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Lexus NX 300h Luxury

Click to view picture gallery“Compact SUV’s: Everybodys doing
  them, doing them... And now Lexus

  have introduced their interpretation:
 
the NX 300h hybrid, which comes
  with front- or all-wheel drive and
  prices from £30K to £42K...”


UK BUYERS HAVE ALREADY SNAPPED UP 1,000 of the new NX 300h models. If Hybrids are not your thing, then you'll be happy to hear that in the next few months a non-hybrid turbocharged petrol-engined AWD variant the 200T will be joining the new NX line-up, clothed in the same five-door SUV designer body and priced at £38,095.

Sales of 4x4s, SUVs and crossovers reached an all-time record in the UK in 2014, at close to 300,000 units. Globally, demand for these types of vehicles has grown seven-fold in the last seven years and sales this year are expected to top the one million mark… and the forecast is for them to continue their popularity, with even more new models entering this sector.

“Design-wise the NX
300h five-door compact
SUV is a scaled down
version of Lexus
s
large SUV, the RX 450h
and is no rounded
‘jelly-mould’ design;
it’s aggressive and bold
and, I think, full of
character — without even
looking at the badge you
know it’s a Lexus...
Lexus expects the compact NX 300h range to achieve around 3,000 sales in 2015. Its main competitors will be the non-hybrid BMW X3 and X4, Audi Q3 and Q5, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60, the forthcoming Land Rover Discovery Sport and, in 2016, the Jaguar F-PACE.

The larger Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the UK's best-selling plug-in petrol-electric hybrid SUV, is also a competitor because of its even lower tax benefits the PHEV gives owners exemption from road tax and the London Congestion Charge plus just 5% Benefit-in-Kind tax for company car drivers. These tax savings are better than all other current SUVs and it's roughly the same price to buy as the Lexus and its other similar-sized premium brand competitors.

Hybrid technology is now commonplace in an increasing number of models on sale, not just Lexus. Hybrid input to improve fuel economy, lower emissions or to increase performance is used either as a complete system such as plug-in electric / combustion engine / electric motor drivetrain or as a more simple hybrid 'energy gathering' element such as power capture through regenerative braking.

Design-wise, the NX 300h five-door four/five-seater compact SUV is a scaled down version of their popular large SUV, the RX 450h. The NX 300h is 140mm shorter than the RX 450h but it has the same mix of sharp styling lines at the front and a combination of flared wheelarches, sculptured doors and coupe roofline leading to sharper crease lines and prominent angled lights at the rear. This is no rounded 'jelly-mould' design; it's aggressive and bold and, I think, full of character without even looking at the badge you know it's a Lexus.

Inside ,the sharp-angled styling continues with a futuristic fascia panel and lower centre console. Of course, being a premium brand Lexus the quality of the vehicle is impeccable. There is only the choice of the base S trim for the front-wheel drive version but AWD models are available with SE, Luxury, F-Sport and Premier equipment levels.

Whilst other manufacturers seem intent on reducing the amount of buttons and controls, the NX 300h has loads of them it may look impressive but it does take a while to find out what they all do and some are positioned out of sight.

“Power comes from
a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder
petrol engine with
variable valve timing and
direct injection. For all
versions this is linked
with a front electric motor
that runs in harness
with the petrol engine
plus a second electric
motor at the rear to drive
the rear wheels when
AWD is needed...
All versions have a centrally positioned eight-inch information screen but it is only the top Premier specification model that has the navigation system as standard.

This is £995 option for all other versions which, given the premium status of this vehicle, I find a tad mean. But in general the specification is high and all models from the S up are fully loaded with safety equipment hence its five-star safety rating.

Standard features include alloy wheels, space-saver spare wheel, LED headlights and daytime running lights, pre-crash safety function and adaptive cruise control, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, Lexus media display with remote dial controller, DAB digital radio, 60:40 split-folding rear seats, electric windows and mirrors, drive mode selection, vehicle dynamics control, hill start assist, electrically-operated parking brake, and eight airbags.

The £34,495 Luxury grade NX I tested also gains LED fog lights with cornering function, rear privacy glass, heated electrically-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, parking sensors and a smart entry facility.

