The 2015 Lexus NX300h compact SUV arrives this week priced from $55,000, giving the ambitious Japanese luxury player a long-overdue presence in a market segment up 20 per cent this year alone and predicted to continue an upward march.
Billed as a lynchpin of its plan to grow sales by up to 10 per cent per annum over the next ten years, the angular NX marks a number of firsts for Lexus — it will also be the initial recipient of the car-maker’s all-new turbo-petrol engine.
This week marks the launch on the NX300h range, all powered by a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain familiar from the ES range. The punchy 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol NX200t that will command about 60 per cent of sales and could be priced a few thousand dollars higher, will follow in the first quarter of 2015.
The turbo-petrol has been delayed somewhat by constraints with production. It’s the first engine of its kind from the brand and represents a learning curve, so the Japanese plant will take some time to gear up. A diesel is not on the agenda at all, with the company committed to hybrid despite market trends showing diesel is traditionally the buyer preference in SUVs.
As with its RX big sibling, the NX300h is pitched as a segment-straddler. It is more or less the same size as ‘mid-sized’ models such as the segment-leading Audi Q5 and BMW X3, though it kicks off between $5000 and $7000 cheaper than those entry turbo-petrol or diesel offerings.
Conquest is the name of the brand’s game, as it seeks to lure buyers outside its traditional band of loyal customers. To that effect, the company holds about 400 pre-orders, only 12 per cent of which come from existing Lexus RX owners, half what the company bargained for.
Of all the early interest — whether culminating in orders or not — Lexus figures suggest more than 80 per cent of inquiries in the NX come from people who do not currently own a Lexus. These figures are unprecedented for the brand.
Figures such as this are vital to the brand set on attaining the kind of growth its German rivals are enjoying. Lexus sales are more or less on a par this year with 2013, going against the grain of a booming luxury market.
Just as importantly, the overwhelming majority of these inquiries have been for the more aggressive F Sport derivatives, and relatively few have been for the base car.
“NX gives us the opportunity to talk to a host of new customers,” said Lexus Australia managing director Sean Hanley. “It proves to us our product renewal us working.”
This drive is the rationale behind the NX’s edgy styling, which takes the familiar brand grille and applies it to a body full of curves and angles.
Lexus says the design of both the exterior and the car-like cabin with its new Lexus Remote Touch finger-guided operating system, plus the car’s longer equipment list than German rivals, are what set it apart.
The NX 300h range comprised four model variants, including front-wheel drive Luxury ($55,000 plus on-road costs) and all-wheel drive Luxury ($59,500), F Sport ($66,000) and Sports Luxury ($75,000) variants.
Powering all from launch is a petrol-electric parallel hybrid powertrain comprising a 114kW at 5700rpm and 210Nm from a high 4200rpm 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine matched to a 650-volt electric motor with 105kW and 270Nm.
Maximum system output is 147kW, sent to either the front or all four wheels (with Lexus’ E-Four system with power diverted to the rear-axle on demand from an electric motor, without boosting total output) via a CVT with six stepped override ratios and a kick-down feature.
Lexus claims diesel-rivalling fuel use of between 5.6L/100km (2WD) and 5.7L/100km (AWD).
Under the edgy new body with an aero rating of 0.33Cd Lexus claims 90 per cent of the NX is ‘re-engineered’, although it has the same wheelbase as a Toyota RAV4. Commonality extends beyond those hard points to things such as the dash panel.
Most of the re-engineering focussed on the use of higher-tensile steel for the bodyshell, additional sound deadening and spot welds, torsional rigidity gains and modifications to the suspension mounts.
With dimensions of 4630mm long, 1845mm wide and 1630mm high on a 2660mm wheelbase, it’s more or less on a par with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Luggage capacity is a little lower than the Q5 at 475L, or 1520L with the rear seats folded.
*For $7500 you can add pre-collision safety, all-speed cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, heads-up display, auto high beam, sunroof and the Mark Levinson sound system to the F Sport.