Car reviews - Lexus - NX - 300h F Sport 2WD
Interior presentation and quality, long standard equipment list for the money, good cabin space and luggage capacity
Room for improvement
Not a tidy handler, lacks the deeply engineered feel of premium rivals, not as quiet and refined as a Lexus should be
Front-drive option democratises entry to already value-packed Lexus NX F Sport SUV
25 Oct 2018
MID-WAY through its lifecycle, the Lexus NX has cemented its position as the brand’s most popular model by far, and just about edges the more established Audi Q5 into fourth place among Australia’s best-selling luxury medium SUVs.
With pricing as sharp as the many creases on its bodywork and heaps of standard kit, it is easy to see why Australians with the budget for a top-end medium SUV from the mainstream brands are tempted to cross over into premium territory.
The case is even more compelling with the mid-spec NX300 F Sport variant tested here, which became much more affordable due to the availability of front-wheel-drive since the NX range was facelifted in 2017.
Price and equipment
If you’re considering a two-wheel-drive version of the NX300 then the line-up is a very straightforward affair, consisting simply of the $54,800 (plus on-road costs) Luxury and the $60,800 (plus ORC) F Sport variant tested here.
The entry-level Luxury, as the name suggests, is a comprehensively equipped car that would leave few wanting on the creature comforts front. Standard features include dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, a 10.3-inch media system featuring satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and reversing camera, and heated front seats with electric adjustment.
Audiophiles will also appreciate the NX’s 10-speaker premium sound system, while safety equipment includes eight airbags, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and brake assistance.
The F Sport’s $6000 premium extends to far more than just some different bumpers, wheels, light clusters and interior tweaks ranging from a unique boost gauge through to bespoke bolstered seats with leather accents and specific branding. It also comes with adaptive front and rear dampers, revised chassis tuning and more sporting drive modes for starters.
Also added are a surround-view monitor, ventilation and position memory for the front seats, and wireless phone charging but, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring is not supported.
Options include a tilt-and-slide sunroof ($2500), which can be bundled with a $6000 enhancement pack that also adds a colour head-up display and a 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with subwoofer.
Onyx black is the only no-cost colour option, with eight other colours all commanding a $1000 premium. However, the range of four contrasting interior colour schemes are all no-cost options.
Lexus has done a great job of the NX interior, which certainly feels like a substantial step up from the most expensive and highly specified equivalents from mainstream brands such as Mazda and Volkswagen. Especially with the red-and-black two-tone leather and matching contrast stitching of our test vehicle.
Immediate touchpoints are supple leather and leatherette upholstery, including a thoughtful padded section of the centre console to rest the driver’s left knee on. Also, the hard plastics are located low down, all of which are pleasantly textured and solid feeling.
We also liked the little rocker switches for the climate controls and the quirky inclusion of a little makeup mirror beneath the wrist rest in the centre console that reveals a sunglasses storage compartment.
The steering wheel is pleasantly small and beautifully trimmed. It feels great to grasp. Most of the switchgear is logically located and there is the option to lock and unlock all four doors from both front seats.
For the NX, Lexus has done away with the little joystick style controller for the multimedia system, instead using a laptop-like trackpad with varying levels of haptic feedback.
We found the strongest setting would bounce our finger off the panel and cause us to lose where we were in the menu system, but with a more moderate mode selected the control setup felt pretty logical pretty quickly. Pairing a phone via Bluetooth is also easy and audio quality is excellent with plenty of detail and rich bass.
The instruments are crisp and clear, with a digital speedometer and multi-function trip computer between the analogue gauges. However, like many Toyota platforms the adaptive cruise control hijacks this display when the radar picks up a vehicle in front. It’s incredibly annoying.
Road and wind noise are both high, while engine vibration often enters the cabin in a most un-Lexus-like way, to the accompaniment of some gruff and gravelly noises that are also shockingly at odds with the brand’s usual standards of smoothness and silence.
Storage is reasonable for a mid-size SUV but not great For example, apart from a slim shelf beneath the audio unit there is no handy tray for phones and keys in the centre console and the door bins are small with capacity limited to holding slim drinks bottles. The glovebox is big and map pockets are installed on the seatbacks, but apart from a couple of cupholders front and rear.
Beneath the front central armrest (with its beautifully engineered hinge action) is a large bin with places to plug in your phone.
It took us a while to feel really comfortable in the driver’s seat of the NX300 F Sport, due a relationship between the bolstering on the squab and the pedals that forced our thighs to rest at an angle that made them ache.
