NX.

Performance

Updates have been made to the engine range; the 2.0-litre turbo which was badged 200t has been removed from the range. The 2.5-litre hybrid in the NX 300h we’re testing here is now the only option in the NX. The hybrid set-up is identical to that fitted in the NX when it launched in 2014, comprising a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor on each axle to deliver four-wheel drive, all through a CVT gearbox.

In town and at lower speeds the NX is at its best. A gentle squeeze of the throttle allows you to pull away in the tranquility of electric power, but because the nickel metal-hydride battery is rather small, you’re only going to get about two miles down the road before the engine cuts in and assists with progress. And when it does, or even with a gentle squeeze of the throttle, the serenity of electric propulsion is lost.

The engine kicks in smoothly enough, but it’s quite vocal after that; begin to accelerate away from a junction or standing traffic and the revs are sent into a frenzy, which is very much at odds with how calm and relaxing your journey begins in the NX.

Noisy progress could perhaps be forgiven if the NX ferried you along with a soft and pillowy ride, but sadly it doesn’t. The ride is overly firm for a premium SUV of this size, which is also rather odd because the NX is no performance car: it fidgets over tarmac at low speed and crashes into potholes that a Mercedes GLC would shrug off.

The trade-off for the firm ride is the tight body control, which means you can stitch sweeping bends together with ease. It’s just a shame, then, that the steering feels a bit lifeless and is inconsistently weighted, which leaves you guessing as to how much lock to apply to get you through and round a corner.

Practicality isn’t a strong point either; the 475-litre boot is just about spacious enough for a family of four, but is cramped by class standards. The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 both offer 550 litres of boot space. Having said that, the completely flat floor in the back means you can seat three adults abreast in the NX quite easily. Headroom isn’t the most generous and taller adults may find their heads brushing the ceiling.

At £44,395 in range-topping Premium trim the NX isn’t particularly cheap either; you can add a further £650 to that if you opt for the Copper Brown paintwork our test car was finished in. Rivals offer better value for money; you can get your hands on a top-spec Volvo XC60 with a far smoother T5 2.0-litre turbo engine, which is a more upmarket and engaging SUV, and is also around £2,000 cheaper.

The Lexus is very well equipped with beautifully soft leather seats, sat-nav, a full panoramic roof, LED headlamps and a raft of safety kit, such as rear cross traffic alert. But it takes more than a generous equipment list to be competitive in this sector, and the Lexus’ shortcomings in the driving experience and its fiddly infotainment make it an also-ran in this class.

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