Lexus is stepping into the medium-sized SUV market with the new NX as it eyes out a bit of brand expansion. Considering the explosive growth that this segment has experienced in recent years, this may be a very wise move indeed. The Lexus NX is certainly an interesting looker. Outside the NX looks like a piece of modern architecture with its sharp angles and harsh creases. It’s easy to see that Lexus is after a more youthful buyer and we, as a team of youthful car testers, spent a week evaluating it.
Where does it fit in?Lexus’ NX is aimed at the Goldilocks segment for SUVs, not too big in size to come across as obscene or excessive but sufficiently sizeable to distinguish it from the everyday compact SUVs. Its closest rivals are probably the BMW X4 and the Range Rover Evoque, which both also offer a measure of design appeal and family friendly spaciousness.
Notwithstanding its outlandish outside appearance, however, the Lexus NX still offers a lot of cabin space. Rear legroom is probably best in this class, and the boot is well-shaped and sized to accommodate a family's luggage.
Lexus styleDuring the week the new Lexus NX spent with us it seemed the looks were a large talking point. The exterior does boast lots of sharp angles in an attempt to be aggressive, but also to look modern and relevant as per the new Lexus philosophy. Most of the people who commented on the NX were positive with their remarks, but those on the other side of the fence described it as overstyled and fussy. Either way it’s a bold new look for a Lexus and will certainly attract attention out on the street.
Inside storyThe interior of the NX is much more sedate than the exterior. Most of the sharp angles are replaced with familiar Lexus buttons, screens and instrument layouts. As per usual for a Lexus, the NX boasts a very comprehensive standard specification. Leather is applied everywhere and goes along with beautiful stitching, and there are electrically adjustable seats and steering wheel, auto lights and wipers, climate control and heated seats on every model except the entry level 200t E. It’s the Lexus way of making sure the buyer gets everything in the car rather than extending the price through optional extras (like the German brands). The F-Sport model here just kicks things up a notch with its own steering wheel and gear lever, adaptive suspension and sporty seats.
While the NX offers class-leading spec, the end result is however an interior that doesn’t quite match up to the competition in terms of ease of use and outright prestige. It’s beautifully built and we didn't hear any squeaks or rattles, but ergonomically it could be better. The infotainment system has had an update and it’s better with a touch pad on the centre dash that pulses with haptic feedback, but it still isn’t as simple to use as the German vehicles' control systems. The menus can be difficult to get through and using the map and navigation system for anything other than an exact address can be infuriating.
SafetyIn terms of your basic safety needs the NX takes care of everything, but maybe misses a trick by not featuring any high-tech crash mitigation systems. It is equipped with ABS, EBD, stability control, traction control and hill start assist. Topping the safety side of things off is a full house of eight airbags.
Turbo engineThe Lexus brand was given a hard time for its underperforming engine lineup in the past. The NX features a new 2-Litre turbocharged petrol engine that puts out 175 kW and 350 Nm, putting it perfectly on par with its competitors. The range lacks a diesel model, but does have a hybrid 300h EX for those who want to go that route. The 2-Litre delivers good power and it accelerates rapidly for an SUV. The turbocharger kicks in nice and low down the rev range so overtaking with the auto box is simple. Speaking of the gearbox, it’s a six-speed automatic which is good at being a cruiser's gearbox, with shifts happening quietly in the background. When you plant your foot, however, it’s slow to react and can be jolty in sport mode.
Ride and handlingCompared with its firm-riding rivals, the Lexus NX offers quite a soft and pliant suspension set-up. This despite it having an adaptable suspension setup. The NX drives well over just about any surface, even with the 18-inch wheels on the F-Sport. It should be mentioned that you can spec spine-crunching 20-inch wheels on its competitors.
Lexus has obviously stuck to its core beliefs with ride comfort as the NX works well as a long distance or comfortable everyday car, but lacks a bit when it comes to sportier driving circumstances. You won’t see an NX driver enjoying a pacy drive over a mountain pass or going anywhere particularly quickly. There’s a fair amount of body roll in the chassis and the electric steering over-assists and lacks any real authoritative feedback.
VerdictThe Lexus NX is a stylish attempt at a premium, medium-sized SUV. It combines incredible levels of standard specification that its rivals can’t get close to at an excellent price. The interior is superbly built but lacks the ease of use and ergonomic layout the others have. The ride is comfortable but not sporty and the engine behaves well and provides a reasonable return between stops at the fuel station. It undercuts most of its direct rivals like the Range Rover Evoque and BMW X4 by close to R100 000 at equivalent spec levels. But if you're not basing your decision on the funky design, then something like a Volvo XC60 R-Design provides stiff competition too.
Lexus NX Price in South AfricaThe Lexus NX 200t E starts off the range at R539 900 before the mid-spec 200t EX costs R579 900. This F-Sport we had on test costs R659 900 and the NX 300h EX hybrid costs a little less at R633 000.
Second OpinionThe Lexus NX 200t represents the latest from the luxury Japanese brand. Its turbo engine is a new venture for Lexus too. While its quirky looks may not appeal to all tastes, there's no denying the premium feel and excellent build quality. It's also a lot cheaper than the competition, which puts it in a strong position. In this segment though, the lure of an Evoque is tough to resist. -David Taylor
We Like: Build quality, comfortable ride and new engine
We Don’t Like: Not very sporty to drive, interior design a bit clumsy and difficult to use
Also consider: Range Rover Evoque, BMW X4, Volvo XC60