The Lexus NX is certainly a car that stands out and even turns heads. You may have noticed that Lexus have been keen to capitalise on this with the many adverts featuring a certain Mr. will.i.am and the car in question. Lexus are clearly making a bold statement with this car and it shows, particularly when it comes to the F Sport version with its far more pronounced version of the trademark Lexus spindle grill. If you’re familiar with the Lexus range then the styling and indeed the F Sport version should come as no surprise. The company has been busy over the last couple of years updating its range to the new family face and indeed the trend is continuing with the new 2016 Lexus RX that we’ll start to see on the roads early next year.
The model I tested on this occasion was the range topping £42,995 NX300h Premier which comes in at a staggering £13,500 more than the base but still decently equipped NX300h S at £29,495. I was particularly looking forward to testing the Premier version as being a Lexus I knew I was likely to be impressed with the sheer volume of gadgetry on offer.
In terms of styling the Premier model may not have the added chic of will.i.am’s favourite F Sport model, but the whole NX range with the Premier included looks very modern with lots of neat design touches such as the headlights and LED running lights. In fact, although I think the large F Sport grill looks excellent, it can be a bit of a love it or hate it thing, so the styling of the other models may be better suited for some buyers.
Aside from the stylish creases and other neat design touches, the NX keeps its proportions fairly in-line with what we’ve come to expect from this mid size SUV crossover class in which it sits. In my opinion the NX is probably the best looking car in its class and is certainly more exciting to look at than some of the offerings from other manufacturers.
Lexus really does know how to do interior styling and the NX is no exception. The interior of the NX Premier is a master class in design with clever use of materials and stylish angles. Some may find it fussy compared to German rivals but to me the material quality and attention to detail really sets this apart from other cars in the class. Little touches like the dark wood inlays (on the Premier) and the stitching in the leather seats really makes you believe that someone has thought really carefully about the design of this interior. The leather/stitching combination that can be found
As you would expect, the higher quality materials are featured further up the doors and the dashboard and it’s only if you start to reach right down to the bins at the bottom of the doors that you notice the cheaper feeling plastics and even these aren’t that bad on the NX. If I were nitpicking a little bit, I did find the dark plastic surround for the window switches on each side of the car a little cheap and nasty. On its own it wouldn’t be that bad but considering that Lexus has used such high quality materials in other places it feels as if they should have used something a little nicer here.
The first thing I noticed when I slipped into the NX’s soft and sumptuous leather seat was that the driving position of the NX is really good. Everything is positioned exactly where you need it and it’s really easy to adjust your position, particularly in the Premier model given its 10 way electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s side memory, plus electrically adjustable steering column. The seats themselves may not have the heavy bolstering of sportier models but I must say that they are some of the most comfortable seats I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in. When you combine this comfort with the excellent seating position you really feel like this is a car you could cover some significant distances in without any discomfort. The steering wheel is also pleasingly chunky and though the cabin can at first appear to have an intimidating number of buttons, you’ve got to expect that there has to be some way to control the vast multitude of gadgets that are featured on this model. You’ve got to remember also that although some manufacturers are reducing the number of buttons, sometimes it’s better to have the physical button to control something rather than having to dive deep into a software menu on the infotainment system.
Cabin space is very good as you would expect from a mid size SUV. Everything feels light and airy, especially if you go for the £1000 panoramic roof. Rear leg room is also excellent and you can take adults in the back with comfort. Rear seat passengers are also treated to reclining rear seats (albeit manual adjustment) which is a nice feature to have on longer journeys. A fifth passenger can also travel in relative comfort thanks to the absence of a transmission tunnel.
When it comes to boot space, the NX is a relatively mixed bag. When you pop open the powered rear tailgate you’re presented with a large, wide and flat load area but you will notice that (as is the case with many hybrids) it’s a bit shallow. Bear in mind though that Lexus have thoughtfully included a spare wheel under the floor though and suddenly things a looking a bit brighter. It’s a rare thing to get a spare wheel with many new cars these days so this is definitely a welcome feature for quite a few people. It’s also really easy to remove the parcel shelf and the split folding rear bench folds in one movement with a simple leaver each side. With the seats folded and the parcel shelf removed there is plenty of room for almost anything you could throw at it.
