Launch of the all-new Lexus NX 300h again highlights the uncanny ability of the Japanese marque to be in the right market segments at the right time with the right products. Lexus reckons the two luxury market segments currently showing significant growth are entry-level luxury vehicles and SUVs.
The NX 300h gives Lexus an all-new entry into the luxury mid-size SUV segment although some would argue the Lexus RX 350 - officially tagged a ‘large’ SUV - in every-day transactions is regarded as a mid-sizer. And the newcomer arrives with an enviable reputation – so much so, Lexus has a massive pre-launch order bank of more than 400 vehicles…nice problem to have some rivals are no doubt mumbling.
As for first-time luxury new car buyers – the so-called ‘step-up’ buyers - Lexus of course has the CT 200h from $39,990, the IS sedan from $56,500 and now the NX 300h from $55,000. And reflecting this shift in the luxury market, Lexus is smartly opening new dealerships in locations such as Western Sydney (Macarthur) and Brisbane (Springwood).
Lexus NX 300h Overview
As Toyota’s prestige/luxury brand celebrates 25 successful years, the all-new NX 300h SUV is especially significant as it is the first Lexus vehicle which has been created entirely in-house from concept through design engineering and manufacturing. No external design specialists and no assistance from Toyota.
This will be ramped-up early next year when Lexus boosts the NX lineup with the addition of a turbocharged 2.0-litre variant called 200T. This is significant as the powerplant has also been entirely developed by Lexus.
For now we have the hybrid-powered NX 300h which has been launched with a three model range in the usual Lexus nomenclature – entry-grade’ Luxury’ ($55,000 for the 2WD or $59,500 for the AWD) mid-grade ‘F-Sport’ ($66,000 exclusively AWD) and range-topping ‘Sports Luxury’ ($75,000 exclusively AWD). All ride on 18-inch alloy wheels but different designs and tyre aspect ratios according to model grades and NX 300h arrives ‘Downunder’ in the widest range of paint and trim colours of any Lexus vehicle so far.
Lexus NX 300h is the first hybrid vehicle in the Luxury Mid-Size SUV segment and there’s also some fascinating segment-first technology on debut – including an inbuilt wireless induction charger for telephones and mobile devices, a 360-degree panoramic view camera system, touch-sensitive Lexus Remote Touch controller, pre-loaded front differential and yaw rate feedback control and a CVT transmission with kick-down under hard acceleration.
Naturally standard equipment levels are massive.
Over the entry-grade Luxury model, F-Sport variants gain extras including Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) with sports calibration and sports dampers front and rear, the 360-degree camera system, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, paddle shifters, the wireless charger, all-LED headlights, leather accented interior, styling enhancements (including the black mesh grille) and F-Sport 18-inch alloy wheels.
And range-topping Sports-Luxury raises the bar further with extras such as segment-first power folding for the rear seat, pre-collision safety, active cruise control, lane departure warning, colour head-up display, moon roof and Mark Levinson audio.
Still not enough? There’s some handy option packs from $2,500 to $7,500 which bring items like a moonroof, Mark Levinson audio and the safety technology (it’s model-specific).
Lexus NX 300h Engine
Under the bonnet is a familiar Lexus series-parallel hybrid system. This time we get a 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder petrol engine pared with a 650-volt electric motor and all driving via a multi-mode six-step continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
The 2AR-FXE petrol engine is shared with the Lexus ES 300h.
Maximum power for the petrol engine is 141kW at 5700rpm and peak torque of 210Nm is delivered between 4200rpm-4400rpm. For the electric motor you can chalk-up 105kW/270Nm.
Lexus says the combined output is 147kW.
All-wheel-drive models employ a 50kW electric motor to drive the rear wheels.
Combined-cycle fuel consumption is rated at 5.6l/100kms for 2WD models and 5.7l/100kms for AWD versions.
Lexus NX 300h The Interior
Inside the Lexus NX 300h - a bit like the Mercedes-Benz GLA – feels more like a high-performance sedan than an SUV. In the case of the Lexus, this mostly comes from a large and high-positioned centre console with excellent knee pads for corner bracing.
The new-design seats - leather-trimmed in F-Sport and Sports Luxury models - look good (embroidered and quilted), are nicely supportive and combine with the usual top-notch leather-wrapped Lexus steering wheel (electronic adjustment for rake and reach) to deliver a standout driving position. Abundant soft-touch surfaces, contrasting stitching and metallic highlights step-up the glamour.
To the left is the free-standing screen for satellite navigation and audio. Below, near the gear-lever is the new touchpad controller.
On the audio front, Lexus NX 300h Luxury and F Sport models provide as standard a 10-speaker Pioneer system while upscale Sport Luxury goes to a 14-speaker, 835W Mark Levinson system with the automotive industry’s first application of ‘Clari-Fi’ technology. There’s DAB+ radio and ‘Cache Radio’ (can retrieve and replay the last 20-minutes of a radio station’s broadcast)…and yes, that is the sub-woofer speaker located in the tailgate door – another Lexus first.
And here’s a well thought-out Lexus innovation – the centre console cup-holders are not only large enough to contain the North American ‘jumbo’ size takeout cups, they also have a one-handed bottle-opening function.
