Well the pressure is certainly on luxury mid-size SUVs now. The Lexus NX 300h has arrived and it’s so good and so sharply priced there are really very few reasons why you wouldn’t consider this planet-saving hybrid.
All the SUV luxury and convenience you could want with fuel consumption as low as 5.6l/100kms – the Lexus NX 300h certainly mounts a strong case.
Lexus NX 300h Overview
Lexus NX 300h is a mid-size SUV priced from $55,000 which sits below the larger Lexus RX (from $69,400) and LX570 ($139,595). It’s the first mid-size SUV offering a hybrid drivetrain.
In the www.carshowroom.com.au garage recently was the range-topping Lexus NX 300h Sport Luxury variant which is stickered at $75,000. As you’d expect, the Sport Luxury deservedly tops the bill for equipment with inclusions such as leather seats, LED headlights, moon roof, all-wheel-drive, the AVS system (automatic variable suspension and sports dampers), a brilliant 360-degree camera system, head-up display, lane departure warning, active cruise control, pre-collision safety, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, centre console wireless induction charger for mobiles and a power-folding rear seat).
So Lexus hasn’t left much on the shelf when it kitted-out the NX 300h. Rams home its outstanding value-for-money we must say.
Lexus NX 300h Engine
Lexus powers the NX 300h with the 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder petrol engine and a 650-volt electric motor. It’s a familiar package which Lexus/Toyota has brilliantly advanced over the years.
The petrol engine delivers 141kW at 57600rpm and peak torque of 210Nm arrives between 4200rpm-4400rpm while the electric motor provides 105kW/270Nm. Combined output is 147kW.
Drive is via Lexus’ six-step CVT automatic transmission with a hard acceleration kick-down function. The Lexus NX 300h Sport Luxury as tested scored steering wheel paddle-shifters for manual changes.
For combined cycle fuel consumption Lexus says the NX 300h Sport Luxury scores 5.7l/100kms. Loaded with the whole family, beach paraphernalia, golf clubs, clothes and provisions over the holidays we didn’t get close to that figure…but nor, in three weeks of driving, did we need to refuel our Lexus NX 300h.
Lexus NX 300h The Interior
The NX 300h presents a terrific interior – very modern with lots of leather, metallic highlights and soft-touch surfaces…and of course all beautifully put together as we’d expect from Lexus. Pleasingly the front seats get nice sculpturing for support in cornering and they’re large and comfortable (this is a car designed with the North American market in mind).
Electronic adjustment (even for the steering wheel’s rake/reach) provides a super driving position. To the left, the high centre console drew some comment at the media launch but we quite like it - the American market SUVs which are not sold here have gone down this route and we reckon it looks very smart, has pads to brace your knees when cornering and in it is the inbuilt wireless induction charger for telephones and mobile devices
Aft of the gear-lever is the touchpad controller which can be used to operate the functions of the free-standing screen for navigation, climate control and audio. We found operation was a bit hit-n-miss when moving – bumps etc tested the fine motor control skills of your fingers!
Audio in our range-topping Lexus NX 300h Sport Luxury was the excellent 14-speaker Mark Levinson system. Lots of technology here for your listening pleasure including a Lexus-first mounting of the sub-woofer in the tailgate door.
The Car Showroom juniors enjoyed plenty of leg-room in the rear seat. And the recline function made for easy snoozing for them on our holiday roads trips.
Lexus NX 300h also gets a leg-up over European rivals with its massive and practical luggage space. Electronic folding of the rear seats (a first in this segment) makes for easy loading and you get 475-litres with the seat in-place or 1520-litres when folded.
Lexus NX 300h Exterior & Styling
For Lexus these days it’s all about the spindle grille and there’s no doubt the shaper front-end styling has brought a much more dynamic look. Combined with more aggressive styling for the rest of the front end, we think the Lexus NX 300h looks very sharp.
Rear view too is certainly sharp with high-mounted tail-lights, plenty of curves and a nicely-shaped tailgate spoiler.
It’s all very clean and athletic – the latter not a term you’d previously associate with Lexus design.