If you can think of a gadget, chances are this car will have it. It would almost be easier to talk about the things that this car doesn’t have. Trust me, it would be a very short list. With that in mind, I thought I’d talk about a few of my personal highlights when it comes to the technology that Lexus have implemented into this car.
One of my favourites just for the geek factor has to be the wireless qi smartphone charge that Lexus have thoughtfully included under the centre armrest. Correct me if I’m wrong but this was the first car I’ve seen that has this technology built in. It’s definitely quite a geeky feature, but clearly one that is also very useful should you have a compatible phone, as it’s great to be able to charge your phone without any wires. Do bear in mind though that this is not a feature that is compatible with every smartphone though. In fact, quite a few popular models (including the iPhone unless you get a special case) will not work with the qi charging standard or indeed any wireless charging. A fair few Android phones will work with qi though such as the latest Samsung Galaxy S6/Edge as well as Google’s Nexus 4/5/6 models. This qi charger in the NX has a tray and non slip matting that holds the phone in place although the tray is too small for larger “phablets” such as the Nexus 6. The tray has a motorised coil that will automatically locate the coil inside your phone and the tray can be moved out of the way to access the storage compartment beneath.
Another cool feature (exclusively in the Premier though) is the heads up display that features on the windscreen in front of the driver. Its main function is to display the vehicle’s current speed in front of the driver to avoid the driver having to glance down at the traditional speedometer. Brilliantly, you can also adjust the height of the display which will need to be done for it to remain visible depending on how high you have your seat. I was surprised at how much information you were able to get from the HUD too. For example, if you happen to be driving in Europe you can easily switch the display from MPH to KPH at the touch of a button. You can also choose to display a tachometer or the power/charge/eco meter below the speed. I was also very impressed that other information such as volume adjustments and the next sat nav direction appear there too as you approach a junction. All in all a very clever bit of kit and well worth having in my opinion. It’s not for everyone though but the feature can be turned off should you still wish to go for the Premier model and are not a fan of this feature.
Something that deserves a special mention on the NX Premier is the 360 degree parking camera. The car does of course have a standard reversing camera but its also got 3 other cameras mounted around the car that are used to generate an incredible top down view of the car making all kinds of parking manoeuvres an absolute doddle. It’s a fantastic feature that you definitely need to try out but for me it’s definitely something I hope to see rolled out across other cars in the Lexus range over time. Very useful indeed.
The NX300h Premier comes with the Lexus Premium Navigation system as standard, and although Lexus still use their familiar “remote touch” interface, this time they’ve ditched the mouse for an easier to use touch pad. It’s still a little fiddly at times but overall I’d say it’s a decent improvement. Being the Premier model, a rather nice 14 speaker Mark Levinson sound system is also included which sounded absolutely fantastic with a bit of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” blaring out of it. All the other basics are covered with DAB, bluetooth and couple of USB ports.
It’s worth noting that adaptive cruise control now comes standard across the whole Lexus NX range too, which is particularly nice of Lexus as this feature always used to be an expensive optional extra even on top of the range models. It’s a rather nice feature too that combined with the blind spot monitor and lane departure assist function on the Premier model make for a relaxing and stress free motorway experience.
Ride & Handling
Mid to large sized SUV models aren’t usually known for their handling but the big Lexus handles surprisingly well given its mass and the weight from the hybrid system. It’s hardly going to compete with the finest hot hatches out there but that’s not what it’s all about. For a car of this size I was quite impressed with the way the NX handled itself. The steering is very direct – reacting well to inputs from the chunky steering wheel and there is a reassuring weight to the electrically assisted steering at speed.
Ride quality was also impressive when soaking up potholes on our battered British roads and this combined with the car’s solid build quality meant for no nasty vibrations or rattles within the cabin.
