Lexus NX 300h: First Drive Review
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Lexus continues its hybrid offensive in the country with the new NX midsize luxury SUV that eyes the popular Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Range Rover Evoque, among others
The NX is Lexus’ fourth offering for the Indian market since the brand's introduction in March 2017, and its only SUV that can be had in lakhs instead of crores! Just like it does internationally, the Lexus NX goes up against midsize luxury SUVs in India such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and the Audi Q5. The NX comes exclusively with a hybrid powertrain option here, like the RX and the ES. But, can the fact that the 2018 Lexus NX is the only hybrid in its segment be its main selling point?
A quick recap of the NX’s origins: The midsize luxury SUV that we will get is the mid-cycle refreshed/facelift model of the first-gen Lexus NX. Its concept was revealed at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show and the first-gen (pre-facelift) model was globally introduced in 2014 as a 2015-model-year SUV. Three years down the line, the facelifted model made its world premiere recently at the 2017 Auto Shanghai in April this year.
The Lexus NX is available with two variant options: the base Luxury (red) and the top-spec F Sport (blue). Majority of the equipment list is common between the two. It is just that the Luxury looks more opulent and mature of the two and gets more interior features, while the F Sport – as the name indicates – is the sportier model. Major aesthetic differences between the two are the wheels, upholstery and the spindle grilles.
Being one of the very first vehicles to originally get Lexus’ current spindle grille, the NX looks absolutely stunning! It cannot be mistaken for anything else on Indian roads today, except for its own sibling, the RX. In fact, the NX’s radical styling inspired the bigger current-gen RX as well, which was internationally introduced a year later.
There are no two ways about it - Lexus’ large (and that’s an understatement) spindle grille in the NX is an attention grabber, especially in the range-topping F Sport variant that we drove. While the Luxury variant gets horizontal slats, the F Sport’s grille is slightly larger and features a mesh pattern with glossy black finish.
The grille is flanked by three projector full-LED headlamps, which look inspired by the Lexus RC coupe. Below the headlights sit daytime running lights with sequential indicators which almost look like they’ve been inspired by Nike's 'swoosh' logo.
A slightly swooping roofline and wraparound tail lamps complete its side and rear profiles. The front is quite busy compared to the rear. The Luxury and the F Sport variants get a different set of wheels, however, both are 18-inchers.
Compared to the Luxury, the F Sport also gets a few exclusive colour options, including this amazing chic looking blue – Heat Blue – that you see in the pictures. There’s also a flashy orange – Lava Orange (pictured below) – and a shade of white – White Nova – which are exclusive to the F Sport.
Overall, the razor sharp styling of the NX, which appears youth inclined, might not be to everyone’s taste, but Lexus has made sure that no one will ever complain about it looking humdrum.
Unlike the exterior, the NX’s cabin doesn’t resemble that of the elder brother, the RX, as the central console is not tilted towards the driver. Nonetheless, it is well laid out and all the major functions are comfortably within the driver’s reach. The craftsmanship is top notch and the multitude of leather and soft-touch plastics make for a plush and opulent ambience. The central tunnel is set high and the console virtually merges with the dashboard's contours – all of this imparts a sense that you’re sucked in and cocooned, almost like how you’d feel inside a sportscar.
The front seats are quite comfortable, with the right amount of firmness, and offer electrical adjustment, including lumbar support. The steering wheel is also electrically adjustable and the knob is lifted straight from the Camry, including the cruise control stalk. There are three memory settings both for steering wheel position and seat adjustment. And when you shut the engine off, the steering wheel retracts back and up while the driver’s seat moves backward for easy egress.
There’s a gigantic panoramic glass roof that, though fixed, fills the cabin with natural light and makes it feel airy. The rear seat is supportive, with adequate under-thigh support and decent head and knee room. However, it is best suited for two as the central tunnel substantially chops the rear middle leg room.