Lexus NX 300h On The Road
As we mentioned the Sport Luxury Lexus NX 300h as tested gets the AVS variable dampers. Suspension is a MacPherson strut at the font while the rear sees an interesting trailing-arm double wishbone design with separate springs and dampers to maximize cargo space.
And with one eye on space efficiency for the interior and again maximizing cargo space, Lexus mounts the two 20kgs battery packs adjacent to the centre tunnel under the rear seat. Keeping weight to a minimum and keeping it low in the chassis is a ride/handling rule which dates back to Lotus race cars from the 1960s…that Colin Chapman was a clever bloke.
The Lexus NX 300h’s 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid powerplant and CVT automatic transmission were nicely integrated and the six-step sequential changes via steering wheel paddle shifters were handy when we pressed-on hard over our mountain roads high-speed test route. We certainly didn’t think the Lexus NX 300h was tardy in full automatic mode say when accelerating from traffic lights, but the noise from the hard-revving petrol engine was surprisingly intrusive – Nissan has a better CVT in the Qashqai for example.
In the twisty stuff that clever chassis showed its mettle with pleasingly little body-roll or diving. Naturally the AWD Lexus NX 300h Sport Luxury exhibited some understeer when cornering on the limit but responded well to changes in throttle.
Around town of course the trick with hybrids is to keep them in EV for as long as possible. We did that with the Lexus NX 300h (nicely quiet and responsive) but it was very hot during our extended test and the air-con on full-tilt made for quick switches to the petrol engine.
Lexus NX 300h Issues
No doubt about it the Sport Luxury model with the variable suspension set-up is the pick of the Lexus NX range but it still isn’t as sporty as those European rivals. Sure not everyone buying in this league wants the pointy/sporty European dynamics and in any case arrival of the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol Lexus NX 200t might change things.
Lexus NX 300h Verdict
OK our Sport Luxury Lexus NX 300h retailed for $75,000 but don’t forget the 2WD version starts at just $55,000. That’s not a lot of coin for a nicely-sized luxury SUV with all the Lexus accoutrements.
We continue to be impressed with Lexus hybrid drivetrains – for seamless operation only beaten by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class models in our opinion. And while current European rivals may be a smidge sportier in the driving dynamics department, the upcoming Lexus NX 200t 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol model might give them something to think about.
You can mark us down as enthusiasts for the styling of the Lexus NX 300h - although we know that point of view is not unanimous amongst our colleagues. On the other hand, you won’t get too many nay-sayers on the interior – it’s some of the best recent work to emerge from the Lexus design studios.
Bottom line is a Lexus is a Lexus and the NX 300h follows those familiar wheel-tracks. It’s luxurious, high-tech, beautifully built and tailor-made to please buyers and all those who ride within.
Lexus NX 300h The Competition
The Lexus NX 300h is priced to the cent the same as the superb Audi Q5 3.2FSI Quattro. With 200kW/400Nm, the Audi Q5 3.2FSI Quattro is mighty fast (zero to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds) and oozes Audi quality inside and out. Hybrid lovers will ‘tut-tut’ at the Audi’s 8.5l/100kms fuel consumption (5.8l/100kms for the NX 300h Lexus says) but for us it’s ‘tomaytoes’ and ‘tomahtoes’ – both are contenders for the best mid-size luxury SUV currently available…for different reasons obviously.
Carrying a $73,400 sticker the BMW X3 xDrive 28i wings-in from Munich (well, North America for the X models actually!). With 180kW/350Nm, BMW’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is giving away some punch to the Audi Q5 3.2TFSI but has a bit of a performance edge over the Lexus NX 300h. Fuel consumption is rated at 7.5l/100kms and of course the pin-sharp BMW driving dynamics are a highlight. But the comparatively spartan interior isn’t (a highlight).
You’ll need more coin but at $79,900 the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is worth every cent. Sure it doesn’t have the interior space or ‘fuel-frugalness’ of the Lexus NX 300h and is a different kind of SUV/crossover…but for performance and dynamics the GLA45 AMG is the best in the business.