Lexus NX 300h SUV (2014 - ) review
Read the Lexus NX300h review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives
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You might expect something with a Lexus badge to be a rather more restrained and refined shape, but not a bit of it: the NX, quite deliberately, is an SUV with the accent firmly on sport and a deep-seated desire to be different. Even in a class where makers long ago abandoned the boxy look for their SUVs, the NX is a very distinctive machine next to rivals such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The front end is dominated by a huge grille and the standard LED lights – with the daytime running lights appearing like a slash below the slim headlights – while the car’s profile and the angle of the rear side windows lend it a more coupe-like appearance. Alloy wheels are standard across the range, but stepping up to SE adds roof rails; Luxury trim adds LED fog lamps, silver scuff plates and tinted rear windows; and, F-Sport models have their own bespoke, even sportier, look. However, no model has metallic paint as standard.
The cabin of the NX is a little less striking than the body, but it’s certainly distinctive – and, for the most part, it’s all very effective: the driving position is fine, with lots of head- and legroom, as well as plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. You can’t fault the build quality, either, and Lexus has used a variety of attractive materials to build everything out of. The trouble is, they seem to have forgotten to design in decent ergonomics. Whereas rivals like Audi and Mercedes are trying to simplify the design of their cars’ cabins, Lexus seems to be going the opposite route, with the NX’s fascia sprinkled liberally with buttons. Worse still, it’s not easy to find your way round and far from intuitive to use, especially with so many of the functions controlled through a mouse-style touchpad (standard on Premier models and optional on F Sport) that is very awkward to use. Mind you, even the standard rotating controller isn't that easy to use.
The NX does lots of the most important things very well, and beyond the excellent driving position, there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the front seats. The NX is a decent family car, too, with more than enough room in the back for another couple of adults or three kids; and, although the boot’s not quite as large as what you’ll find in the Q5 or X3, it’ll still good enough for most people, with 60/40 split/folding seats standard across the range. The only major issue is that the boot floor is quite high, meaning it's tricky to stow tall items in the boot under the cover.
Ride and handling
The first thing you notice about the NX – and you notice it very quickly – is that its ride is distinctly below par. Even allowing for the fact that this is a sporty SUV, the ride is uncomfortable – especially around town, which ironically is where the benefits of the hybrid powertrain are most clearly felt. Admittedly, things do settle down a bit once the car picks up more speed, but even on the motorway, the ride is unsettled, and that really takes the shine off the car. To make matters worse, there’s no compensation in a sporty drive, even in the F Sport model: on the contrary, the car feels much more at ease when you adopt a more conservative approach, with steering that’s short on feedback. That said, driven that way, the car is perfectly pleasant, with little body roll through the bends and proving easy to manoeuvre in tight spots.
Around town, the NX is really in its element, with the petrol-electric drivetrain lovely and smooth. True, it’s not fast, but you can waft from traffic light to traffic light quickly enough and, perhaps most importantly, in complete refinement; and, when the engine joins in, it does so without disrupting the peace. Trouble is, once you’re beyond the city limits, things are not nearly so impressive: the hybrid drivetrain doesn’t respond as quickly or as strongly as turbodiesel-engined rivals, and when you want something approaching sporty performance (and it can be doing something as innocent as changing lanes on the motorway or overtaking on a B-road), the four-cylinder engine jumps to maximum revs straight away, emitting a racket that’s genuinely painful. To cap it all, because of the way the energy-recuperating brakes work, it’s very difficult to slow the car down smoothly – it tends to come to a halt too quickly or too slowly.
This is the where the NX plays its trump card, especially for company car users. Not only are its CO2 emissions very low by class standards – just 116g/km on the 2WD model and 121 if you opt for all-wheel drive – the hybrid powertrain doesn’t fall foul of the surcharge applied to diesel-engined rivals. Admittedly, you shouldn’t expect to get close to the average economy of more than 50mg promised by the official figures - in our experience, between 30-35mpg is an everyday figure - but this is still one of the more economical SUVs, a position that is helped by the fact that petrol is cheaper to buy than diesel in the first place. We expect the NX’s residuals to be a little below that of its rivals from Audi and BMW, but at least its insurance groups are par for the course.
Lexus has an enviable reputation for superb reliability, regularly finishing at or near the top of customer satisfaction surveys; and, while we have no data on the NX itself, we expect it to continue the record of the company’s previous models.
In Euro NCAP tests, the NX followed other Lexus models and achieved a very high rating, scoring the maximum five stars. Not only are eight airbags (including one for the driver’s knees and another for the passenger cushion) standard on every model, all NXs also come with a Pre-Crash safety system and Adaptive Cruise Control – both relying on front-mounted radar sensors. The standard safety package is the same on all models, except the top Premier models, which add Lane Keeping Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Five trim levels are available, but the most basic (S) is exclusive to the two-wheel drive model; and, for your money, you get dual-zone climate control, an eight-speaker stereo with DAB radio and a USB port, and electric folding door mirrors. Step up to SE and, as well as all-wheel drive, you also add automatic wipers and heated front seats; on Luxury models, the front seats are heated and electrically adjustable, parking sensors are fitted, and you get Smart Entry; the extra kit on F Sport models is primarily aesthetic, but also includes electric steering column adjustment and a powered tailgate. Finally, the top-spec Premier model is the only model with sat-nav as standard, and it also brings a heated steering wheel, a head-up display and a Mark Levinson stereo.
Above all, the low CO2 emissions of the hybrid powertrain are what will sell the NX – and especially to cost-conscious company car users – but we’re sure the striking and distinctive looks will also attract buyers.