What’s hot: Beautiful interior, comfortable ride, high-end technologies and Lexus build-quality.
What’s not: Petrol engine sounds coarse when accelerating, CVT dulls performance.
X-FACTOR: Cosseting luxury and SUV practicality in a sharply-styled, ‘green credentialed’ hybrid package
Vehicle style: Premium Compact Hybrid SUV
Price range: $55,000 - $75,000
Drivetrain: 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol with series parallel hybrid electric (2WD and 4WD)
Outputs: 114kW/210Nm petrol; 105kW/270Nm electric | System: 147kW
Fuel consumption claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 8.1 l/100km
You may have seen the ads. Lexus is already out of the blocks with the marketing of its all-new compact SUV, the NX 300h.
That ‘h’ in the badge defines the character of this car. It is, first and last, a ‘hybrid’ - but a practical one for younger, more affluent families.
And it is a Lexus; which means that you will find a layer of conservatism in the way the car performs as surely as you’ll find the most fastidious attention to quality and detail.
So, don’t be misled by the NX 300h’s edgy athletic lines: this smart and beautifully finished SUV is not about ‘dynamic performance’.
The 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol engine and hybrid drive under the bonnet has a healthy-enough total system output of 147kW, but that output is blunted in the nose of the 1.8 tonne NX.
The NX 300h is not for the sports buyer. This is a car for buyers looking for stand-out style, for class and refinement, and for that industry-best Lexus quality.
And it is, as Lexus Australia boss Sean Hanley describes it, “an SUV for the urban jungle”.
And in that the NX 300h succeeds. It’s a matter of horses for courses.
This is a beautiful interior, and that’s not a comment about the styling. It’s a comment about the fit, finish and amazing high-quality feel to, well, everything. Everything.
The leather seats are generously padded, shaped just right to hold securely, and trimmed to perfection. So too the leather highlights on the dash-tops and door trims.
All the metal garnishes have a deep lustrous look and ‘cold-metal’ feel, and there is a solid ‘made for the touch’ quality to the plastics and controls.
And the styling also satisfies. The angular centre-stack, sports wheel and clear round driver display look good and work well.
Lexus is unstinting with its interiors, and the NX does not disappoint. The moment you run your hand across any of the surfaces or leather trims, you’ll know.
It is also, particularly in the up-specced F Sport and Sports Luxury models, loaded with technology.
But the lesser Luxury model misses out on little in the way of premium features.
It comes with leather heated seats, electric adjustment, sat-nav, cruise control, reversing rear camera and parking sonar, remote touch controller, powered rear tailgate and rain-sensing wipers among a host of high-end features technologies.
There are a couple of debits, however. The reach and rake adjustable wheel takes a bit of fiddling to get right and the touchpad controller for the screen display is far too ‘touchy’ and fidgety.
Using it can be incredibly frustrating as the cursor leaps around, tripping over symbols and landing where you don’t want it.
It is also hard to figure out the logic of the screens and finding your way around. A simple rotary controller (like Audi uses) would be far, far better.
No complaints though with the interior space and the airy spacious feel inside. Despite all those angles and swages sculpted into the exterior panels, the cabin is essentially a practical upright ‘box’.
The square roofline means that rear passengers get ample head and kneeroom, as we confirmed with a long-legged 6’4” colleague, and good access through the wide-opening doors.
Rear seats are nicely shaped for two, the third occupant making do with the flat but not uncomfortable centre position.
And all passengers will appreciate the eerily quiet refinement when cruising at highway speeds.
For road noise, or, the absence of, the NX is one of the quietest we’ve driven in a long time. Also, aside from a little fluttering from around the base of the a-pillar, wind noise is similarly low.
When coasting, there is also a near total absence of mechanical noise. Unfortunately, that changes when accelerating hard - then the 2.5 litre petrol engine chimes in with a coarse-sounding roar that intrudes more than it should.
Boot space isn’t too bad, 475 litres with the seats up, 1520 litres to the window line with them folded.
