First Drive: Lexus NX 300h

The NX is the first midsize SUV from Toyota’s luxury offshoot, years after the competition entered the fray. Is it too late for Lexus?

There has been an explosion of small premium SUVs in recent years, from the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5 to the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60. They’re a few years late perhaps, but finally Lexus is joining the party with a sharply sculptured SUV of their own.

Also available as a turbocharged petrol powered model, it’s the hybrid propelled model put to the test here. Utilising a 2.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor in a segment that’s dominated by the diesel seems counter-intuitive, but the eco benefits mean you’ll be facing a lower tax bill while keeping petrol-engine refinement.

However, while there’s also four-wheel drive on offer in all but the entry-level model, this is no off-roader. A damp car park at the races won’t defeat it, but Kilimanjaro definitely will.

It’s as edgy to look at as any ridged mountain, with so many bold lines and acute creases that it looks sharper than a samurai sword, and certainly stands clear in a market full of me-too designs. Whether you like it is down to personal taste, but it makes a statement.

The theme continues inside, with a multi-layered dashboard that’s full of buttons, screens and touchpads. There’s even a vanity mirror hidden away in a cubby hole, just in case you want to stop and check your make up.

The buttons can be a little overwhelming though. During my time with the car I found more than 90 separate switches, dials and buttons, but the ones you use frequently are laid out clearly enough.

Find the on switch, press it, and you’re rewarded with silence. The hybrid engine lets you pull away in pure electric mode, but that doesn’t last long. Feather the throttle incredibly gently and you might make two miles, but the petrol engine will kick in soon enough.

At that point you’ve got 195bhp to play with (the benchmark 0-62mph dash comes up in 9.2 seconds) combined with impressive promised economy of 54.3mpg.

There is also a dial on the centre console that has Sport+ written on it. Ignore it, as it seemingly doesn’t do anything – throttle response is relaxed at best, even in this mode, while the drone from the engine isn’t a pleasant sound to be listening to. Even worse is the false engine sound fed through the speakers as it fails to keep time with the engine, leading to a horrendous mismatch.

At least once you’re cruising the din dissipates to a very refined distant rumble, with any remaining engine noise well insulated from the cabin.

There’s plenty of grip, but the ride quality isn’t great. The firm dampers on the F Sport model tested thump and crash over every imperfection but, as is common with Lexus cars, if you eschew the F Sport and stick to the normal models you’ll find things are a lot more relaxed.

While sitting back and letting the adaptive cruise control do its thing you can take in the wealth of technology on offer, from DAB radio to wireless Qi smartphone charging and a Mark Levinson stereo that sounds magnificent. Beware though, as models with all the toys cost a huge amount.

Some of that tech hinders rather than helps, too. The bootlid is powered, but it’s painfully slow – standing in the rain while waiting for the boot lid to open will get tiresome very quickly, and if you try to hurry it along manually it panics and starts closing again.

At least it reveals a boot that is as spacious as anything else in the class, matching the BMW X3’s 550-litres exactly, and edging ahead of the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. The rear seats fold down, and return, electrically making finding space for large loads incredibly easy.

There’s plenty of room in the front half of the cabin, with some extremely comfortable and supportive seats, but rear passengers will find headroom a little tight. The back seats are raised up slightly, to offer a better view down the road but that impacts space above, something that’s highlighted even more if you take the sunroof option.

Overall though, the NX has a great deal going for it, especially if you’re a company car driver who fancies an SUV. It look fantastic, if you like lots of straight lines, and there’s plenty of space inside, along with all sorts of technology to keep you entertained.

But in F Sport guise it’s all for very little, as the ride quality kills off the car. Yes, it looks even sharper with the big wheels and styling tweaks, but it’s left just too compromised to really be a viable option.

It’s the F Sport that attracts all the attention in a world of M-Power BMWs and RS Audis. While the latter two also suffer from rock-hard ride, there’s performance options to back up the badging.

Sacrifice the look-at-me options and take the NX in a Premier or Luxury specification, with its softer suspension and taller tyres, and it becomes a very likeable car. That, and the abundance of Tokyo-tech, means it’s worth a look.

Model Tested: Lexus NX 300h F Sport
Price: £37,495
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol hybrid
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62 mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: 155 PS (153 bhp)
Torque: 210 Nm (155 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 54.3 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 121 g/km
VED Band: D / £110 per year
Car insurance group: 32E
Kerb weight: 1,785 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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