All versions are powered by the same hybrid powertrain a 2.5-litre, 153bhp, four-cylinder DOHC petrol engine with variable valve timing and direct injection. For all versions this is linked with a front electric motor that runs in harness with the petrol engine. There is an additional second electric motor at the rear to drive the rear wheels when AWD is needed.

Total power output is 194bhp, with the engine producing 154lb ft of torque from 4,200rpm but the electric motors add another 199lb ft of torque from just above zero rpm. All this seamless technology happens automatically and there is an EV mode that lets the vehicle be driven for a few miles using battery only power. Drive is through a continuously-variable automatic gearbox.

Where the NX 300h (and some other SUVs with hybrid technology) seriously misses out is with not having the electric plug-in element. This additional way of providing power makes a huge difference in reducing not only emissions but vastly improving taxable fuel economy figures and lowering taxes.

“Officially, the NX 300h
returns 54.3mpg in
the Combined Cycle —
but in real-life driving
my test average
came out quite
a bit short of that,
at 35.5mpg...
Officially, the NX 300h returns 54.3mpg in the Combined Cycle with CO2 emissions of 121g/km, so road tax is £0 for the first year but £110 for the second year on; in real-life driving my test average came out quite a bit short of that, at 35.5mpg.

This is better than a diesel-powered SUV of the same size and quality but a plug-in hybrid-petrol SUV will do even better. My recent Outlander PHEV 4x4 test model cost virtually the same to buy but returned 60+mpg in the real world with just 44g/km of CO2 meaning road tax is 'free' each and every year and company car drivers pay just 5% Benefit-in-Kind tax. Food for thought?

However, where the Lexus performs well is driving in urban and commuter conditions because these kind of vehicles like all the stop-start motoring; they thrive off the regenerative braking and overrun energy capture, and owners like the ease and smooth driving experience.

Ideal for school runs as well as business use (there's a practical 475-litre boot that extends to a 1,520-litre loadbay), the NX is light and easy to drive and park and the visibility is generally good apart from the rear quarters; but then there is a rear-view camera to help. The NX also copes with country road driving, where lots of downhill and overrun deceleration boost the battery power.

That said, where this vehicle (and most other non plug-in hybrids) doesn't cope as well is on long, high-speed motorway journeys. At 70mph cruising there is little scope for any input into the hybrid system, which means it's mostly the petrol engine providing the driving power and hence the fuel consumption goes up.

While at a commuting pace, the NX's e-CVT automatic transmission is smooth and quiet and the Eco, Normal and Sport modes offer useful choices for the various driving conditions. But under acceleration on the open road the lazy transmission forces the engine revs to rise, so the noise is intrusive and the acceleration progress quite modest. Once cruising speed has been reached, then the NX 300h returns to its refined state.

“Ideal for school runs
and business use
,
the NX is light and easy
to drive and park and
the visibility is generally
good — apart from the
rear quarters; but you do
get a rear-view camera
to help...
Ride comfort is for the most part good although shocks from the largest potholes will be felt inside the vehicle and there is also road noise intrusion.

The ride is generally flat and level during cornering, and the front-to-rear lift and pitch under acceleration or braking is minimal. Front-end grip during cornering is reasonable but it is less predictable at higher speeds on greasy road surfaces and, although it is a 4x4, its use of a rear electric motor to drive the rear wheels isn't as sharp or as competent as a conventional AWD mechanical drivetrain.

So, reasons to buy? Low taxation costs, good specification, distinctive styling, comfortable seats, beautifully made, easy to drive, and smooth and refined performance in urban travel conditions.

Not so good? Road noise intrusion, a power-sapping CVT transmission that makes the engine noisy under hard acceleration, motorway cruising harms fuel economy because of reduced hybrid power input, and it lacks an electric plug-in function to significantly reduce CO2 emissions and taxes.

Overall, the Lexus NX 300h is more suited to the driving requirements of those who spend most of their travel time in commuter traffic, which is where it works best. Of course it will work in the countryside, but not as efficiently. And it will also cope with limited off-road travel as well.
David Miles

Lexus NX 300h Luxury | £34,495
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds | Test Average: 35.5mpg
Power: 194bhp | Torque: 202lb ft | CO2 121g/km