The small premium SUV segment is booming, and we’ve been lucky to drive the latest entrant: the Lexus NX. The NX, similar in size to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, is less expensive than either, starting at $55,000 – meaning that it also competes with the smallest of the Germans, like the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Proving that late is indeed better than never, Lexus’s NX brings edgy styling and high levels of refinement into the competition.
- For now, the NX is available exclusively in hybrid form – the 2.5-litre petrol-electric powertrain is familiar from other Lexus products, including the IS and GS. This engine isn’t particularly dynamic, and the 147kW NX300h isn’t going to set any land-speed records. In a few months, though, Lexus will debut its first turbocharged petrol in the NX200t, which promises to be much more engaging.
- That said, even the hybrid model is available in F Sport trim, and in Flame Blue metallic, ours looks particularly aggressive. Drawing plenty of attention on the road, the NX is both the newest, and the newest-looking, of the small premium SUV class. To our eyes, it’s very cool.
- One of the least inspiring parts of Lexus hybrid drivetrains is the conventionally-variable automatic transmission that accompanies it. The NX is much quieter inside than the CT200h hybrid hatch, but punch the throttle – or drive up a long, steep grade – and the CVT’s hallmark drone makes its presence known. Thankfully, this is about the only time you actually hear the engine. The NX300h is tremendously quiet, dropping into silent ‘EV Mode’ whenever it can. When it can’t, the petrol engine generally kicks in imperceptibly.
- We’re excited for the NX200t, because the NX handles quite brilliantly. It rides a little higher than, say, the Mercedes GLA, but a low centre of gravity, and the tight, rigid chassis means virtually no body roll. The steering may not be that communicative, but the all-wheel-drive NX corners with aplomb. We’re sure that, equipped with the turbo engine, it will represent serious fun on backroads.
- While it represents fairly good value in its class, Lexus haven’t cut many corners on the interior. It doesn’t feel as plush as a well-specified IS sedan, but almost all surfaces are covered in soft materials. The IS-sourced front bucket seats are incredibly comfortable and supportive. Recent hot weather in Sydney has made us appreciate the standard seat cooling, more relevant in the Australian market than heating.
- Having campaigned for an overhaul of the Lexus Remote Touch infotainment system for so long, it’s worth commenting on the new version that debuts in the NX. The central screen and graphics haven’t changed, but a new capacitive touchpad replaces the old trackball-style ‘mouse’. Is it better? Well, kind of. The touchpad isn’t sensitive enough, and movements around the screen aren’t smooth – but it’s certainly more logical to use than the old controller. It’s disappointing, though, that you can’t write individual letters on the trackpad surface, like you can with BMW’s iDrive system, and the newest Mercedes-Benz Comand pad.
- The NX will be marketed heavily at its starting list price of just $55,000: the car you see here hits the road at $73,000, and it’s very much a mid-spec vehicle. The sole option on our NX F Sport is the awesome coat of blue paint. Two option packages are available – one bundles a sunroof and 14-speaker sound system for an okay $4,000; the other mixes those two features with advanced safety technology for an eye-watering $7,500 – the proposition can get very expensive, very quickly, making cross-shopping more important than ever.