Lexus's star SUV lacks some premium shine
SITTING in a European sandwich may sound appealing - especially if you're on a Scandinavian hot tub tour.
But for Lexus, it's surrounded.
The lone Japanese marque in the premium medium-size segment, competition is coming from all directions...and it's getting tougher.
Coming soon is the compact UX, but for now the NX remains the star of Lexus's SUV show. The mid-sizer is the biggest seller across the entire Lexus range.
During recent times there has been more salvos fired - and not just from the traditional German big guns of Audi, Mercedes-Benz or BMW. We've welcomed the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Jaguar's F-Pace and Volvo has delivered arguably the new benchmark in the XC60.
Late last year Lexus upgraded the NX with improved safety and technology, but is it enough to stave off the competition?
Leather trim, elegant cabin design and an expansive 10.3-inch colour screen collectively create an inviting environment.
Typical of Lexus, and unlike its European competitors, much of the gear is standard and there is little need to go in search of optional extras to deliver a car which meets premium expectations. Gear like a power tailgate, digital radio, satnav, 10-speaker sound system, keyless entry with push button start and 18-inch alloys is all complimentary.
Those keen for a sunroof will need to add $2500 to the bottom line, while a smart key access, better Mark Levinson stereo combined and a head-up display are in a pack for $6000.
The latter isn't a must, as the key driver instruments are concise and crisp.
The same can't be said for the keypad operation on the centre console. It's an area where Lexus needs to improve across all its models.
Cumbersome and frustratingly slow at times, simply pairing your phone can be a time-consuming experience while changing radio stations or sources (from AM to FM or a media device) takes your attention away from the road.
One area which is an improvement is the toggle switches which make controlling the aircon fast and simple.
Recent updates bolstered equipment levels, maintaining the original five-star safety rating and adding functionality which includes an autonomous braking system that can avoid or reduce a frontal collision (it can also detect pedestrians), trailer sway control, an ability to steer the car back into its lane if the driver wanders and automatic high beam.
The radar cruise control has three pre-set distances to maintain a safe span from vehicles in front, blind spot monitor as well as rear cross traffic alert which warns of oncoming traffic when reversing from parking spaces.
Speaking with a Lexus salesperson one decade ago, he trumpeted the virtues of Lexus. With the knowledge that his product was rock-solid, he had little concerns customers would be satisfied once leaving the showroom with reliability and longevity.
The NX may be a relative newcomer, but it's more of the same from the marque.
Never pushing the dynamic envelope, the SUV feels dependable.
Missing adaptive variable suspension compared to more expensive F-Sport variants, base Luxury models come with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine while all-wheel drive adds $4500.
Linear acceleration comes with right foot pressure as opposed to any turbo inspired whoosh. Across a testing highway and winding rural journey, the LX never put a foot wrong while simultaneously never excelling with reasonable tyre rumble on coarse bitumen and wallowy suspension.
Official fuel consumption figures from Lexus are 7.7 litres for every 100km, but predominant highway travels returned an average of 8.3 litres per 100km.
Comfort levels are high along with cabin space, bolstered by a large boot easily able to handle a few suitcases.
I've got a luxury SUV with solid equipment levels and being a Lexus the chances of having major mechanical issues are low. Maintenance costs are also lower compared to the Europeans.
Looking premium inside and out it's a solid proposition. Just don't call it a fancy Toyota, that gets us Lexus folk cranky.
VOLVO XC60 T5 MOMENTUM FROM $64,990
Relaxing to drive with high levels of luxury, the XC60 is a beautifully composed offering. Far more expensive than the Lexus, an options can be hefty too.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLC200 FROM $61,990
Reasonable standard equipment and impressive ride that offers a unique blend of compliance and cornering tenacity.
Confident and solid, the NX300 is a dependable buy. Something really special? No. Across the board it's adequate with a spacious cabin but it lacks premium finesse.
AT A GLANCE
Lexus NX300 Luxury
PRICE $54,800 plus on-roads (good for premium)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 4 years/100,000km, no capped servicing (free first service)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo 175kW/350Nm, 6-spd auto, FWD (OK)
SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags, AEB, trailer sway control, lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert (good)
THIRST 5.6/100km combined (more than 7 on test)
SPARE Space saver (expected)
BOOT 500-1545 litres (good)