First drive: New Lexus NX crossover
Much-needed addition to the premium car brand’s range has bold styling and hybrid economy with prices starting at €44,000
Lexus NX: stylish creases and curves give the car a real presence
Lexus NX: the larger honeycomb grille on the F-Sport version
Lexus NX: Interior dominated by the high-set central console - still very in keeping with the quality of Lexus models to date
The already crowded crossover market gets a new arrival next week in the Lexus NX. While forecourts would seem to be bumper-to-bumper with high-set family five-seaters, it can be seen as a very welcome addition to the limited Lexus model range. The Japanese premium brand, which has adopted a fundamentalist approach to hybrid powertrains has always been something of a niche player on the market but that’s become increasingly the case as its German rivals slice and dice the premium market with a cavalcade of derivatives and engine options.
So what of the NX? Well it’s clear that Lexus was eager to make it stand out from the crowd. With the enormous front grille on the higher-end F-Sport variant the car is certainly not going to disappear into the rest of the crossover traffic. Even with the more traditional split grille front nose - which will be the norm on virtually all Irish models sold - the multiple creases and sharp lines adorning nearly every body panel should ensure you can pick the NX out in contrast to the more traditional - and perhaps mundane - rivals. It’s like someone has unravelled the metal back into the shape of a car after using it for an origami class.
The look is divisive, though in the metal it looks a lot less brash than it does in photos. In silhouette and in several other ways, it has similarities to a more dramatically designed version of Mazda’s CX-5.
In keeping with the hybrid-only mantra, the NX is powered by a mix of a 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor and battery pack. Total ouptu is 197bhpLexus claims it will manage an impressive 5 L/100km or 56.5mpg in old money, with emissions of just 116g/km. That’s lower than most of the similarly powered diesel rivals. In performance terms it manages to get to 100km/h from a standing start in 9.3 seconds.
All this is mated to the Lexus CVT automatic transmission. Frankly it’s the weak link in the chain, understandably focussed on lowering fuel consumption but remarkably slow to react and prone to leave the engine whining loudly when you kick down. The high-revving noise is similar to what you encounter in a car with a slipping clutch. That’s clearly not the case here but the sound is similar and even in sport mode the engine soundtrack is whining rather than racy. Lexus has an illustrious engineering pedigree: can they not direct it to spend a little more time on either improving powertrain acoustics or deadening out the whine.
As with most other Lexus models the NX is an easy drive rather than an engaging one. There’s no great sense of control from either the steering or the throttle pedal. While the engineers talk about improved ride quality and suspension settings, it’s still not hard to make it lurch when overegging it at a roundabout. Overall it’s a relaxing drive but I can’t imagine anyone making a drive in the NX their weekend highlight.
Inside and in contrast to many open and airy crossover cabins the front occupants are cosseted in a busy high set front cabin. The high central console is awash with prominent buttons and controls, similar in format to the current IS model. Between the door and the steering wheel controls we counted 34 switches and buttons.
Opt for the Lexus premium navigation pack - likely to be priced at €2,500 - and you also get the firm’s latest touch control pad. This lets you move the cursor between buttons on the display screen mounted on the dash. There’s a vibration as you flit between on-screen tabs, which makes it easier to use while driving as you quickly become used to which button is which and don’t have to look away from the road.
Rear seat legroom is able to cope with adult passengers, while the boot is deep - with a nice deep storage well under the regular floor but it’s not very long.
While six versions of the NX will be offered, starting with the so-called Eco specification at €43,950, the vast majority of Irish sales will be Dynamic or Executive versions, priced at €48,950 and €50,950 respectively.
Most will also be front-wheel-drive, with only the Executive offered with a choice of front or all-wheel-drive (AWD) for an additional €2,000 on the price. The F-Sport and Premium versions will have AWD as standard. The AWD system works off an additional electric motor powering the rear axle, but it only really kicks in when is senses a loss of grip. Unfortunately only the AWD versions are capable of towing, so the horsey set will have to opt for the higher end NX models. And even then the braked limit for towing is 1,500kgs.
So who will buy? Well expectations are that it will largely be female buyers, with 80 per cent of owners coming to Lexus for the first time. Rivals range from the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 through to the much-loved Range Rover Evoque. However it’s likely that initial buyers may also be found in owners of older RX models seeking to downsize.
Lexus is predicting sales of 200 NX next year, bringing the brand’s total to 500 for 2015, representing a 3.6 per cent share of what they predict will be a premium new car market of 15,000.
The NX should prove a popular hit, particularly for those looking for an alternative to the Audi and BMW offerings, both of which could be considered rather bland in styling. Yet the NX’s folds and creases may leave others cold and the hybrid powertrain with that CVT transmission will not be to everyone’s taste.
It’s competitively priced and boasts the renowned Lexus build quality that has held the brand in high esteem for a long time. It’s certainly a welcome additional model for a brand that needs to expand its range if it wants to be taken seriously in the premium race.
Eco (Front-wheel-drive) €43,950
S-design (FWD) €45,950
Dynamic (FWD) €48,950
Executive (FWD) €50,950
Executive (All-wheel-drive) €52,950
F Sport (AWD) €57,950
Premium (AWD) €57,950