Lexus NX300h hybrid (2015) long-term test review

Nice touches – every Lexus has them. You can be unsure about the obsession with hybrids (and I am), you can question the looks (you shouldn’t – it looks great), you can pooh-pooh the packaging (yep, the boot’s not huge). But the touches will win you round like a cheeky charmer who you just can’t stay mad at.

I’ve just recharged my mobile wirelessly by placing it on a tray in the armrest. When I approach the car at night the door handles light up (and the key barrel is invisible!). The ambient lighting around the instrument cluster changes colour when you change driving modes. The drinks holder has a friction base which allows you to unscrew a bottle top one-handed. The panoramic view monitor gives a helicopter view of the car on the centre screen (using cameras on the door mirrors, front grille and rear bumper). The ‘remote touchpad’ may be only usable by those who were great at the boardgame Operation, but it has a beautiful leather palm rest. The Mark Levinson hi-fi is bespoke to the NX, digitally tailoring the sound to the cabin’s shape.

The touches dial out the irritations like noise-cancelling headphones, although they’ve got their work cut out to nullify the drivetrain. More on that to come. One nice surprise though: I drove it at Rockingham as a tracking car, expecting it to dissolve into dynamic mush, and was amazed by its body control, tautness, grip and defiance of understeer. Our James, following in a GT86, said he couldn’t believe how flat it cornered, how little it rolled. Impressive.

By Greg Fountain

Month 2 running a Lexus NX: a few early niggles

Given that Lexus redefined cabin refinement it’s a bit of a shock to hear the wind whistling around the A-pillars at 70mph on the M11. I had to check that the windows were all tight shut. I don’t want to be churlish – the cabin’s been crafted by artisans using trees, cows and various natty plastics – but noise is noise. I want to like the NX, but it is being just a bit niggly. Take the powered tailgate. It takes longer to close than Tower Bridge, which means you get soaked waiting for it to do its thing. I can slam it, dammit, if you’ll only let me.

By Greg Fountain

Month 1 running a Lexus NX300h: the introduction to our long-term test review

Lexus designer Nobuyuki Tomatsu probably didn’t believe his mum when she said learning origami would come in handy one day. But here’s the proof. For surely the outrageously edgy NX could be fashioned from a single piece of A4 by a skilled paper-folder, so few actual curvy bits does it contain. To me, that’s a good thing. I love this rakish confidence – it’s as if they’ve noticed that most modern SUVs have inched in a more chiselled direction – step up RAV4, CR-V, Yeti, Juke etc – and decided to go the whole hog. The result is so sharp it might cut itself.

We did something here we rarely do: opted for the hybrid. That’s because the alternative – the 2.0-litre turbocharged NX200t – makes a bit of a hash of the pointless task of turning the NX into a sporty car. By sounding as whiny as a hybrid (when it isn’t one), changing gear like a CVT (when it’s an auto) and sporting a stability control system that ruins the fun like a death at a birthday party, the NX200t falls between a whole bunch of stools. So, despite being gifted a 50kg weight penalty courtesy of two electric motors and some batteries, the hybrid gets the nod.

Those two electric motors serve different purposes – the front motor gets you off the line in wallowy silence, and thereafter spends its days mucking in with brake energy recovery and battery charging duties, while the rear motor acts as a generator in regenerative braking mode until it’s called upon to assist the rear axle when front grip gives out. Bear in mind that Lexus’s E-Four 4wd system is really front-wheel drive until something slippery happens. All of which leaves the 2.5-
litre four-pot petrol engine to do nearly all the work and, like anyone who has to do nearly all the work, it whines quite a bit.

We’ll delve further into the true driving experience over the coming months, but the underpinning reality is that this isn’t a quick motor car – 9.2sec to 62mph tells its tale – and if you try to turn it into one you end up standing on the right pedal with the rev needle stuck at the limiter, wheezing your way into the fast-moving traffic while a 44-tonne Scania fills your mirrors with his DRS seemingly open.

That’s a lesson already learned. Lexus talks up the so-called kickdown function, intended to drop a couple of virtual cogs on demand rather than rely on the CVT’s studious progress, but amazement eludes me. It just feels as if you’re being mechanically unsympathetic – driving like an arse, basically. And it doesn’t seem to get you there any quicker.

Lexus NX interior

Not that you feel in a particularly racy mood when driving the NX. Why would you, when seated on ridiculously chic leather chairs, surrounded by a mixture of cossety comforts and techy control surfaces, saturated by the sounds pouring out of the 14 speakers Mark Levinson donated to the cause. Never mind kickdown, a stay-awake function might be in order.

Thank heavens then for the ‘Remote Touch’ touchpad controller, which sits there taunting you, daring you to attempt a simple function like changing radio stations, without accidentally calling the cops or setting a course for the post office in Guatemala City. I accept that I may get used to it, but right now the thing feels horribly misjudged. It’s like trying to diffuse a bomb while driving. Even brain surgeons may fluff it.

I need to crack it though, as it holds the key to Lexus’s premium navigation system, served up by a 7in screen set high on the centre stack (which is tiered like a stadium). Masses of mod-cons for us to discover in here later, but headline-grabbing goodies include a head-up display and a wireless phone-charger tray.

In this ‘Premier’ spec the NX is £42,995 on the road, which rather knocks holes in my simplistic belief that it’s a Nissan Juke rival. The most extravagant Juke is £24k, same for the Skoda Yeti. BMW X1, maybe? Merc GLA? The Lexus feels more upmarket than all of them, especially as we’ve added the £1k panoramic sunroof (and £645 fancy paint) to take the total to £44,640. And, being a hybrid, it should be frugal as well as upmarket. Looking forward to finding out.