First Drive: Lexus NX has Style and Dynamism in Equal Measure
Lexus SA may have been experiencing somewhat of a hiatus in the SA market in recent months, no thanks to supply constraints hamstringing sales numbers, but there seems to be some form of movement in a positive direction, as evidenced by its latest crop of models. The launch of the NX models in the fairest of Cape recently reacquainted us with the brand and its respective offerings.
This week, we focus on the NX. Initially launched in 2014 as the Japanese luxury marque’s mid-size SUV to take on the German triumvirate of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC, it went on to become a runaway success for the brand in both European and Russian markets, respectively. Playing in a very popular segment of the SUV market, the model was decent, if not entirely great, but the latest, second-generation model looks set to address that anomaly and then some.
For starters, the new NX styling is more amiable, in my opinion, and gives it a more universal appeal that should appease both male and female buyers alike. It still offers that origami-styling language, but with fewer creases compared to its predecessor, giving it a classier and, dare I say, sportier look.
Dimensionally, the new model has been elongated by 20mm, the wheelbase is now 30mm longer, and the width and height have grown by 20mm and 5mm, respectively. This increase in size translates to a roomier cabin for both front and rear occupants, while the boot, at 520 litres, is fairly sizable and comparable to its rivals. Meanwhile, the now-signature spindle grille is said to have a more upright look, which looks less exaggerated and complements the smoother overall design. There are up to 20-inch wheel sizes depending on specification, while the rear with its LED light clusters and horizontal light strip bisecting them is a modern touch, so too is the LEXUS lettering strewn on the boot instead of just the L symbol. Overall, the NX has tidied up its looks and cracks a positive nod from this opinionated enclave.
Thankfully, this modern interpretation also spills into the cabin, which is dominated by the 14-inch infotainment screen that offers easy legibility and functionality, boasting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mobile phone integration and shortcut rotary switches for climate control. There is also an inductive smartphone charger and both USB and USB-C charging points. If there is some ergonomic criticism I can level at the cabin architecture, then it has to be the interior door-opening mechanism, which takes some fumbling to operate, but perhaps we might require a bit more time with the setup to become accustomed to it. Only time will tell. In terms of motivation, we have the NX250 powered by a normally-aspirated 2.5-litre engine with 152kW and 243Nm through a CVT gearbox. Next in line is the NX350, powered by a 2.4-litre turbo making 205kW and 430Nm, allowing a claimed sprint time from 0-100km/h in 7 seconds. Fuel consumption, meanwhile, is pegged at 8.1l/100km.
The hybrid models, which will be the dominant models in the range, will be badged NX350h – hence the ‘h’ suffix – use a 2.5-litre normally-aspirated engine and combines it with a lithium-ion battery pack for a total system output of 179kW, giving it a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.7 seconds and a fuel economy figure of 5l/100km. All models come standard with all-wheel drive, while this specification is available in EX, SE, and F Sport, depending on the engine derivative. At launch, we spent time in the feisty NX350 F Sport, which offered up a surprisingly sprightly performance and exemplary handling. Dialling it into Sport+ mode offers up a layer of dynamism that I have never experienced in a midsize Lexus SUV before, feeling sure-footed through the series of road kinks we threaded on our launch route. Thanks largely to the new platform which offers a 20mm lower ground clearance compared to the outgoing model, keen drivers will remain relatively entertained. Another feather in its cap is the level of cabin refinement, thanks to the low and almost negligible wind and road noise intrusion. In my view, this is easily the closest that the NX has given the Germans a proper run.
Indeed, imbued with a comprehensive standard equipment list, it offers palpable value compared to its Teutonic rivals, which, in this rather challenging economic climate, makes for a compelling proposition.
NX250 EX R968,000
NX350h EX R1,000,100
NX350h SE R1,172,900
NX350h F Sport R1,200,800
NX350 F Sport R1,211,900