It is compromised a little by the raised floor, necessary to accommodate the temporary spare, the nickel metal hydride NiMH batteries (there are two) and the rear electric motors in 4WD variants.
Towing capacity is 750kg unbraked, 1000kg braked, which also isn’t bad for a hybrid.
ON THE ROAD
We’ve been driving the NX at launch on a long looping run through the tight turns and winding gorges of the Adelaide Hills.
Heading out through the city to Angaston, then back, gave us a good look at the driving dynamics of the NX.
Press-on highway driving is not its forte.
The first impression though, on Adelaide’s city streets and when rowing along with traffic, is that the NX hybrid feels quite lively.
That initial surge of electric-assisted torque is very handy around town. It’s when pressing harder that the dynamics are not as good.
Push the accelerator beyond ‘a point’, and the 2.5 litre Atkinson-cycle engine suddenly makes itself heard with a CVT-induced high-revving roar.
This is an old-fashioned feeling CVT. Accelerating hard sees the tacho needle pegging at a coarse 4000rpm, and holding there while the car ‘catches up’.
It is hardly noticeable in urban driving, but is a constant companion on a winding hilly road. And it can become a bit wearing.
There is enough underfoot for overtaking at highway speeds, in fact it feels reasonably quick between 80 and 120km/h, but is slower to react - and feels a bit dull - when accelerating from lower speeds.
Also, the compliant comfort-biased suspension means there is a fair bit of whoozy body-roll around a winding road.
Even selecting ‘Sport+’ mode, which stiffens things up a little and sharpens the responsiveness at the wheel, does little to rein things in.
We drove only the 4WD F Sport and Sport Luxury models, so can give no comparison with the feel of the 2WD entry-level Luxury model.
System outputs are the same for both models, despite the additional electric motors driving the rear wheels, so we’d expect performance to be roughly the same.
Keep things steady on-road, drive the NX like a ‘green car’ - it is a hybrid after all - and you will find no complaints with the superior comfortable ride and the serene, refined, highway experience.
You will also do better for fuel consumption than we managed at launch. Pushing hard, we saw the trip readout drop to 8.5 kilometres per litre, or 11.7 l/100km (a long way short of the claimed 5.7 l/100km).
Driving steadily on the road back, we returned a much better 12.4 kilometres per litre, or 8.1 l/100km.
So, yes, this is a car for the ‘urban jungle’ where comfort and style rules.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Lexus NX 300h is a good car, but not great.
Line it up eyeball-to-eyeball with Mitsubishi’s surprising Outlander PHEV, and the PHEV takes the cigar: it’s quite a bit livelier, just as quiet on-road but with a less intrusive petrol-engine, and is the more satisfying drive.
The PHEV is also quite a bit cheaper than the Lexus and uses less fuel, even on a longer drive.
But it’s not all the Mitsubishi’s way. The NX is a Lexus and oozes Lexus quality from every sumptuous leather-trim and every perfect metal surface.
The NX feels ‘the luxury drive’; take the wheel and you can see precisely where your money has gone.
For city driving, its more compliant suspension, snug luxurious interior, high-tech feature list and quiet operation will find a lot of buyers who might otherwise have been looking at Audi’s Q3 and Q5 or BMW’s X1 and X3.
While its on-road assets are not as compelling as the Audi and BMW, the NX 300h packages a lot of high-end technology and luxury accommodation into its sharp athletic lines.
When the 2.0 litre turbo arrives early next year, that’s when things will really get interesting.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- NX 300h Luxury - 2WD - $55,000
- NX 300h Luxury - AWD - $59,500
- NX 300h F Sport - AWD - $66,000
- NX 300h Sports Luxury - AWD - $75,000
- Pack 1 - NX 300h Luxury - $2500
- Pack 1 - NX 300h F Sport - $4000
- Moonroof and 14 speaker Mark Levinson audio
- Pack 2 - NX 300h F Sport - $7500
- Pre-collision safety, all speed cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Heads-up Display, Smart Key, Auto High Beam, 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, Moonroof.