Lexus NX300h review
The Lexus NX has received a refresh, keeping the striking mid-sized SUV in the minds of buyers - or so the Japanese brand hopes. Styling tweaks, improved equipment, and a focus on hybrid power are the main changes to what was a characterful model before. NGC tests the Lexus NX300h to see how it fares.
Review by Chris Lilly
Lexus and parent manufacturer Toyota have been increasing the presence of hybrid models for some time now, with many years of development behind the technology that is now looking like a much better choice than diesel considering it's current struggles. Lexus has taken such a positive approach to hybrid power in the UK that the NX is now only available in 300h specification, with the previously available 200t 2.0 litre petrol unit axed as part of the refresh. As such, the NX300h is the only powertrain option, with a 2.5 litre petrol engine combined with two electric motors for a total power output of 195bhp, and the ability to drive all four wheels. In terms of numbers, this allows the NX300h to get from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds before topping out at 112 mph. On the road, the Lexus feels quick enough when driven to the NX300h's strengths. The use of an e-CVT transmission means the Lexus creates a loud drone that doesn't seem to correspond with any pick up in pace when accelerating hard. In actual fact, the NX picks itself up and shuffles forward perfectly well - it just doesn't sound refined when doing so. Stick to driving the hybrid system as it was intended though, and the NX can make quick progress just about anywhere. It's all about maintaining momentum, gently accelerating, and lifting off early rather than braking hard. Those brakes have plenty of stopping power by the way, just not much in the way of feel. If you stick to the prescribed driving method though, the NX300h can be a swift operator over long distances, and a very refined one around town. Whether crawling in urban traffic, or cruising at motorway speeds, the Lexus is a classy performer that makes good use of its petrol electric powertrain. Try and hustle it along though and, although responsive, you will be wondering why there is seemingly a swarm of bees under the bonnet.
Lexus has an F Sport division to create sharp handling machines - and very successful it is too. It's very much a Mr Hyde to the more normal Dr Jekyll-esque Lexus though as, for the most part, a Lexus is a comfortable car to drive rather than a dynamic one. This is true of the NX despite it being the most compact and potentially sporty SUV currently offered by Lexus, and it is best to enjoy a relaxing drive rather than attack a road in the premium model. It's an area worked on by the engineers during the refresh, with revised suspension components to improve comfort. Although a tall car body roll is kept well in check. The steering is precise too, and has a good weight to it. But the NX is no sports SUV to compete with a BMW for example. It will respond to a bit of vigorous driving but, like its engine, the NX is at its best when wafting along. Make the most of the supple suspension and the NX proves a comfortable drive just about everywhere. It will get unsettled a little when hitting big bumps - mainly because of large wheels fitted - but on the whole the NX offers a refined driving experience.
The styling might look the same as the pre-facelifted model - and to a degree you would be right - but the designers at Lexus have been given a shot at the NX to complement other revisions made. The design changes are slight, but spruce up an already striking design, so Lexus has sensibly not tampered too much. It's a good looking car, particularly in the metal, and one that manages to be overly designed but un-fussy some how. When compared to its German rivals from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, it is a far more impressive bit of styling, but still very much a premium model. It's not for everyone's taste, but in F-Sport trim especially, I rather like the NX. What the body shape translates to inside is a cabin that has plenty of space up front for occupants, a reasonable amount of head, leg, and shoulder room in the rear - though not particularly spacious - and a large boot. The rear seats tilt for a more comfortable seating position and flexible load space. You sit quite high up though, so feel as though you're perched in the back, rather than nestling down comfortably. It's not an issue, and will only be noticeable for taller passengers over long journeys, but there are rival offerings that are more practical as a family workhorse. The boot space is very good though, with no sill to lift anything over, a flat floor, wide access, and offering a sensible shape.