Lexus called saying we had to take the NX out for a spin, so we did.
It’s certainly looks the business. It is deeply sculptured, very modern and adorned with LEDs front and back. The face is handsome and rugged, just the thing for an aspiring SUV. The high-tech tail lenses have delicately carved trails of light like the expensive Europeans. It all looks very positive from the outside.
Although diminutive for an SUV, the highset body gives those with back trouble easy access, and those who like a high driving position will be very happy. Lexus owners will no doubt have a country seat to which they escape on the weekends. Those piles have long driveways which can be troublesome in inclement weather. They must be careful when getting out as big glugs of countryside have adhered themselves unattractively to the underside of the car. Getting out often results in schmutz on a clean pair of tweeds as the legs touch the side of the door opening. This isn’t a problem with the doors on the NX which extend right down keeping the outside surface clean.
I like the crispness of the design. It is hard to do much with the exterior of a slab-sided SUV, and NX manages to look a bit different.
Delicious is my word du jour. Smart entry/start gives you access to a tasteful and classy cabin. The heated/cooled seats have perforated high quality leather coverings, just the ticket for tired execs fresh in from snorting up random chairmanships.
Once seated, the instruments all makes sense. They easily fall to hand, and there is even a concealed detachable vanity mirror in the centre console for last minute touch-ups. The materials are of a high quality, including the analogue clock front and centre. The surfaces of the cabin have been wrapped in leather and leather-look material. I don’t mind Pleather as long as it doesn’t bring back awful memories of sliding off vinyl couches as a child in Queensland summers. The other plastics feel solid but I’d like to see a little less of the grey pretend-metal. A veneer of the real thing looks much better and the finish lasts much longer. No matter how good the quality is, metalised plastic never looks good after a few years wear because it is easily scratched. Once scratched, the underlying ugly base plastic shows through. This instantly ages the surface and although easily replaced, rarely is.
The dashboard has a lot going on. There are swoops and lines and deep recesses all over it. It’s even got a CD player which feels a bit last millennium, after all, when was the last time you used one. I haven’t tried playing a movie or music direct from it but the thought of carrying hundreds of discs on a road trip doesn’t fill me with masses of undiluted pleasure.
Interestingly, Iphone 5 was not compatible with the NX’s audio streaming (either USB or Bluetooth). After a short period of co-operation, the system has a wobbly and kicks the feed off. You then need to fettle it to get you BT or USB back. It took many hours of hair-pulling experimentation to discover you can’t have both switched on at the same time. If you’re using the USB cable to charge from the port, you have to BT disconnect the audio streaming. If you want to charge while BT streaming you will need a car charger. Is it just me, or is that almost unforgivable.
I don’t particularly like options being under layers of menu either. And, as most vehicle functions are controlled through the console, it’s a busy place whenever you want to make changes to the setup. The radio has no direct station select buttons on the console so tuning can be a bit of a faff. It is a small misdemeanour but it ruins an otherwise great experience and drives me nuts, but the sound from the upgraded speakers is rich and full so one mustn’t grumble. The Infotainment is driven by the track-pad between the front seats. It is much easier to use than the old Lexus toggle which was oversensitive. In many ways it reminds me of BMWs I-drive, which is not as much of a compliment as it sounds. The menus are complex and tuning the radio can take a while, and certainly not while you’re on the move. In the menu, select pre-set or stations list, then you can move through them with the steering wheel buttons. Once set, you normally don’t need to go into the menus.
Other than that the news is all good. The seats are superbly comfy. As I said earlier, they are heated and cooled meaning on even the hottest days, wasp breathes of lightly chilled air waft through the leather.
I could imagine a long leisurely road trip with crisp packets and drink cans strewn thither, and arriving daisy-fresh at the other end.
Our NX had the tried and tested Toyota Hybrid system and is one that does what it says on the box. Once, owning an SUV of any size meant forking out for fuel hand over fist, but not anymore. We managed 7L/100k around town which isn’t bad for spacious premium transport.
Because the electric motor gives you oodles of instant torque, the green-light sprint is surprisingly perky. Be prepared for a bit of a kafuffle from under the bonnet thanks to the CVT transmission. Sticking the boot in means the revs go up, and stay there. The noise doesn’t go away again until you lift your foot up a bit. It takes a while to get used to but it’s the trade-off for extra fuel savings. Once you no longer need the power, the CVT reduces the revs down as far as it can while still keep still keep you moving. At cruising speed, the CVT will try to keep the revs as low as it can, and since there are no gears as such, it varies as the power is required.
The cabin is fairly quiet and the handling fairly responsive. You get where you’re going with no fuss, in much comfort. When you arrive, you can open the tailgate from the button on the dashboard. Once you press the button turn the system off, the steering wheel moves away to give you more room to get out. After getting you bag, pressing the button on the tailgate lowers it as you walk away. You can do all this from the key fob if you want, so the tailgate will open as you approach with arms full of Christmas shopping. It’s all very civilised. These features are by no means unique to Lexus, but Lexus puts it together in a handsome package.
You can drive all Toyota and Lexus hybrids in electric-only mode. During in normal driving the system will also charge the batteries, switch off at lights, and change between normal mode and EV only without the driver intervening.
The AWD system will take you off-road, but not as far as the full-4-wheel-drive-monty.
The new NX is a good car. It is comfortable and frugal. The batteries have proved to last much longer than anyone expected and now have an 8 year warranty. The design is modern and the cabin is quiet.
The question prospective buyers will ask is: what else is around for the price. There are full 4WDs that are also comfy and well built, but are also cheaper. Lexus says it is a premium car maker and lists BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi as rivals. The Germans also have AWD SUVs of various sizes and at around the same price. Lexus has a lot of kit as standard that the Germans charge extra for. Does Lexus have the street cred to compete against the joined rings, the 3 pointed star, and the blue and white roundel? Lexus thinks so.
Would I buy one? No, I would only ever buy an SUV if I wanted 4WD. Jeep’s Cherokee and grand Cherokee are 2 4WDs that come to mind. I like the NX very much and a 4WD option might tempt me.
Price: $60,576 (2wd in NSW) to $82,249 (AWD Sports Luxury in NSW) drive away
Power: 147kw combined petrol/electric, 2.5 4cyl petrol + series p’llel hybrid