It’s getting long in the tooth, but the Lexus NX300h is still unique.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Genesis have all launched new versions of their mid-sized crossovers since the NX landed in 2014, but none offers a conventional hybrid to rival the NX300h.
The appeal of the NX Hybrid was clear at launch, and it’s clear in 2021.
It blends the smooth, efficient hybrid setup now offered across the Toyota and Lexus line-ups with an angular body and solid, luxurious cabin.
It’s far from perfect, though.
The cheapest NX Hybrid is the Luxury on test here, priced from $60,500 before on-roads, while the pure petrol NX300 starts at $57,500 before on-roads.
Our tester also featured Enhancement Pack 1 ($2500), which brings a tilt and slide sunroof.
Moving up the range, the NX is offered with a more aggressive-looking F Sport option from $64,000 before on-roads. The range-topping Sports Luxury starts at $76,336 before on-roads, and tops out at $79,088 before on-roads.
At Mercedes-Benz, you can get a GLC300 4Matic for $77,700 before on-roads, while the plug-in hybrid GLC300e 4Matic starts at $80,400 before on-roads.
The mid-range Audi Q5 45 TFSI quattro Sport narrowly undercuts the NX300h Sports Luxury at $76,600 before on-roads, while the closest BMW X3 is the xDrive20d at $74,900 before on-roads. BMW is set to add a plug-in hybrid xDrive30e later this year.
Standard kit across the NX range is generous.
All models feature a 10.3-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and niceties such as adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start, a powered steering column, and an eight-speaker sound system.
The front seats are powered and heated across the range, and there are LED headlights with cleaners. Even the base model on test packs a powered tailgate.
Moving to the NX F Sport adds a surround-view camera, wireless phone charging, real leather trim, ventilated front seats, powered lumbar support for the driver, and headlights with adaptive high-beam.
The F Sport also gets a sports suspension tune and a unique bodykit, neither of which are carried over to the Sports Luxury.
The range-topping Sports Luxury brings a 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, a sunroof, and a head-up display.
When the Lexus NX was tested by ANCAP in 2017, it received a rating of five stars.
That rating was based on a frontal offset score of 14.39 out of 16 and a side impact score of 16 out of 16. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were rated Good and Acceptable, respectively.
Atop eight airbags, all Lexus NX models come standard with:
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Forward collision warning
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane tracing assist
- Traffic sign recognition
The NX now feels a generation old compared to the latest Lexus products.
That isn’t a bad thing. It still looks handsome and unique compared to the more dour Germans, and all the major controls are within easy reach.
There’s some weirdness there – a mirror hides beneath the wrist-rest behind the mousepad-style infotainment controller, for example – but otherwise it’s a solid, functional place to spend time.
The quality of all the materials is top notch, and the driving position is excellent for drivers of all shapes and sizes.
Unlike the F Sport grade, the base NX misses the digital instrument binnacle with its neat sliding metal surround. Instead, the driver is faced with a pair of clean, simple analogue dials between which sits a colour trip computer display.
Perched atop the dashboard is a 10.3-inch screen which can be controlled with touch, voice controls, or a mousepad on the transmission tunnel.
Infotainment is a well-known weak spot for Lexus, and the system in the NX does little to break with tradition.
The addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a step in the right direction but the screen is mounted too far from the driver for the touchscreen to be practical, and the mouse is still infuriatingly sensitive on anything but the smoothest roads.
Even simple tasks require too much concentration. It gets easier with familiarity, but the technology in the NX is blown away by what’s on offer in even entry-level Mercedes-Benz and Audi products.
The NX also misses out on wireless charging, and there’s no phone-sized storage space on the transmission tunnel or beneath the centre console. The storage bin under the central armrest is deep though, and there’s plenty of room in the door pockets.
Rear legroom and headroom are acceptable without being standout. Regular-sized adults can sit behind regular-sized adults without too much trouble, and there are air vents back there.
Boot space is 475 litres with the rear seats in place. That gives the NX300h a not-inconsiderable 75L less than the BMW X3, and 45L less than the Audi Q5.
Luggage expands to 1520L with the 60/40 rear bench folded flat.
The Lexus NX300h uses a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine running the more efficient Atkinson cycle, with 114kW and 210Nm.
It’s mated to a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), along with nickel-metal hydride battery feeding an electric motor with 105kW and 270Nm.
Total system power output is 147kW. Lexus doesn’t quote a combined torque figure as the electric motor and petrol engine don’t peak at the same time.
The NX300h AWD consumes a claimed 5.6L/100km on the combined cycle, though we saw 7.1L/100km during a week skewed to highway driving.
There’s no doubt where the strengths of the NX300h lie.
The hybrid powertrain in the NX is unique among its rivals, and is easily its biggest drawcard.
It starts in electric mode, and unless you’re in a real hurry the e-motor can get the NX up to about 40km/h from a standstill without petrol interference.
Not only is it an efficient way to get around the city, it’s smooth and refined in a way even the most sophisticated mild-hybrid start-stop systems just can’t match.
Ask for a bit more performance and the petrol engine joins the party smoothly and quietly. It hums away in the background on light throttle inputs, and cuts out if you lift off the accelerator to hand back over to the electric motor.
It’s near silent at a cruise, with excellent noise suppression for the engine, and minimal road roar from the tyres or wind whistle from the mirrors.
It isn’t what you’d call particularly fast or exciting, though. Lean harder on the accelerator and the revs flare, the noise levels rise, and the car gets a grudging move-on.
Yes, the electric motor lends a bit of a hand and yes, the NX can squirt away from the lights in a hurry when you need, but it never feels particularly happy doing it.
The efficiency advantage of the hybrid also diminishes when you hit the highway, where the electric motor can’t carry as much of the load. It still kicks in when you coast.
What really lets the NX down is its suspension setup. There’s an initial sense of plushness from the way it floats over crests and soaks up gentle dips, but that fades as soon as you thud into a pothole.
The car just feels cumbersome, with none of the sophistication you’d expect from a luxury mid-sized SUV.
That feeling doesn’t dissipate when you arrive at a corner either. Slow steering, the slightly underpowered hybrid powertrain, and loose body control don’t make for an exhilarating drive.
The NX isn’t expected to be a sports car, but the new RAV4 shows Toyota knows how to make a mid-sized SUV ride and handle well.
Hopefully the next NX inherits some of its less-luxurious brother’s talent in the driving department courtesy of the new TNGA underpinnings.
The Lexus NX300h is backed by a four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
All Lexus NX models require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Lexus offers three years of capped-price servicing for the NX. Each service costs $495.
The ride lets it down, and the handling leaves a bit to be desired in comparison to the latest German crossovers, but the NX300h is still a nice place to spend time.
It’s best suited to life in the city, where its hybrid system is smooth and quiet, and you can best enjoy the comforts of its leather-lined cabin.
Solid and economical, the NX300h hits some of the marks you’d expect of a Lexus. It’s also priced more in line with high-end compact SUVs instead of mid-sized rivals, which makes the Luxury a smart buy.
With a bit more polish on the current formula, the next one should be tick even more boxes.
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