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Lexus has a reputation for comfortable seats, and deservedly so. It's a tradition that continues in the NX, with the driver easily able to get into a good seating position. The steering wheel is not the most stylish around, but is a nice size, and there are plenty of deft touches to make everything feel upmarket. The analogue clock and cushioned wrist rest for the infotainment controls - which lifts out to reveal a small cubby hole and removable mirror - are two such examples of attention to detail. Unfortunately, Lexus is a little let down by its continued use of a strange user interface for its infotainment set-up. A track-pad with haptic feedback doesn't work as intuitively as the dial or touchscreen systems used by rivals, and it takes a while to learn where everything is to navigate to. The screen though is one of the refreshed items for this new NX300h, and is much nicer with a larger screen and higher quality graphics. Beneath, it remains a bit of a button-fest which will irritate some, and be a pleasant surprise for others that lament everything being hidden behind touchscreen menus. One aspect I do like is the stereo controls tucked away under an overhang on the centre console, with smooth-turn dials a premium feature. Likewise, the drive control selector allows instant switching between Eco, Normal, and Sport settings, rather than pressing a button and waiting for the system to confirm this is the change you want. On the whole, it's not the most stylish interior around, but it feels well built and with high-quality materials too - what you would expect from a Lexus.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The hybrid petrol powertrain will officially return 54.3 MPG on the combined NEDC cycle, with CO2 emissions figures of 121 g/km for the model tested. Outside of the laboratory, those figures are naturally difficult to achieve, but the NX300h remains one of the more frugal cars in its class. The average after my time with the Lexus showed 38.9 MPG after a few hundred miles racked up. That's over a variety of terrains, road types, and driving styles. With a more cautious right foot, low- to mid-40s MPG can be achieved, while the worst figure I recorded on a trip was 28.5 MPG. Taking a look at the car's economy history though showed that the previous temporary owner ended with an average in the low-30s MPG, and the driver the week before averaged low-20s. It's safe to say then that driving style can play a big part in whether the hybrid powertrain makes sense. To tax, the NX300h could cost either £130 or £440 for the standard rate - depending on whether or not the car costs £40,000 or more. First year costs - part of a car's OTR - will be £155 from the start of the new tax year.
Naturally the NX300h's greatest green element is its hybrid powertrain, which uses one electric motor to assist the engine, and another to drive the wheels. This, combined with the efficient Atkinson cycle petrol engine can provide real benefits in economy when driven to its strengths. A smooth floor assists aerodynamics, and the restyled front end has improved air flow thanks to a sleeker shape. An Eco mode reduces throttle response and reduces the drain from auxiliary systems. There are also a number of displays and statistics available in the menus to help the driver see how economically they are driving - or not as the case may be. The car's battery is charged via regenerative braking or excess engine revs. The use of a separate electric motor on the rear axle not only allows for greater levels of brake energy recuperation, but also removes the need for a large transmission tunnel and prop shaft - saving weight. Likewise, it allows the NX to be driven as a two-wheel drive car most of the time, until added grip or power is needed. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 44.
One big focus of the refresh has been the level of equipment on offer, to complement the improved cabin. The Lexus Safety System + has been added to the range as standard, with a number of active safety features fitted. These include pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, automatic and adaptive high beam, lane keep assist with sway warning, and road sign recognition. Standard features across the board include drive mode select, a reversing camera, Lexus Premium Navigation with 10-speaker audio system, DAB, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, dual-zone climate control, electric front seats, leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, 18-inch alloys, and LED headlights. Moving up to Luxury from SE adds features such as parking sensors, leather upholstery, rear privacy glass, and adaptive LED front fog lights. Up again to F-Sport sees a number of sporty styling elements, automatic, electric, and heated door mirrors, F-Sport leather seats, steering wheel, and alloys, a powered tailgate, and wireless phone charging tray. F-Sport Premier Pack boost that specification to include a superb Mark Levinson surround sound stereo, head-up display, Sport+ and custom drive modes, adaptive variable suspension, heated steering wheel, and aluminium trim. Finally, Premier takes a more executive approach than the sporty F-Sport, with a wood dash inlay, heated and vented front seats, and leather upholstery, along with much of the F-Sport Premier Pack spec.
The Lexus NX300h isn't going to appeal to everyone. Firstly, you need to be a fan of the styling, and it's not a vanilla car to look at, despite my appreciation of it. Secondly, if you're looking for a sporty drive, there are better options out there. However, if it's a comfortable and well appointed car that you are after, the NX300h should be a consideration - particularly if running costs are high on your list of priorities. With a very good real-world fuel economy available, there is an element that will appeal to the head, as well as the car's natural charisma that really grows on you after even a short time with it.
Model tested: Lexus NX300h Premier
Engine / CO2: 2.5 litre petrol and electric motor / 87 g/km
Trim grades: SE, Luxury, F-Sport, F-Sport Premier Pack, Premier
On-road price: from £34,895. Price as tested: £44,395
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars