Review: The next generation arrives with the all-new Lexus NX range

The new range of Lexus NX
Lexus New Zealand provided three models of the next-gen Lexus NX to truly experience the upgrades. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

I heard the new Lexus NX heralds fresh directions in exterior and interior design, as well as hybrid powertrains, next-generation multimedia and connectivity, and the use of advanced technologies for higher levels of safety, comfort and convenience.

It sounded like a lot, so Lexus New Zealand provided three models to truly experience the upgrades.

It was a little over seven years ago that the first Lexus NX (NX standing for Nimble Crossover) hit the world market and boy, was it a hit. So popular in fact, it went on to be the best-selling Lexus in Europe and was hot on the heels of their number one selling RX here in New Zealand. Built on the MC platform (as seen in the RAV4), it offered Lexus luxury and refinement in a city-loving compact SUV silhouette - and this year, it's back and better than ever.

For review, Lexus New Zealand gave me the entry level FWD NX 350h, the AWD NX 350h Limited and the all-singing, all-dancing NX 450h+ F-Sport PHEV with a price bracket that spanned $92,700 to $107,700.

The two 350h models share the same powertrain, with a 2.5L hybrid/electric motor mated to an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT). Together they provide 179kW of power (23 percent better than the older model) and consume fuel at a rate of 5.5L/100km.

The 450h+ is somewhat different, with a 2.5L and PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric) system strapped to an 18.1kWh battery and mated to an ECVT. It produces 227kW of power, making it the most powerful in New Zealand yet. Thanks to its ability to travel 87km (NEDC Test Regime) in 'EV only' mode, it sips fuel at only 1.4 L/100km.

Continuing on with the flagship 450h+, it has a 134kW/270 Nm front electric motor and a 40kW/121 Nm rear electric motor. With all this power going to all four wheels, you will be able to reach 100km/h in 6.3 seconds while emitting a mere 31g/km of CO2 from the exhaust. What's more, using AC charging, the PHEV system will give you a full battery in two hours while a conventional overnight charge will take eight hours.

Review: The next generation arrives with the all-new Lexus NX range
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

On paper, this new NX is a second generation, but it really is a whole new SUV. The chassis is the brand's new GA-K (Global Architecture K) platform which has an increased wheelbase (plus 30mm) and a wider track - so a more planted footprint. Additionally, the length has grown by 20mm and it sits 25mm higher, so there's more passenger comfort too.

When it comes to exterior style, a new spindle grill, reduced rear overhang and a new full width blade rear light bar (as seen on the UX) are just a few of the highlights, while the interior is a cave of Takami/Tazuna craftsmanship.

Some of the expected bells and whistles have been removed from the cabin: CD is gone and so too has the analogue clock, but for those not keen on the haptic touchpad, rejoice, as that's gone too. Also, there are far fewer switches: 45 over the outgoing model's 78, but don't despair, what the new NX now has is impressive.

The new 14-inch touchscreen multimedia display (standard across the range) is front and centre, with crystal-clear graphics and intuitive interaction - even 'hey Lexus' voice control. The safety suite has been upgraded to include Intersection Turn Assist in the Pre-Collision System, Lane Trace Assist in the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Advanced Park Assist.

There's also wireless phone charging, which is located on top of a sliding tray in the centre console, allowing the driver to have extra storage space when not charging their phone. Add into the mix a Mark Levinson 17 speaker sound system with an 1800w amplifier (limited grade) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Review: The next generation arrives with the all-new Lexus NX range
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

For editorial purposes, I'll start with the base level Lexus NX350h 2.5L HEV SUV. Aside from its new good looks, the first thing you notice is the e-Latch touch door handles. They're hard to explain, but rather than a traditional pull handle, they're more touch-sensitive - you slip your fingers in the usual fashion and the door opens and to exit, it's a push of a button. Anyway, they are linked to a 'Safe Exit Assist System' so if the NX detects a cyclist in your blind spot, it will prevent you from opening the door - smart, huh?

I spent most of my time with this model doing the around-town basics. School runs, my son's football practice, errands and the like, which the new NX takes to like a duck to water. It's smooth and efficient, attractive and comfortable, with everyone (front and rear) having ample space and luxury - base model it ain't.

Out on the open road, I did find the drive a little muted. Don't get me wrong, it gets up to the national speed limits with ease and in Sport, handles well with little body movement, but for me, the experience lacked a bit of excitement. However, the cabin's quietness and premium finishing went a long way to easing my pain.

The Lexus NX350h 2.5L HEV SUV.
The Lexus NX350h 2.5L HEV SUV. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

For the AWD NX 350h Limited, we had a road trip planned - a nice Auckland to Whangārei round trip that would test both its out-of-town abilities and efficiency. It excelled in both: 338km of highway tarmac and 6.9L/100km, so 23.3L of fuel used, making it very cost effective for a weekend away for three, even at today's fuel prices.

Added to this, the joy of heated and vented leather-accented seats (12-way power adjustmentable for the driver), 10-inch colour head up display, 7.7 seconds 0-100km/h and 126g/km. The adaptive cruise control was ideal for the long drive back, however, the 'predictive' cornering had the speed automatically dropping down way too far for even the least acute of bends.

The AWD NX 350h Limited.
The AWD NX 350h Limited. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Last but by no means least, the NX450h+ F Sport PHEV. By far the best of the trio as should be expected, but the upgrades are clear. It's more spritely off the mark and in Sport+ its handling is more involved and exciting. The bright red sports seats are more cosetting and the information and imagery comes at you thick and fast - including a rear view camera in the rear view mirror.

I spent a fair amount of alone time in this model, enjoying the roads that circled Kumeu and returning with an elevated heart rate - so don't ask me if it hit its predicted EV only or efficiency numbers. I will say, under revs, the engine note enters the cabin, but in more congested traffic the silence is deafening, so best to turn up the Mark Levinson premium audio system.

Of course, my favourite was the NX450h+ F Sport PHEV. It really showcases the new NX in all its glory, however, I would be more than happy with the 350h Limited - okay, I'd be happy with the 'base model' too, no arm twisting required.

The NX450h+ F Sport PHEV.
The NX450h+ F Sport PHEV. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Why you should: It's one of Lexus's most popular models that's now been recreated from the ground up to drive better, be safer and have far greater technology.

Why you shouldn't: The door handles are a bit funky, and there is more of a move towards luxury than raw driving feel.

What else to consider: This is a busy segment so it will come down to personal choice and badge loyalty. BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q3/5, VW Tiguan or Jaguar F-Pace would be a great place to start.

Tarmac Life