First Drive: Lexus NX 350h SUV
Available as a petrol-hybrid, the Lexus NX competes with Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC
Popular cars in many cases can be like petty crimes; not despicable enough to be punished for, but unlikely to be appreciated. My point is why buy the most common product if it’s not the outright best, especially when one can happily choose a left-field car which isn’t just better but also way less common. The Lexus NX aims to be just that; it’s in a market full of premium crossover SUVs, which are quite solid products themselves but fail to add excitement to the segment. That alone in 2022, a time when we are grabbing the smallest of opportunities to get life back to normal (and exciting), has to be a crime against humanity.
But first, what is it?
The Lexus NX is a luxury mid-size crossover SUV, one that blends many segment-first aspects, a hybrid powertrain with AWD, and extremely likeable styling into a package that doesn’t feel too big on a variety of Indian roads. It replaces the earlier model, which was introduced in 2014 globally; it sits on a new platform, and according to Lexus, it has improvements not just in ride and handling but power delivery and space too.
The hybrid combination of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric powertrain has a total output of 240hp. The claimed 0-100kph time is 7.7 seconds, and, more importantly (in this scenario), the claimed CO2 emission is between 127 and 146 g/km. It also gets the ability to start in pure-EV mode, and Lexus India personnels say that the NX 350h can be driven in EV mode at up to 125 km/h. Of course, that I’m certain is for when coasting or without substantial load or accelerator input. Show it a steep incline or an urge to corner hard and the NX will put its petrol engine to work.
Lexus says that it’s updated the CVT to reduce the innate rubber-band effect. In practice, while it’s super-smooth between ‘gears’ (there are no actual gears in a CVT) and complements the petrol-hybrid powertrain, ask the Lexus NX for more power/pace and the engine tends to get vocal — it doesn’t protest though, and gladly delivers. What’s more fun is that if you’re driving in Sport/Manual mode (for the gearbox), with the electric motors handling the takeoff, the NX doesn’t mind being in a higher gear while slowing down and crossing speed bumps. However, in terms of overall body dynamics, it doesn’t feel like a Porsche Macan rival. It’s fun and can carry good speed with ease but it’s not the sharpest; although it does absorb normal bumps well. The light steering is far from being a concern as it works flawlessly, making driving effortless but never does it cause the Lexus NX to lose composure. The Exquisite (base) and Luxury (the one we tested) trims get standard suspension whereas the more expensive F-Sport gets adaptive dampers and sport suspension, in addition to more features and sharper looks.
What’s on the inside?
A lot, actually. The Lexus NX is in a league of its own when it comes to the interior. It’s a whole lot different from the previous car, which is to be expected since this is, after all, a brand-new NX. The way the cockpit has been designed is in line with Lexus’ Tazuna concept, which effectively has all controls and information wrapped around the driver, and they don’t have to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.
There’s a detailed HUD which enables the latter and with paddleshifters and touch-sensitive steering-mounted controls, the former becomes possible, too. The large 14-inch touchscreen does seem to be a size too big on paper, especially in landscape orientation, but it works just fine. What stood out for me was how all of this was put together. The cabin design is unique and classy, and well put-together, too. Personally, I’d have loved to see some non-leather upholstery, as Lexus had the chance to be different, but the seats are otherwise just fine. The cabin belongs to a more luxurious car and no one can deny that. Space at the rear is just about okay, though.
Neat little touches that help Lexus spring forward ahead of the competition, have to be the e-latch system, which essentially unlocks and opens the door by the press of a button (there’s a tidy way to override the system manually, too; so don’t be paranoid about it!). The same is the case on the outside, too — inside the outer door handle, there’s a button to open it. The recess in the inner door handle where one places their hand to pull the door while opening and closing has an anti-static material which is bound to save you from the minute (but hugely irritating) shocks when stepping out of the car.
The usual premium-car features are nice to have, especially the multiple cameras which made driving away from the tarmac to get a few photos of the NX exceptionally easy.
This showed us that while Lexus doesn’t expect the NX customers to take this exquisite (excuse the random, extremely forced trim/variant-related pun) vehicle off-road, it won’t fare too badly on a broken stretch of tarmac leading to your favourite homestay in Alibaug, Manali, or Ooty… What came as a surprise was how insurmountably pretty the Sonic Chrome paint looks against the setting sun. Not as resplendent as the usual blue and red choices (there are eight colours on offer) but this one’s more special. Lexus mentions that its multiple layers of paint have been hand-polished to achieve varying levels of bright and dark tones on the bodywork.
Anything else you should know?
We’ll cover the Lexus NX 350h in a detailed test soon (hopefully) for a better understanding of what the car offers. But from the little time we got at a Lexus event recently, it became clear that the NX isn’t just an effort to match the rivals but also beat them – slightly unconventional but it’s very effective indeed.
The car also comes with a range of driver aids and passive safety. For now, the NX gets a collision warning system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with assist, blind-spot monitor, and adaptive high-beam system. It’s also got a full-fat five-star rating from Euro NCAP, although it lacks autonomous braking. The other thing that’s missing is wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, which is weird because the car supports wireless charging for phones. Not exactly a dealbreaker, I know, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
So, is it exciting?
Well, in its own ways, it’s possibly the most exciting car in this segment. It’s not the most engaging to drive, which is honestly disappointing, but apart from that, the NX delivers and how. It has a beautiful cabin with nice ash wood inlays and a good choice of upholstery colours, the features list is fairly long too, and while it’s not perfect, the Lexus NX might just be a touch closer to perfection than anything else in the mid-sized premium crossover SUV space.
Among the three variants, it’s the ‘Luxury’ I’m leaning towards, because it offers extra features over the base Exquisite trim and is available in all colours, especially my aforementioned new-favourite Sonic Chrome. The top-spec F-Sport is expected to be more engaging to drive but it’s, at the time of publishing this first-drive report, said to be available only in blue and white, although the prospect of having adaptive dampers and performance-orientated suspension can’t be ignored. Plus considering the different modes on the non-F-Sport don’t do much to invigorate the senses.
Prices start at Rs 64.9 lakh (ex-showroom) for the Lexus NX 350h in the Exquisite trim. The mid-level Luxury is available at Rs 69.5 lakh, and the F-Sport is priced at Rs 71.9 lakh. For a fully imported car, that’s not just great pricing but also enough to give solid competition to its rivals, which have a slight price advantage but lack the exclusivity of the NX.
Plus, did I tell you that the Sonic Chrome paint looks ace?