The car is clearly most at home when driven around the congested suburban roads that most of us have to put up with whilst making the dash to and from work/school everyday and this trait really shines through. It’s a breath of fresh air (excuse the pun) to be driving along in a modern, calm, comfortable and luxurious hybrid vehicle rather than the traditional smelly diesels that most seem to currently favour for the morning commute. The car is lovely place to be whilst navigating these sorts of roads and is also a solid and well planted car on the motorway.
If I were to criticise here slightly I did detect quite a noticeable amount of wind noise at motorway speeds that I’m fairly sure was coming from the wing mirrors. They’re fairly large wing mirrors and they do house quite a bit of tech including the extra cameras on the Premier model.
One word I’d use to describe the performance of the NX300h would be “adequate”. Clearly this is not a sports car and indeed it’s not designed to be. In fact, Lexus now offer the NX200t with its 2.0 turbocharged engine if you are after an NX with a little more poke. The NX300h’s hybrid power train does however offer a reasonable mix of performance vs economy for a car of this size.
If you’ve driven an IS300h before you may be expecting a similar driving experience and performance but this is quite the case here. Whilst the NX300h and IS300h do indeed share similar set ups (a 2.5 litre engine and an electric motor), the NX only produces 197 horsepower combined to the 223 in the IS. Add this to the fact that clearly the NX weighs substantially more than the IS and clearly this car isn’t as punchy as the IS300h. The difference is less noticeable pulling away from a standstill or at lower speeds, but accelerating from 50 mph plus or motorway speeds and this difference is apparent.
Lexus quote the NX300h as having 9.2 second 0-62 mph time and that feels about right. Adequate as I said earlier. One thing I’m not so keen on though is that the engine does sound a little strained if you put your foot down and really try to get a move on. This is of course due to the CVT gear box that Lexus fit to their hybrid vehicles. In the IS300h however, Lexus use ASC (active sound control) to inject an artificial sound through the car’s speakers that make it sound a little more meaty. It was something I was a little sceptical about at first if I’m honest but after driving the NX300h without it I think it’s something that this car could have done with or at least had the option to turn it on. The strained engine noise isn’t something you’ll really notice when pottering around town though – it’s only when you really press on that it becomes a little intrusive.
Clearly when looking at the the NX range, many buyers are going to be attracted to the hybrid NX300h over the NX200t because of the increased fuel economy and green credentials, so the running costs of this vehicle are particularly important.
Lexus claim a combined fuel economy figure of 54.3 mpg – a figure I wasn’t expecting to replicate from experience. I tried to drive the NX as normally as possible across a mixed series of roads with some town driving and some motorway, finding myself with average MPG figures of between 37 – 40 mpg. Whilst this may not seem spectacular at first glance it’s not a bad result compared to other similar sized diesel SUVs in this class, plus we all know that petrol burns a lot more cleanly than diesel too. CO2 emissions of 121 g/km put the car into the £100 per year road tax bracket which is again pretty competitive for this class. For the base 2wd model this drops to 116g/km too and a pretty amazing £20 per year.
I have no doubt that with a few more miles on the clock and a little practice of the correct hybrid driving technique should see this figure increase a bit. Residual values are currently looking good too, with demand strong thanks to the NX being considered a sales hit for Lexus.
If you’re in the market for a mid size premium SUV the Lexus NX300h is well worth a look and a test drive. It’s a solidly built, good looking car that’s very comfortable and has plenty of kit. The overall driving experience is good for what it’s intended and running costs are very reasonable too. Also, if you’re increasingly concerned about NOx emissions from diesels as many people now are, then there really aren’t many rivals in this class and certainly none as good as the hybrid NX300h. If you can justify it then go for a Premier with the panoramic roof and you won’t be disappointed with the staggering level of kit on offer.
Lexus Hedge End
A special thanks to the lovely people at Snows Lexus Hedge End for the loan of our NX300h Premier featured in this review.