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Bold Lexus NX brings a new angle to SUV sector in style

06:00 02 October 2014

Lexus NX takes the prestige brand into the compact sport utility market where it is also the first hybrid.

Lexus NX takes the prestige brand into the compact sport utility market where it is also the first hybrid.

Lexus

The stunning Lexus NX is a bold entry into the compact sport utility vehicle market, especially as it is the first hybrid in a class dominated by diesels, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Lexus NX 300h

Price: front-wheel drive S £29,495; all-wheel drive SE £31, 495; AWD Luxury £34,495; AWD F Sport £36,995; AWD Premier £42,995

Powertrain: 2,494cc, 153bhp, four-cylinder petrol engine and 141bhp electric motor on front axle on S model – total hybrid output 195bhp. Other models have a second electric motor on the back axle to give all-wheel drive

Performance: 0-62mph 9.2 seconds; top speed 112mph

MPG: Urban 53.3; extra urban 55.4; combined 54.3 (S model 56.5, 56.5, 56.5)

CO2 emissions: 121g/km (S 116)

Benefit-in-kind tax: 17% (S 16%)

Insurance groups: 29E to 33E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,630mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,130mm; height 1,645mm

Lexus has taken a new angle – or should that be angles – on the compact sport utility vehicle market with its stunning, futuristic NX.

The NX, based on the Batmobile-like LF-NX concept car, is also a bold step as the first hybrid in this diesel-dominated sector.

With its flared wings, edgy angles, sharp creases, ‘spindle’ grille and eye-catching LED lights this is the most extreme expression of the marque’s L-finesse design language.

Initially offered purely as the 300h hybrid – a 235bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol 200t F Sport follows in March – it shares the IS and GS saloon’s powertrain – 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, electric motor, generator and battery packs – but specially adapted for the NX. While entry-level S has one electric motor driving the front wheels, SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier have a second one on the back axle giving all-wheel drive.

With the ability to travel in electric vehicle mode for short distances at up to 30mph and recharge the battery packs while slowing and braking, the NX will pay dividends in regular urban stop-start driving while open road motoring was returning MPG in the low 40s.

Lexus has also made this hybrid better to drive than previous petrol/electric models. It’s much quieter, with a progressive power delivery under normal acceleration and extremely hushed once cruising. Stamp the throttle and there is that raucous drone of surging engine revs – a downside of the electronically-controlled constant velocity transmission (E-CVT). Drive mode select gives the choice of eco, normal and sport settings which changes the NX’s character.

All the models we drove at launch rode on 18in wheels – only S has 17in ones – and emphasised how good the standard suspension set-up is. Poor patches of road were smoothed and soothed with the minimum of fuss and you tend to see surface defects rather than physically feel them. Lexus engineers also set out to give the NX a more dynamic feel – no doubt to match the styling – but, while it handles competently and confidently, it is not as entertaining as some rivals. But it does have a better feel to the steering and brake pedal than many Lexus hybrids which can be vague and unnatural by comparison.

Go for F Sport trim – expected to be the big seller with mid-range Luxury – and you get uprated performance dampers so the ride is slightly firmer than Luxury – and you can add adaptive variable suspension for £750 which adjusts damping for the best possible high-speed stability and straight-line comfort. To be honest, the standard set-up is so good stick with it and save money.

With twin electric motors, on all but S, switching drive between the front and back axles for on-demand all-wheel drive, there is plenty of grip to keep it on the straight and narrow on road and give added traction on slippery surfaces.

The tastefully-trimmed cabin is equally eye-catching, with top-notch materials, an upmarket ambience and great attention to detail. If you love electronic gadgets, the Lexus NX offers a host of hi-tech electronics and, given the Lexus track record for reliability, they should not let you down.

Among the many features on offer, either standard on top models or optional on others, are a wireless charging tray for smartphones, a 360-degree panoramic view monitor to make parking and off-road driving easier by eliminating blindspots, a head-up display and a top-grade Mark Levinson Premium Surround System which debuts Clari-fi to improve audio of digitised music.

Climb into the driver’s seat and you’ll soon find the ideal set-up with higher-spec models having electric adjustment for the driver’s seats. While the fascia looks fantastic, there is a profusion of buttons and cascading down the centre console from the high-level infotainment screen. It all looks very good but the NX is a car you are going to have to spend some time consulting the owner’s handbook to make the most of all the technology. That said, many major functions – such as audio, climate control and navigation where fitted – are operated via that screen and a new remote touchpad between the front seats.

If you’re travelling in the back you won’t complain about the generous legroom and plentiful headroom while the rear seats, stepped up from those in front, give good views out. But if you’ve been lucky enough to travel in the snug, supportive front seats you may find the back bench – under which are the two drive battery units to maximise space – flat and unshapely by comparison.

The 475-litre boot is well shaped but the high floor limits its depth although the maximum width of 1,347mm means golf bags can be stowed sideways. And under the boot floor is a standard space-saver wheel – still favoured by many customers. Rear seats backs fold down 60/40 and can also be reclined.

With Lexus sales in the UK 26% ahead of last year, the NX comes at a great time for Lexus. And with more than 750 orders taken before the NX went on sale in the UK, Lexus has already hit its target for this year and next year is looking to sell 3,700, putting it on a par with the CT hatchback and IS saloon. That should not prove difficult given its superb looks, the quality and reliability of the prestige badge and its environmental credentials and lower running costs – a big bonus particularly for company users.

And, if that is not enough, as well as being the best looking Lexus so far, the NX is also the best-driving car it has produced.

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Andy Russell

Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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