Rear seat passengers enjoy the lowest hip-point in this glass and legroom which we’re reckoning might also be segment-best. Folding of the rear seat is power-operated and that too is a first in this league.
Luggage space is impressive – the golf-obsessed Japanese and American Lexus designers proudly boast you can fit three golf-bags sideways in the luggage compartment of the NX 300h. Statistically that’s 475-litres with the rear seat in-place or 1520-litres when folded and an available load length of 948mm.
Lexus NX 300h Exterior & Styling
Highly-credentialed Takeaki Kato is the Chief Engineer for Lexus NX and he visited Australia for the national media launch. Development of the seat belt airbags in the Lexus LFA supercar is on Kato-San’s impressive resume as is racing his own mid-engined sports car (powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine he was quick to point out – he was the man who successfully lobbied management to kick-start development of the Lexus 2.0-litre turbo powerplant we’ll see next year).
According to the Chief Engineer, line items underscoring the design philosophy of the NX 300h were - ‘Premium Urban Sports Gear’; ‘Inspiring and distinct from the competition’; Top-class utility and functionality’. Sort of like the automotive industry’s version of a ‘Mood Board’ right there.
It’s come to market very quickly too – first seen as the LF-NX concept car at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show.
So we have an all-new design with strong character lines abundant and a couple of new spins on the hallmark Lexus ‘spindle grille’. The all-LED lights on some models feature some 90 LEDS (including 23 each for the DRLs and 16 for the turning indicators).
There’s an aggressive front bumper to look low and wide while the rear copies the spindle grille and introduces unique ‘fins’ in place of traditional exhaust tailpipes.
And you’ll notice there’s no visible door locks – Lexus has them hidden under the door handles. Now that’s attention to detail in delivering a clean look.
Lexus NX 300h On The Road
Over a full day on the varying roads from the Adelaide CBD to the Barossa Valley and back to the airport, www.carshowroom.com.au got to sample the Lexus NX 300h in both entry-grade ‘Luxury’ and range-topping ‘Sport Luxury’ models. While largely similar mechanically, the Sport Luxury model does have a significant gain in the form of Lexus’ AVS system (automatic variable suspension) and sports dampers.
And the Sport Luxury model is exclusively all-wheel-drive with the innovative Lexus system which sees the 50Kw electric motor drive the rear wheels on demand. There is actually no mechanical link between the front engine and the rear axle.
Underneath Lexus NX again fascinates with a MacPherson strut front suspension and trailing-arm double wishbone rear with separate springs and dampers (for improved cargo space efficiency – the cargo area is flat and rather high). Interestingly Lexus has successfully spit the battery pack for the hybrid engine with two 20kgs battery packs straddling the centre tunnel under the rear seat (which benefits space and chassis balance).
So, over those winding roads up the Barossa and back the Lexus NX delivered on its promise to offer minimal pitch under acceleration or braking and little body roll. In fact in rapid changes of direction the Lexus NX was downright sporty.
Likewise that enhanced CVT automatic transmission. The sequential six-step function delivers smooth yet timely shifts up and down the range however the kick-down function wasn’t so obvious (not that the Lexus NX 300h was lacking for acceleration).
As usual in pure electric or even with the petrol engine running, Lexus has nailed refinement package and the NX was impressively quiet (just a smidge of tyre noise and little wind noise around the windows when we were buffeted by strong cross-winds following an overnight weather switch).
Back in the Adelaide traffic, once again the NX 300h highlighted why we should all be driving vehicles like this. More than enough acceleration, good visibility for parking (that surround-view camera system helps too) and of course significant zero emissions running.
Lexus NX 300h Issues
No doubt about it, Lexus (as usual) hasn’t missed a thing with the all-new NX 300h. Lexus says hybrid technology is its ‘green’ technology and we get that. But with Europe very diesel-centric and with some prestige SUV rivals reporting diesels accounting for sales volume in excess 50 per-cent…well you know, we’re just sayin’…
Lexus NX 300h Verdict
Lexus has hit a home run with the all-new NX 300h. This is the right luxury compact SUV for a luxury compact SUV market which has changed – this is a luxury compact SUV tailored to today’s lifestyle and, with pre-orders running at 80 per-cent AWD to 20 per-cent 2WD, it seems customers are appreciating the great value-for-money of the NX 300h.
We like the looks, we like the drive and of course you can’t ignore the luxury and the technology. Typical Lexus really.
Lexus NX 300h The Competition
Line up those Germans…
Audi’s Q3 is terrific and, priced from $42,300 to $81,900 there’s a Q3 for most budgets. Of course Audi isn’t pursuing Lexus-style luxury – the German brand is at the sporty end of the spectrum. Q3 also doesn’t match the space and cargo capacity of the NX 300h…but it’s driving dynamics are beyond dispute.
Similar story for BMW’s X1 ($48,300 to $56,900) –sporty rather than luxurios but don’t overlook the premium features in upscale models. And like the Audi Q3, the X1 gets boogying when the roads get twisty.
Mercedes-Benz’s all-new GLA ($47,900 to $79,430) is the ‘Superstar’ in these ranks. Not quite so SUV as the Lexus NX 300h (aka spacious inside), the GLA is brilliant.