When we last met the Lexus NX300 Luxury, 12 months ago in all-wheel-drive form, the mid-sized Japanese SUV sat just behind premium rivals from Germany in the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC in sales popularity with Aussie buyers.
A year later, in a downturn of interest for the brand’s biggest seller bar any model range, Lexus has just introduced a suite of rolling improvements in order to polish up the NX's lustre.
While you can read the full rundown of updates here, the overview is that updates primarily centre around enhancing safety and assistance tech. However, there’s not a lot of conspicuous hands-on newness – an overhaul of infotainment, say – that might otherwise herd buyers more enthusiastically towards Lexus showrooms for this nearly five-year-old SUV that was face-lifted last year… And wants an extra $600 for this MY19 rolling update.
So the NX, including the base Luxury trim, is more fulsome with goodies than ever. And the most affordable variant in the range, the petrol-powered front-driver reviewed here, lobs at $55,400 before on-roads. Pricier, yes, though you really need a low- to mid-$60K budget to opt for virtually any other medium-sized SUV/crossover/whatever-you-call-it wearing a premium badge outside of perhaps a diesel Disco Sport, so the NX300 Luxury does appear appealingly priced.
On initial impressions it looks the goods, too. Last year’s fetching makeover means that even the base version looks upmarket outside, and a cursory glance inside, where its signature edgy theme threads through, doesn’t let the luxury team down. Ageing perhaps, but it’s attempting its George Clooney best at doing so sharply dressed and with a fair degree of dignity.
Of course, you’ll have decided whether Lexus’s polarising approach to styling is your cup of Japanese tea within the first three seconds of introduction with the NX. Let’s presume you do (because you’re still here reading this review) and move onwards.
Even in our test car's unimaginative grey-out format – Lexus also offers a menu of rich colours – the cabin mostly presents well. The seat contours are lovely, the so-called NuLux faux-leather is soft and satiny, and there’s enough fanfare to remind you that you’re not in mainstream SUV-land any more. Visibility is quite good, too, though I do wish you could drop the front seats lower, or re-position the steering wheel up from out of your lap (which is something of a Lexus ‘thing’).
Materials are mixed: plush around the touchpoints, and cheap and shiny just barely lower than your peripheral sight. And it’s not the most cohesive of designs, with a mishmash of different button and control designs. There’s a lot going on along the central stack. But you do get a sense that you’ve spent your money’s worth in interior features – seat heating, auto dimming mirror, remote tailgate control, electric steering column, et cetera – and it doesn’t feel cut-priced in overall effect.
While the recent addition of the large 10.25-inch infotainment screen has lifted presentation, tweaks to the user interface, namely the touchpad controller, are Band-Aid fixes that go little way to correcting the system’s chronic ills. There are ample features – DAB+, proprietary navigation – but performing the most rudimentary inputs is a clumsy game of challenge while attempting to move the cursor across the screen. And please, carmakers, stop locking out features such as sat-nav guidance input while the car is moving, which renders essential functions inoperable to the front passenger.
You do, though, get a CD player. And an analogue clock. On that, the NX still uses analogue driver’s instrumentation, though this is no real markdown for a luxury-brand SUV model at this pricepoint.
Row two is impressively roomy for knees and shoulders, headroom ample if less so. That’s because the rear bench is set quite high – great for outward visibility for younger kids – and you also get rake adjustment to tune in comfort. Rear air vents and small door bins amount to the slim rear features, though with two USBs and a 12V in the large console bin, you could run cables rearward to power the kids’ devices.
There’s a useable if modest 500L of boot space that expands to 1545L with the 60:40 split-fold rear seating stowed, and a high-set floor that makes it easy on the back when loading/unloading heavy objects. Plus, there are handy tie-down hooks, and a space-saver spare under the floor.
Unlike some of the make-do engines prolific in the SUV mainstream, the NX300 Luxury gets a reasonably gutsy turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder good for 175kW. Power-wise, it outstrips the more modest 147kW from the 300h hybrid version ($57,900 list) that wants for a further $2500 outlay.
While it mightn’t have the instant response of the hybrid powertrain, there’s 350Nm on tap. Although no powerhouse, tractability is such that a bootful will send the traction control flickering during uphill climbs – plenty of oomph for a great many buyers in this segment. Consumption is neither impressive nor terrible, hovering around the eight-litre mark for its week of mixed driving, making it a little thirstier than we’ve found with some of its German rivals.
It’s also quite a smooth and reasonably quiet combination mated to a conventional automatic, and the modest six forward ratio count doesn’t negatively impact the on-road experience. You do get paddle shifters and Sport mode at a twist of a console dial away, but they’re folly: there’s enough flexibility in default Normal mode. Further, it seems that the only things separating the pricier F Sport variant from the base Luxury are a host of go-faster/go-firmer accoutrements that merely deteriorate the range’s family-friendly facets.
On this, the Luxury has some track record at CarAdvice for riding nicer than many of its range mates, though better doesn’t necessarily mean great. For such chunky 60-series sidewalls with narrow (225mm) Bridgestone rubber, it simply transmits too much small-bump vibration through the chassis, and jars too easily and frequently across sharp road surface imperfections.
With clear visibility and modest body width, aided by a large-view guided reversing camera and sensors at both ends, the NX is easy to judge while parking and maneuvering in and around the tighter urban confines. There is, though, a wide 11.4m turning circle and a bit of excessive weight to the steering, if not to the point of being overly arduous.
Add a decent four-year/100,000km warranty and Lexus’s highly reputable after-sales care, and the NX remains an appealing if not totally flawless offering. It makes a good case for value despite the recent price hike in the face of the range’s encroaching age.
We’ve come away from the front-driven base Luxury version increasingly convinced that this variant offers enough of the right stuff, and in the right places, that spending more to climb further up the NX ladder is perhaps needless excess.