Pictured: F Sport
Compared to the Luxury, the F Sport gets an all-black sporty-looking cabin with aluminium finish inlays and aluminium pedals. The Luxury itself gets a lighter cabin theme with wood inserts. Lexus offers customisation options with the NX: while the Luxury is customisable with 126 options the F Sport offers 46 choices.
The boot space is a bit tight because the NX gets a full-size spare wheel with an 18-inch alloy under the boot floor, which eats up precious cargo space. But for easy access when your hands are busy, the electric tailgate can be opened by waving your foot below the rear bumper with the key in your pocket.
The Lexus NX gets a twin-pod instrument cluster with a colour driver info screen, similar to the Camry, Innova Crysta and the Fortuner, nestled between the two dials. While the NX is in Normal and ECO driving modes, the left dial shows what the hybrid system is up to. While in Sport modes, that dial turns all racy red and converts into a tachometer!
There’s a 10.3-inch infotainment system that sits atop the dashboard in a horizontal layout, similar to what’s on the RX (the RX gets a 12.3-inch unit). Just like the RX’s unit, this one isn’t a touchscreen either. However, unlike the RX’s joystick-like controller, the NX gets a relatively user-friendly touchpad, which also provides haptic feedback.
Though the system is easy to operate and is fast, a touchscreen is relatively easier on the go. However, with the kind of NX’s dash layout, making it a touchscreen would not be feasible because of the distance between it and the driver.
Surprisingly, Lexus didn’t incorporate Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto with this new 10.3-inch unit, which is surprising considering that this NX facelift was introduced just a few months ago. If your phone supports Miracast though, you can mirror it on the screen. Still, the lack of these modern connectivity options feel like glaring omissions.
This 10.3-inch screen splits between various functions of the SUV, such as music on one side and vehicle info on the remaining part. It gets a brilliant 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system, which is standard with both the Luxury and F Sport. And it has got fast charging ports as well as a wireless charging pad in the centre.
There’s an analog watch flanked by dual-zone climate control displays. The clock changes colours: it turns black in daylight and white as the sun goes down. It is satellite controlled and automatically adjusts the time in different time zones (a useful feature in some parts of the world).
The Luxury gets an exclusive electrically reclining rear seat along with heating, while the front seats get both heating and ventilation. The F Sport, on the other hand, gets heated front seats only. Further, both the variants get a heated steering wheel.
There’s also a 360-degree camera support feature, which gives you visuals of the periphery of the NX. As soon as you put it in reverse, a 360 degree-view along with a rearview pop up on the central display. Apart from this, you can turn this feature on from a button on the right side of the steering wheel as well at speeds up to 20kmph.
There’s a colour heads-up display (HUD) which is standard in both the Luxury and the F Sport. It also shows the direction of the selected route. Exclusive to the F Sport, there’s a G sensor on offer, which can also be displayed on the HUD.
The Lexus NX 300h comes with eight airbags, including the driver knee airbag, as standard, along with braking and stability tech such as anti-lock brake system (ABS), vehicle stability control (VSC), traction control system (TCS) and hill start assist.
What is it packing under the hood?
The Lexus NX shares its hybrid powertrain with the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Lexus ES 300h sedan. However, it gets an additional rear electric motor, which makes its an e-AWD (electric-all-wheel-drive) model. There’s no option to manually lock it in AWD mode, as the system automatically detects if it needs to power the rear wheels in various conditions. But most of the time, it is essentially a front-wheel-drive car. For the suspension system, it offers MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear.
- Engine: 2.5-litre inline 4-cylinder
- Power: 197PS @ 5,700rpm (total hybrid output) || 142PS (front motor) || 67PS (rear motor)
- Torque: 210 Nm / 4200 - 4400 rpm (engine) || 270Nm (front motor) || 139Nm (rear motor)
- Transmission: E-CVT
- Drivetrain: e-AWD (electronic-all-wheel-drive)
- Ground Clearance: 185mm
- Fuel Efficiency: 18.32kmpl
- Emission Level: BS VI compliant
How is it like to drive?