Rear legroom is pretty good, making it possible for six-footers to sit in tandem, but the bench is narrow, with a humped and thinly padded central position that offers little comfort.
Boot space is a strong point at 500 litres and there is some handy underfloor storage (courtesy of a space-saver spare wheel), along with plenty of bag hooks, tie-downs and a 12V power outlet. The rear seats fold flush with the boot floor to create an easy-to-use extended load area with 1580L of space.
Engine and transmission
Our front-drive F Sport NX300 has a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that pushes its 175kW of power (from 4800-5600rpm) and 350Nm of torque (from 1650-4000rpm) through a six-speed automatic transmission.
In longitudinal installations such as the IS sedan, the Lexus 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is incredibly smooth, so its relative roughness in the NX is disappointing. The sound is also rather gruff and gravelly.
But as the figures suggest, this is a loping and flexible unit that is seemingly always on song. The fact the NX isn’t too heavy at 1790kg helps it feel sprightly enough to satisfy most.
The transmission is best left to its own devices, where it operates smoothly and intuitively. We occasionally experienced a bit of hesitation from a standing start, although we could usually overcome this without sudden flares of acceleration as happens with many step-off snoozers.
The NX could be wrung out along our twisty dynamic route without stumbling too many times in automatic mode, so only complete control freaks would ever use the paddles in reality. Manual shifts via the paddles are frustratingly slow – especially downshifts – and are not the crispest.
But with such a flexible engine behind it, there’s usually enough torque to pull through a fluffed gear selection.
Lexus claims that this engine can achieve 7.7 litres per 100km on the official combined cycle, although we got 9.2L/100km during our week with the car (close to the official urban cycle figure of 9.5L/100km. On a long motorway run we saw 6.6L/100km, matching the official highway figure.
Ride and handling
The F Sport badge is surely a misnomer, for this NX felt anything but sporty – particularly with Sport mode engaged. And that’s after Lexus fettled the suspension for the 2017 facelift!
In Sport mode, the adaptive suspension of our NX would buck, rumble and bob about on poorly surfaced country roads, pitching under braking and generally feeling uncontrolled. Work done by Lexus to reduce bodyroll has been successful, though.
Piloting the front-drive NX with any vigour revealed limited traction, although levels of lateral grip were high. It especially struggled on poor corner surfaces, which had the electronic stability control light flickering away and a sense of throttle cut-back without a great deal of provocation.
Comfort mode fared much better in these typical Australian conditions, the softer damping enabling the wheels to find more traction rather than clatter about, essentially rendering the Sport setting useless.
Steering feel is reasonably good once hooked into a bend, but there is an artificial feel about it when making small adjustment. Likewise the brake pedal travel is long and squishy without being particularly progressive.
Around town and unchallenged is where this car feels much more at home. From that point of view, then, Lexus pretty much nailed it.
Safety and servicing
In 2017 the Lexus NX achieved the maximum five-star rating in ANCAP’s safety tests, earning 35.39 points out of a maximum of 37.
As well as the usual list of electronic stability and safety aids, the NX gets the ‘Lexus Safety System+’, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering control, a pre-collision system and automatic high beams.
Other standard safety features include eight airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, hill-start assist, braking assistance, LED headlights and whiplash-reducing front seats. Outboard rear seats have Isofix child seat anchor bars and top tether anchors.
Servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The company’s ‘Encore Privilege’ scheme also means that, while the car is within warranty, you’ll get a complimentary loan car if you drop the car off at a dealer for servicing. Alternatively, you can have it collected and then dropped off; the dealer will also clean your car while it is undergoing servicing.
A four-year, 100,000km warranty is standard and a series of extended warranties are also offered.
It might be selling like hot cakes, but to us, the NX feels like a half-arsed, rushed and dare we say cynical effort to meet the booming medium SUV market. It’s well equipped as standard for its segment, although it is a bit smaller than its main rivals.
We couldn’t help but feel it was not as good as a number of cars that do not carry the premium price tag of a luxury brand, even though Lexus is blurring the lines a little with the cost of its front-drive NX variants.
Apart from badge kudos, things going for the NX over a top-spec Mazda CX-5 or Volkswagen Tiguan are its swanky interior, striking looks and the peace of mind that comes with a brand known for reliability and quality of customer service.
But we’re not sure that would be enough to persuade us.
Mercedes-Benz GLC 200: $61,990
Volvo XC60 Momentum D4: $59,990 plus on-road costs
VW Tiguan 162TSI Highline with R-Line pack: $52,990 plus on-road costs
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