First Drive: Lexus NX 300h
Thanks to the low emission tax advantages of hybrids, Lexus has sold well in the company car market. This NX too offers a tax advantage, thanks to a CO2 figure as low as 116g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption as low as 56.5mpg. With a backdrop of increasing sales in the compact SUV segment, the NX is clearly an important product for Lexus.
Lexus claims three-year cost of ownership is lowest for NX compared to the car’s rivals: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC60. But will the ‘arresting’ looks of the NX 300h tempt company car drivers away from the competition?
Only two powertrain options will be offered in most European markets: the petrol-electric hybrid which has a 2.5-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor driving the front wheels and an additional electric motor driving the rear wheels too when needed. Output is 197hp. There is also a front-wheel drive version in entry-level S trim only. A faster turbocharged petrol model will come in 2015, which Lexus says it will sell comparatively few of.
The hybrid offers good figures for emissions and economy – important considerations in any CO2-led tax regime. Fleet buyers don’t need to look too far back into the past to find a time when cars of this size and power would be attracting the highest possible levels of taxation, but extensive work on engines and transmissions has brought this down to a far more acceptable level and the NX 300h at 116g/km is impressive for a car with a 2.5-litre petrol engine.
Performance is an unhurried 9.2 seconds for the 0-62kph sprint, though drivers who are unfamiliar with the car’s CVT transmission may take a while to get used to its high-revving nature. Buyers who are looking for higher levels of performance might be persuaded to look elsewhere, though the Lexus hybrid is not far off the pace of its more established rivals.
Engine noise is apparent when driving with any sense of urgency. Press on the accelerator and the engine speed picks up ahead of road speed. Lift off the throttle and the sound continues for moments more. Lexus has incorporated an artificial engine note to reduce the auditory effects of the real one and if you switch between the four drive settings this is clearly apparent. However, for those that prefer their engine note ‘au naturel’ the artificial sound can be switched off.
Driven less urgently, the NX 300h is a most agreeable car. Its handling is good, helped by its AWD system and while the NX doesn’t at any time feel fast, those who are expecting hot hatch performance are probably missing the point. It is refined, comfortable and luxurious – qualities that will appeal in the sector the car is pitched.
Good fuel economy, low whole-life costs and CO2 figures should attract drivers to the hybrid SUV. Striking appearance may divide opinion.
Segment: Compact premium SUV
Type: Petrol-electric hybrid
Electric range: N/A
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 116–121g/km
Charging port: N/A