Vehicle Style: Medium luxury SUV
Price: $66,000 (plus on-roads)
114kW/210Nm petrol; 105kW/270Nm electric | CVT automatic
System output: 147kW
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 7.4 l/100km
The NX range comes with two powertrain choices, a 2.0 litre turbo, or, as in the case of this car, the range-topping NX 300h, a petrol-electric hybrid setup.
Hybrids have worked well for Lexus in the past; the petrol-electric RX 450h has sold pretty well here.
Does the same strategy work so well for the smaller NX? We took the NX 300h F Sport out for a week-long spin to find out, but found that in the NX’s case, the hybrid-drive comes with compromises that won't appeal to everyone.
- Dual-zone climate control, LED headlamps, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree top-down camera view, keyless entry and ignition, faux leather upholstery, 10-way electrically adjustable front seats (heated and ventilated) power tailgate
- Infotainment: Sat nav with colour display, Lexus Remote Touch touchpad controller interface, DAB+ digital radio tuner, AM/FM/CD stereo, USB audio input, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, inductive phone charging pad.
- Luggage space: 475 litres minimum, 1520 litres maximum
The dashboard absolutely dominates the cabin, and not in a way that appeals to these eyes.
While beautifully-built, and with a superior feel to the trims and metal garnishes, the angular thrusting design of the centre stack looks awkward and a bit gauche (we assume it’s meant to mimic that spindle grille up front).
While the NX looks pretty sharp (literally and figuratively) on the outside, the edgy design themes don’t work so well when applied to cabin furnishings.
There are some weird features too. Like the tiny shelf above the CD/DVD slot that’s only big enough for a couple of pens, or the felt-lined pocket next to the front cupholders that has a makeup mirror set into its lid.
Besides that, the jumble of buttons and controls on the centre stack is hard to navigate by feel.
The touchpad interface for the infotainment system is also clunky and responds slowly to inputs. It’s probably one of the worst multimedia interfaces we’ve experienced thus far.
Ergonomically, the NX loses out to the more sensible cockpit layouts of its German competitors.
Thankfully, it’s well put together. It’s a solid interior made of high-quality plastics and faux-leather surfaces, and there’s a strong sense of durability here.
Comfort is also quite good. Though the seating position is more carlike than SUV, the front seats are comfortable and commodious, and feature 10-way power adjustment.
They’re also heated and cooled in the F Sport, perfect for the bipolar weather we experienced in Melbourne during our week-long test.
The back seats are spacious (segment-leading, according to Lexus), and able to fit three adults across without too much squeezing.
The centre passenger also enjoys a clear floor for their feet, but will need to endure a fairly firm backrest.
Legroom is plentiful in the back and so is headroom, though the dark headliner and privacy glass n the F Sport grade does make it feel a tad claustrophobic back there.
At least the reclinable backrest will help your rear passengers get some shut-eye on long journeys.
ON THE ROAD
- 114kW/210Nm Atkinson-cycle petrol engine, 105kW/270Nm electric motor - system output:147kW
- CVT automatic, paddle shifters, AWD (electric motor on rear axle)
- Regenerative braking
- Electric power steering
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. Adjustable dampers on F Sport
There’s nothing really wrong with how the NX 300h drives, but it is clearly hobbled by the extra weight of its hybrid powertrain.
Without passengers or cargo, it tips the scales at a portly 1800kg. Load it up and you will likely be looking for a bit more 'get-up-and-go' than this NX's F Sport badge suggests.
All of that mass doesn’t help fuel economy either. We averaged 7.4 l/100km over the course of a week, and even with lots of highway cruising we couldn’t come close to the claimed figure of 5.7 l/100km.
Compounding the issue is the elastic-softness of the petrol-electric drivetrain’s power delivery.
Floor the throttle, and there’s no sense of urgency in how it responds - even in Sport mode. At 9.2 seconds from zero to 100km/h, it is adequate for family duties, but it's hardly "quick".
The constant moaning of the CVT when accelerating hard can also become a bit wearing. It 'flares' more than most - jumping to high revs that it will hold while the car gathers pace.
If you live in the hills, it is something you will notice and may diminish its appeal.
Also annoying, and a little sub-par for a premium hybrid, is the NX 300h’s very average 'EV' mode.
It’s incapable of accelerating the car to 60km/h on battery power alone, requires a feather-touch on the accelerator to avoid waking the petrol engine (which happens anyway above 50km/h) and will only sustain drive for about 2km before the battery is depleted.
Even Infiniti’s hybrid system boasts a more useful EV mode. The better technology now seen in other brands suggests Lexus needs to enhance the capability of its hybrid hardware urgently.
In this day and age, a lukewarm hybrid powertrain like the NX’s simply doesn’t cut it.
And how about the braking. The first inch or two of pedal travel mostly modulates the regenerative braking and generates weak stopping force, and only when you push beyond that do the brakes bite with any vigour.
They’re inconsistent in feel and a constant irritation in stop-and-go traffic. Fix them please, Lexus.
But let’s talk about some positives.
For one, refinement is excellent. The ride is supple, the engine near-silent when cruising and wind noise almost totally absent. Around town, it is a serene family shuttle.
The F Sport gets a tauter suspension tune, though it doesn’t impact much on comfort. In fact, compared to some of its European rivals, the NX has wonderful ride comfort.
And as far as handling goes, it’s not too shabby for an 1800kg petrol-electric barge.
The electrically-assisted steering is direct and well-weighted, and grip from the Bridgestone Dueler tyres is quite good.
ANCAP rating: The Lexus NX has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, anti-whiplash front headrests and eight airbags are standard.
A 360-degree camera view is also standard on the NX 300h F Sport, as is blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you’re looking for a modestly-sized (but not too small) luxo SUV, the NX competes alongside the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.
The Range Rover Evoque is smaller, though officially sits in the same size and price category and has similar interior dimensions to the Lexus.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The NX 300h has the potential to be a good car, but its biggest issue is that hybrid powertrain.
It saps the fun out of driving what is otherwise a very refined and dynamically sound SUV, while adding weight and achieving no great fuel economy advantage.
If it had a plug-in capability and decent EV range, we’d like it more.
As it stands, though, it’s hard to recommend the NX 300h against conventional diesel versions of its competitors.
Thankfully, you don’t have to choose the NX 300h. The turbo petrol NX 200t is better, vastly, and cheaper.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- NX 200t Luxury - 2WD - $52,500
- NX 200t Luxury - AWD - $57,000
- NX 200t F Sport - AWD - $63,500
- NX 200t Sport Luxury - AWD - $72,500
- 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