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First drive: 2018 Lexus NX. Image by Lexus.

First drive: 2018 Lexus NX
Lexus’ distinctive mid-sized SUV gets facelifted and some new tech.

 



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Lexus NX 300h

4 4 4 4 4

Lexus tweaks the striking looks of its NX SUV for its midlife facelift and there's some new technology. The company's devotion to hybrids in the UK - which means the former 200t petrol model is no more - means there's just one drivetrain choice for the 2018MY NX and the appearance of the SUV remains something that won't be to all tastes, but it provides a smooth hybrid driving experience and a taste of something different in a European-dominated premium market.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lexus NX 300h F Sport
Pricing: NX range from £34,895, 300h F Sport from £39,995
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle VVT-i petrol with permanent magnet synchronous electric motor
Transmission: E-CVT, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 121g/km (VED £150 first 12 months, £130 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 54.3mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: petrol 155hp at 5,700rpm, electric motor 105kW (143hp), maximum system output 197hp
Torque: petrol 210Nm at 4,200- to 4,400rpm, electric motor 270Nm, no maximum system output quoted

What's this?

The Lexus NX, the smaller of the Japanese firm's two SUV offerings. It was originally launched in 2014 and has gone on to become one of the Japanese marque's most important models in Europe, as it accounts for 30 per cent of its sales. Competing in a marketplace including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC60, the NX continues to be the left-field choice, given it is now powered solely by one of the Toyota group's preferred hybrid drivetrains; the old 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol model that was badged 200t has been dropped, due to poor sales.

So, you get a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine in the 300h, supplemented by a nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery powering a 105kW electric motor. Peak system horsepower output is 197hp, with up to 270Nm available from the electric part of the drivetrain alone, making the NX both decently accelerative and reasonably parsimonious on fuel; a part-electrified alternative to diesel, if you will. As it's not a plug-in hybrid, the NX 300h can't go for long distances on electric power alone, so driving it is more about managing its resources effectively.

In the UK, trim levels run SE, Luxury, F Sport, F Sport Premier Pack and Premier, with only the SE model available with front-wheel drive - all other NX variants are four-wheel drive. Prices start at £34,895 and rise to £44,395, with generous equipment levels across the board. Speaking of which, the changes to the NX amount to a new spindle grille and front bumper arrangement, fresh designs of alloy wheels, LED head- and tail-lights, new colour options and switchgear in the cabin, a larger 10.3-inch screen for the Lexus Premium Navigation infotainment system, suspension changes including a recalibrated version of Adaptive Variable Suspension damping, and the Lexus Safety System+ bundle. This last item is just worth detailing: it's standard across the range and it offers Pre-Collision System, All-Speed Adaptive Cruise Control with stop-and-go functionality, Lane Keeping Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition, plus Automatic High Beam on the SE and Luxury models, with a more advanced, 11-LED Adaptive High-Beam System from F Sport and above.

Thus, if you like the Lexus' exterior - we do, especially in F Sport guise, where it looks daring and unconventional - and you can get on with the company's wilfully different infotainment controls (these, we're not such big fans of... and that's putting it politely) and unusual switchgear arrangements, then you'll find the NX an alluring proposition. It has a cabin that is put together beautifully and which feels quality wherever you poke and prod it. There's plenty of space on board and in the boot, this Lexus not being significantly handicapped by having to cart its signature electrical running gear on board like some other cars in the range.

How does it drive?

When Lexus revealed the NX three years ago, it said it was an SUV with an emphasis on sporty driving. And while the rakish exterior looks might still have you believe that promise, the fact is the NX is much happier being driven in a more sedate fashion. Whereupon, the smoothness of its drivetrain, its phenomenal ease-of-use, its quiet interior and its fantastic ride quality will all no doubt win you over. Negotiating thoroughly throttled traffic on a 24-mile route straight through the middle of Madrid, the NX 300h managed to run on its electric motor alone (during coasting and deceleration) for a third of that distance, while the 80-minute journey in stop-start traffic saw its petrol motor switched off for fully 53 minutes.

You simply cannot tell, either, when using only partial throttle openings as to precisely when the NX is firing up its 2.5 to assist with forward motion. The e-CVT gearbox, not our favourite type of transmission in the world, is nevertheless slick and obviously seamless in town, and the Lexus is nimble and punchy enough to make the most of slight gaps in traffic in adjacent lanes. It translates this impressive performance out onto open roads, where it is incredibly smooth and refined during steady-state cruising.

Where it's not so impressive is during harder driving. Japanese Lexus executives are said to be constantly amazed at how fast we accelerate from junctions, both here in the UK and in the wider European area, and it's this trait of our driving style that exposes the NX's drivetrain weakness. Like all CVTs, when you want to accelerate smartly from a standing start - say, from a side junction onto a main 60mph road - or if you want to enact an overtake out on country lanes or use a motorway slip road to correctly build up to 70mph to join the main flow of vehicles, the CVT and 2.5 motor combine to make a strained, raucous noise. To be fair to Lexus, the NX obviously has a lot of sound-deadening to negate this characteristic as much as possible, but it will sound and feel odd if you're used to the easy pull of a turbodiesel mated to a twin-clutch automatic transmission.

Other than that, though, it's a strong report card for the NX. The handling is fine, if not exemplary, while the steering is exceptionally good for this type of vehicle, with nice weighting, superb consistency and even some feedback filtering through the rim. Sporty, the NX is not, but it'll put on a capable enough showing in the curves that's easily a match for most of this class, bar the most dynamic BMW and Jaguar rivals.

Verdict

The NX is an intriguing proposition, and its appeal is its hybrid drivetrain - leading to low running costs and taxation - its idiosyncratic looks and its wealth of equipment, for reasonable purchase prices. That very hybrid USP can be its undoing if you're more of a lead-footed driver, and the NX has its work cut out to tempt you away from the talented German, Swedish and British competitors in this class. But there's plenty to like here and the proven reliability of its running gear should provide further temptation.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 7 Nov 2017









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2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.

2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus NX drive. Image by Lexus.








 

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