There is plenty to like about the new Lexus NX. While that might sound a lot like damning with faint praise, the truth is that for private buyers, the non-plug-in 350h is a really accomplished premium SUV. It’s smooth and refined, beautifully built, and even without a usable zero-emissions range, could genuinely slash your fuel bills. The NX is Lexus’s best-selling model in the UK – and on this evidence, will continue to be for some time to come.
The new NX is no different. Launched first as a plug-in (Issue 1,705), we’re now driving the hybrid NX 350h on UK roads to see if it represents a more sensible real-world ownership proposition.
First things first: the numbers. Give or take, this conventional hybrid is around £9,000 cheaper than the NX 450h+ plug-in. For private buyers, and those looking at lease or PCP finance deals, that’s a lot – indeed, Lexus claims the NX 350h is more than £100 less per month than a like-for-like Mercedes GLC on identical terms.
But delve a little deeper and things may be less clear cut. Take the PHEV’s 40-mile electric range for example; plug that car in every day and you could instantly slash your fuel bills – only filling up for longer journeys or trips out of town.
Then there’s company car tax. If you’re a business user, the plug-in model could reduce your Benefit-in-Kind bill by as much as 70 per cent versus this NX 350h. The hybrid is a cheaper company car than the myriad diesel options on the market, but CO2 emissions of between 129 and 136g/km mean it simply can’t compete with the raft of modern PHEVs.
But what if you can’t plug in, or your lifestyle doesn’t yet suit this type of driving? Is the NX 350h the perfect compromise?
Manoeuvring through busy streets, Lexus’ near-20-year history of hybrid powertrains shows; the NX juggles its two power sources remarkably well. It’s almost always silent at slow speeds – the engine only firing up and raising its voice when you unintentionally find yourself sitting with the ignition on while waiting in stationary traffic.
The result is diesel-beating efficiency around town, plus refinement that is very nearly on-par with the latest pure-electric vehicles. The NX rides well, too, with a sophistication to the damping that prevents any nasty shocks or potholes disrupting the interior ambience.
Maintain this steady progress and you can continue to rely on the hybrid system’s refinement. Like its predecessor, things only really come undone if you up the tempo and floor the throttle; CVT gearboxes have come a long way, but they still can’t offer the familiar stepped ratios of a conventional automatic – even if Lexus has attempted to rectify this by fitting paddles on the steering wheel.
It’s a shame really, as the NX 350h – much like the Toyota RAV4 on which it is based – is perfectly adept at higher speeds. Motorway work is a cinch, and even twistier stuff doesn’t humiliate the hybrid SUV. A BMW X3 is still more fun, but again, that complex damping ensures the Lexus stays all but completely flat during fast cornering.
There’s little feedback through the wheel, but the steering is at least precise. Grip from our E-Four all-wheel drive test model was good too; a front-wheel-drive version is available on some trims for £1,000 less.
That spec structure isn’t as easy to understand as the more familiar SE, Sport, M Sport line-up we’re accustomed to on some BMWs, but whichever Lexus you opt for, standard kit is impressive. The base-spec model is simply called ‘NX’ and gets 18-inch wheels and heated leather seats, plus a 9.8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
You’ll need to step up to at least the Premium Pack (expected to be the UK big-seller) to get the option of the glorious 14-inch screen found in our car. You can forget the clunky Lexus infotainment of old, this new system is crisp, clear and – believe it or not – even quite intuitive. Gone is the fiddly trackpad, replaced by a responsive, easy-to-operate touchscreen.
Lexus Link Pro as it’s formally known, is standard fit on Premium Plus cars, which builds on the Premium model’s keyless entry, wireless charging and privacy glass, with 20-inch wheels, 360-degree cameras, a head-up display and upgraded headlights.
F Sport adds racier styling commensurate with Audi’s S Line cars, or Volvo’s R-Design models, plus sports seats and adaptive suspension. Takumi, like elsewhere in the Lexus line-up, tops the range, with luxury features like a Mark Levinson stereo, automated parking and a panoramic roof. Flagship NX 350h E-Four Takumi cars cost £53,300.
The cabin is modeled around the ‘Tazuma’ philosophy, whereby everything should fall to hand or sit within your eyeline. It works well, with the raised centre console bringing many of the major controls to hand height. There’s a shortcut bar on the screen, plus big rotary dials for the climate control. The only thing we initially struggled with was locating the switch for the heated seats – hidden within one of the infotainment sub-menus, should you care.
Quality really is top-notch. You can always rely on Lexus to fit soft, squishy fabrics to the dash and doors, but it’s the way everything just feels faultlessly fully screwed together that makes the latest NX stand out. It’d be no exaggeration to suggest the 350h sets a new class benchmark for its interior execution.
Practicality is good, too. The 520-litre boot is on par with the class average, although there’s no advantage to be gained opting for the conventional hybrid instead of the PHEV; the plug-in X3 xDrive30e loses 100 litres to its petrol or diesel equivalents. Space in the back of the Lexus is adequate, even for taller adults.
|Model:||Lexus NX 350h F Sport AWD|
|Engine:||2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol plus e-motor|
|Transmission:||CVT automatic, four-wheel drive|