Lexus Ireland’s best selling car has evolved dramatically in its all-new guise. We’ve tested two new versions of it on Mallorca’s roads to see how it shapes up against rivals like the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC Prior to its arrival in the new year.
The NX is a compact, five-seat, SUV/crossover, that is not so compact anymore. The new NX is built using the same platform as the Toyota RAV4. The new underpinnings has allowed the NX to grow in every dimension on the outside, and gain a big increase in interior cabin and boot space. Two petrol powered automatic hybrid models will come to Ireland. In some global markets, like Russia, petrol-only power is also available. Both the NX 350h and NX 450h+ feature the famed and very efficient 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol engine (RAV4/Camry etc.) – combined with Toyota group’s fourth generation hybrid drive.
The 350h destined for Ireland will be front-wheel drive only and also available in just the NX base trim grade. Significantly the new NX is also available as a plug-in-hybrid, aka a PHEV. The ‘450h+’ is the NX you want as it is right on the pulse of what is needed as we all transition to our wheels being turned by electric motors. The 450h+ has an 18kWh rechargeable battery pack that when full will deliver 74km+ in electric only driving range – and up to 95km in urban electric city driving! Like the RAV4 PHEV this makes the NX highly desirable and practical – and the good news gets better as like the RAV4 PHEV the 450h+ also features intelligent all wheel drive.
The new NX looks sharp and while there are similarities to the 2014 original, much has changed. Three trim grades of Executive, Premium and F-Sport impact on the car’s appearance. The F-Sport is the most handsome and striking version. In design terms the NX’s basics are the same. The headline exterior design features are the new and more imposing grille, the more technical designed front and rear light clusters and the proud addition on the tailgate of the maker’s name in single letters. Both the 350 and 450 have the same cabin and boot space (520 litres).
The NX leaps forward and goes to the top of its class in terms of standard fit driving safety assistance systems and its in-car technology comes right up to date and is fully ‘connected’. Inside the cabin the grade choice becomes critical. The F-Sport has a wow factor that will see you shun the lower grades “as you would a rabid dog” (credit Rowan Atkinson). The F-Sport is the showcase for all the technology and screens Lexus can muster. There is even a HUD with this grade. The touch pad is gone (no tears from me) and while it is a lovely dash one useless switch allowed selection of the drive dynamic mode, you know with Eco, Normal and Sport. The car has sufficient power but not so much you’d need the modes. Lexus has swapped out its interior door handles for a button operated door release system similar to the one in the new BMW iX. It’s a nice party trick, even if it will confuse anyone you give a lift to.
There is an EV/HEV drive button that is of much more use. The bottom line with the 450h+ and how it moves is that when you run out of electric battery power it works as a conventional petrol/hybrid so it is really very green. The iAWD system again is from the RAV4 and is a on-demand type. The driver can select the type of road conditions via a rotary dial to a number of presets like Snow or road etc. you know the drill by this stage. All in all both versions are easy to use and urban friendly with light steering and controls. The hybrid and the PHEV are quite different when driven and quite far apart in terms of emissions.
The front-wheel drive 244hp NX 350h is heavy at 1.8 tonnes. The additional hybrid parts account for a bit of that. On the road it is unremarkable to drive and will sadly make that familiar CVT/hybrid noise when accelerating hard. The good news is the cabin is very quiet and insulated. In day to day use it is absolutely fine but fails to feel as premium as its 450h+ sibling. The 350h will fit the bill for buyers who want an easy to live with premium hybrid.
The 2 tonne, 309hp 450h owes its bulk to its large 18kWh rechargeable battery pack, additional electric motor (AWD) and other all wheel drive components. When you factor in the car’s weight the power outputs feel less impressive from the driver’s seat. The 350h is still brisk with a 0-100km/h time of 8.7 seconds. The 450h can do the same sprint in 6.3 seconds.
The 450h+ feels assured on the road and about the city it is hushed and very refined. On the open road the ca is nippy and cruises well. Sadly like the 350 the hybrid whine is present under hard acceleration when the battery in drained. Most of the time the car delivers smooth motoring with ample power for most uses. On twisty hilly parts of the Spanish island we did feel a little somebody roll but the 450’s traction left us feeling assured.
The new NX in 450h+ F-Sport trim is many things: class leading for interior design and technology, class leading as a plug in hybrid for electric driving range and overall possesses truly excellent green credentials. The new NX is safer too, and more practical and better styled than the model it replaces. Rivals should be worried. Pricing for Ireland is being finalised but we expect the 450h+ to cost from the early €60Ks.