17.2.2016Lexus NX 300h F Sport review
Compact premium SUVs are big business and manufacturers are serious about offering a good product within this lucrative niche. Lexus is no different and has the NX range to fill that gap. However, what Lexus has that many manufacturers don't currently is a proliferation of hybrid technology across the range - both from the premium brand, and parent company Toyota. Here we test the Lexus NX 300h to see what it's like to live with.
Review by Chris Lilly
The hybrid system in use in the NX 300h sees a four cylinder 2.5 litre petrol engine along with with two electric motors. Combined, these produce a total of 195bhp, with that power put through either the front or all four wheels, depending on specification, through an e-CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) gearbox. The model tested had the full 4x4 set-up, which helped with grip in slippery wintry conditions. Performance statistics come in at a 9.2 second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 112mph, so pace is hardly blistering. That said, the car doesn't feel slow during use with the CVT gearbox - traditionally a thrashy and noisy affair - performing well to use the 270Nm of torque on tap, pick up the car's 1,785kg weight, and shift forward keenly. The power comes from the electric motor, petrol engine or both, depending on what suits it best, and is decided upon by the car's systems. The Lexus switches between the different set-ups almost seamlessly, and often the only way to tell is a drop or rise in engine revs. Though hard acceleration isn't its strong point, what this powertrain does extremely well is cruise along comfortably at high or low speeds.
The fact that the Lexus is a great cruiser should give you an indication as to how it handles. The NX 300h is not the sportiest car on the road and prioritises comfort over out-right handling feel. I found it excellent around town, taking up the strain as you fight through rutted, pot-holed streets and over speed bumps. The set-up translates well to motorway and dual carriageway work too, effortlessly running along with no effort required from the driver. On twisting roads, the car's weight and comfortable suspension are found out, though the F Sport model does benefit from slightly stiffer springs. It's mainly the suspension that stops the Lexus from being a B-Road blaster though, since the steering was precise enough, if lacking a little in feedback. As you might be picking up, if you want a dynamic machine opt for BMW's X3. The Lexus is a better choice for those who prioritise comfort though.
It's complicated, but I found myself at the end of the week when the NX 300h F Sport was in my care, really liking the Lexus's style. It's far too fussy normally for my taste but all those creases, cuts, folds and features work well - especially in the more agressive F Sport trim. Beauty is in the eye etc but I prefer it's more engaging looks to the more drab X3, and think it offers a nice alternative option for buyers to pick between when at looking models like the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5. The standard five-door, five-seat SUV design applies here, with lots of space up front for occupants. Taller passengers in the rear will find that there isn't a luxurious amount of head room, even if there is enough. Leg and shoulder space is good though and there is only the smallest of transmission tunnels to impact upon space for a third passenger in the rear. Boot space is excellent and the floor is flat, making loading and unloading easy, especially considering the raised ride height. Five adults will fit with their luggage, while a family of four will have no qualms about packing the NX with children and luggage for a long stay away.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Well, the "Comfort" part of the above heading takes care of itself. As an example, I'll say that my wife managed to fall asleep in the Lexus on three seperate occasions within my seven days of temporary ownership - and none of those trips were cross-country hauls. The seats are some of the best around to sit - and sleep, on the evidence of it - in. The driver has a good seating position with plenty of adjustment for both the wheel and chair to get comfy, while sound proofing is good considering the car's large wheels and odd shape. The dashboard mimics the exterior in the sense that it all seems a bit busy, but again it works well with intuitively placed controls. There are multiple systems to control everything and you will soon settle into your own method, but the touch-pad with haptic feedback is a little odd to start with. You get used to it to a degree though - but one thing other manufacturers should definitely copy is a raised and padded wrist cushion to give stability to your touch-pad actions while moving along. The door pockets aren't very big, but the glovebox is a good size and there is a useful cubbyhole beneath the arm-cushion on the central tunnel.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The facts are these. Officially the NX 300h F Sport will return 54.3 MPG and emit 121 g/km CO2. The basic S trim, with smaller wheels and two-wheel drive improves those figures to 56.5 MPG and 116 g/km CO2, but even in sporty-ish four-wheel drive trim, the NX is one of the best in its class in terms of efficiency figures. In reality, as with all hybrid vehicles, you have to drive to their strengths to get the best out of them and you can easily drop to around 36 MPG if you start pushing it hard everywhere. Sensible driving brings that up to around 42 MPG and really frugal running will see you better that still. Again, pottering around town on mostly electric power will get great fuel economy results, but the NX 300h performs better during motorway driving than I had predicted it would. In terms of tax, the NX 300h can come in at Band C with a Â£30 yearly cost, though only in S trim. F Sport spec sees a Â£110 yearly cost, though it still qualifies for the zero first year rate.
Obviously the hybrid system is the one of the biggest selling points for the NX 300h, though in this case, it's not just as a perk for business users. The system, which uses one electric motor to assist the engine and a second as a conventional drive motor, provides real economy benefits to private owners as well as company car users. The Atkinson cycle engine and e-CVT transmission are more efficient than conventional systems, while the car's aerodynamics are better than might be guessed at considering the edgy design. This is helped by a cover along the floor of the car and wind diverting details in front of the front wheels smoothing out air-flow. Lexus has an Eco Driving indicator on the dashboard, and displays all sorts of power transfer information to the driver through the car's information screen. Regenerative braking will help recuperate energy for the car's battery, and the car has a useful Drive Mode Select switch on the transmission tunnel that resets at a push to normal, or knocks right for Sport mode and left for Eco. This latter setting smooths out the throttle response making the car use fewer revs and improving efficiency. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 42.
Lexus has equipped the NX very competitively, with safety a particular strength. Eight airbags come as standard, as does adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and emergency brake assist. Entry level models get 17-inch alloy wheels, the Lexus Media Display with eight-speakers, CD player, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Dual zone climate control also features across all trim levels, as does speed sensitive electric power steering. Move up specifications and features such as leather trim, a powered tailgate, wireless smartphone charging tray, keyless entry and start, and rain sensing wipers all feature on the F Sport specification.
There are few tangible elements to explain my reasoning but the NX 300h F Sport really grew on me during the loan. In so many ways it isn't normally a car I would go for. It's more ostentatious than a Range Rover Evoque, not as sporty as a BMW X3 and features a CVT gearbox, albeit in a much better guise than normal. However, I warmed to it, appreciated the comfortable driving experience, decent fuel economy, excellent space, and style that is more subtle than first thought. As compact premium SUVs go, it's one of the most efficient and, personally, it would be right in contention to buy should I be in the market for one. Add in the excellent Lexus dealership customer care and build quality, and the NX 300h is a good choice for a family car, especially for those who run around town a lot.
Model tested: Lexus NX 300h F Sport
Body-style: Compact premium SUV
Engine / CO2: 2.5 litre petrol with two electric motors / 121 g/km
Trim grades: S, SE, Luxury, F Sport, Premier
On-road price: From £29,495. Price as tested £36,995
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars