If you aren’t convinced that Australia’s new car market is increasingly built off the back of SUV and crossover sales, just take a look at Lexus’ sales charts.
While the most iconic models in the range might be the LS limo and mid-size IS sedan, it's the NX medium SUV range that moves the most stock, outselling any of the Japanese premium brand’s passenger cars by at least two-to-one.
Getting this mid-life update right then is crucial to the NX’s ongoing success - all the more so when you factor in all-new competitors from BMW, Audi, and Volvo which have all appeared this year.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium SUV
Price: $54,800 - $76,300 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 147kW 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid | 6spd automatic, CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.6-7.7 l/100km
As before Lexus offers the NX with a choice of three trim grades and two engines, both carried over. The turbo-petrol NX300 scores a new name (previously the NX200t) while the hybrid NX300h stays the same.
The model range includes entry-level Luxury, starting from $54,800 (plus on-road costs) for the turbo or $57,300 for the hybrid, moving up to the sporty style of the F Sport at $60,800 (turbo) or $63,300 (hybrid) and topping out at $73,800 for the Sports Luxury turbo or $76,300 for the hybrid.
While base model pricing has risen by at least $1200 compared to its predecessor, offset by extra equipment, the NX still undercuts its European competitors. Lexus flies the value flag to entice customers away from traditional prestige players.
- Luxury: Bi-LED headlights, power tailgate, 18-inch alloy wheels
- F Sport: Keyless entry and start, Adaptive LED headlights, 306-degree camera, wireless phone charger, 10-power front seats with heating and ventilation, aluminium interior accents
- Sports Luxury: Leather accented interior, full-colour head-up display, sunroof, wood-look interior accents.
- Infotainment: 10.3-inch colour display, touchpad controller, USB and Aux inputs, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, 10-speaker pioneer or 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio
- Cargo Volume: 475 litres to rear seats, 1520 litres to front seats
The sole major change to the interior of the NX is a new 10.3-inch screen in place of the previous 7.0-inch display. Digital radio and satellite navigation also join the standard features list across the range, but Lexus’ often-infuriating touchpad user interface remains.
Compared against the medium SUV class the interior of the NX is a little more compact feeling than its direct competitors, instead straddling the divide between the emerging small SUV class and regular mid-size SUVs.
Newly added features for the LX Luxury include electrically adjustable and heated front seats which help the entry-level model feel less basic.
The Sports Luxury adds full leather, a 306-degree camera system keyless auto-entry, head-up display and 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, with the option of adding the latter three items to the F Sport as a $6000 package.
Safety systems also come in for attention with autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian detection, active cruise control, and lane departure warning with steering assist standard across the range under the title of Lexus Safety System+.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (NX300), 114kW/210Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol 105kW front, 50kW rear/270Nm front 139Nm rear electric motors - 147kW combined total (NX300h)
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic (NX300) CVT automatic (NX300h), front wheel drive or optional all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson front, double wishbone independent rear w/adaptive dampers on F Sport and Sports Luxury
- Brakes: 328mm ventilated front discs, 281mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.4m turning circle
Out of the two available powertrain choices the turbo-petrol engine is the better choice, feeling powerful and responsive, allied to an automatic that’s at its best in Sport mode where it is assertive rather than aggressive.
Conversely the standard Comfort mode can turn languid, emphasising that the front-wheel drive version weighs 1700kg despite a rewarded chassis that includes firmer bushes and a 19-to-22 per cent hike in stabiliser bar stiffness.
Luxury models get “reduced friction” standard dampers, while F Sport and Sports Luxury score what Lexus calls adaptive variable suspension (AVS) – with Comfort or Sport modes now able to provide 650 switching levels of shock force, compared with 30 previously.
Rather than moving to a more modern plug-in hybrid set-up for the NX300h, Lexus perseveres with a regular hybrid system, which instead of being a stand-out green hero garners more attention for being 45kg heavier than the NX300 turbo and unable to provide an meaningful motivation for its electric motor alone.
The petrol portion of the hybrid system generates a well-below-average 114kW at 5700rpm, as well, and the auto continuously-variable transmission (CVT) will push it there often to the detriment of economy and refinement.
Just as the petrol-only NX comfortably bests the petrol-electric version, the standard suspension of the Luxury also easily eclipses the multi-mode system in the higher models.
Over bumps and through corners, the Luxury feels adequately solid and stable, without being sporty. Its low-speed ride quality is clunky, but there is little bouncing or wallow.
Conversely the variable system’s Comfort mode near-constantly pitches and bobbles while never closing in on the plushness expected of a family-focused SUV. The alternate Sport setting keeps the body level and reduces occupant head-toss, but compliance evaporates.
This is also despite 18-inch tyres with thick sidewalls being used across the range, which should contribute to enhanced ride quality. For urban-based families, at least the steering is light and precise, and the active safety equipment levels are high, while being at the smaller end of the medium SUV segment makes the NX easier to park than some larger rivals.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The updated Lexus NX provides an appealingly-priced entry point into the prestige medium SUV class, undercutting rivals by thousands of dollars. In fact the entry-grade NX Luxury sits closer to top-end CX-5s and Tiguans - but those models are cheaper again and still more compelling.
That leaves Lexus a little stranded in a rising tide of new prestige competitors and better balanced, better driving mainstream rivals.
While it may be the most popular of the Japanese automaker's offerings it lacks the substance expected of this fast-growing category.