Press the throttle gently and the Lexus NX starts off dead silently, just like its other hybrids siblings. The engine comes to life as and when the throttle inputs gets relatively enthusiastic or momentum increases.
The Lexus NX gets five driving modes: Normal (pre-selected), ECO, Sport, Sport+ and Custom. The throttle response and suspension settings change according to the selected mode. While Eco keeps the ride smooth and gentle with a relatively sedate throttle response, the two Sport modes sharpen everything up. The minute you put it into Sport/Sport+, you can feel the car respond to each little dab on the throttle. That's because the petrol engine and the motors are working together from the word go, which isn’t the case with the ECO mode. You can also very well make out that these Sport modes firm up its dampers compared to the comfort-oriented ECO.
Besides these, there’s also an EV mode, in which it runs purely on the batteries with zero emission! But since the Lexus NX is not a plug-in hybrid and charges itself either through the engine or the regen braking, the EV mode can only be activated when the battery level is above four bars, and will run out in just a couple of kilometres. Also, if you’ll push the throttle enthusiastically, the EV mode will be terminated. It can be driven purely on electric power up to 40-45kmph and is a bliss for stop-and-go traffic. Nevertheless, ECO mode feels just as easygoing if you keep inputs gentle.
Straight line performance is certainly not one of its strong suits -- even the claimed figure for 0-100kmph is a fairly sedate 9.2 seconds compared to its petrol-powered peers (for eg, the Mercedes-Benz GLC: 6.5 seconds). That’s largely because of its weight as with all the electrified tech on board, it tips the scale at +1900kg (kerb weight). That's heavy!
Even if you push the NX hard, its e-CVT (with paddle shifters) keeps the engine revving relatively higher and it feels strained without any substantial speed gains. And it is certainly not in the league of the dual-clutch automatics offered by some of its rivals. The F Sport variant gets an exclusive party trick up its sleeves. It comes with a ‘sound generator’ – Active Sound Control (ASC) – that artificially produces the sound of a rorty V8 through its speakers when it is pushed hard. Sure, it’s gimmicky, but it does a good job of masking the droning noise of the petrol engine and CVT combo!
Drive it sedately and then the NX 300h will show you its true colours. The sound insulation is absolutely top notch and it is mostly on its electric motors at city speeds. During cruising speeds, like in the Camry and the ES sedan, the engine’s NVH levels are really on the lower side and it remains fairly silent and plush.
During initial driving, you might feel that the brakes are quite wooden! The brakes don’t give the progressive bite that people expect. That’s exactly the same case with the Camry Hybrid and the ES 300h, and is because of the regenerative braking (charges the batteries whenever the car deaccelerates), which takes away the regular braking feel. However, it is not an issue and just takes a little getting used to.
Both the Lexus NX’s variants get an adaptive variable suspension (AVS), which changes the damper rates according to various conditions. Overall, it offers a firm but pliant ride and despite its weight and tall proportions, body roll is kept in check. The steering is precise and feels light at city speeds, adequately weighing up as it picks up pace. That said, it is not as sporty as compared to its German rivals.
The NX 300h is clearly waving the eco flag in India. Lexus is an old player in the hybrid game, thanks to the efforts put into this technology by its parent company Toyota. And it wants to show its prowess in the same as the NX is the only hybrid offering here in the midsize luxury SUV segment.
Being imported in the country, there’s no denying that the Lexus NX is one of the priciest SUVs in its space. However, with the market’s gradual shift towards petrol offerings, coupled to its superb ride and real-time efficiency, the NX hybrid perhaps make a strong case for itself. Lexus also promises noticeably lower ownership cost compared to its peers and a reliability quotient similar to Toyota, which is world-renowned. Overall, underneath the NX’s Transformers-like appearance, rests a calm and composed crossover that you can cherish during your everyday motoring and could feel proud of its greener nature too!
Words: Raunak Awasthi
Photography: Vikrant Date