Lexus NX 300h 2014The Lexus NX is a crisp, efficient crossover that could force the smash hit Range Rover Evoque to raise an eyebrow

Sean Carson | September 2014

Lexus was something of an engineering pioneer when it first introduced the hybrid RX large off-roader back in 2005 – the SUV swot that came up with the answer to the petrol-electric emissions equation.

However, since then Lexus slipped behind the curve a little. Upmarket off-roaders have got smaller and morphed into crossovers, forming a new and very lucrative sector of the market place. Until now cars like the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5 have dominated, but the Lexus NX is here to change that – and it has the ability to do so.

The Japanese manufacturer has resolutely stuck to its guns with hybrid power, equipping the NX 300h tested here with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor to deliver a total of 195hp and electronic four-wheel drive.

Shunning diesel-powered propulsion, there will, however, be an NX 200t petrol turbo variant arriving next year. For now, the NX 300h majors on efficiency and refinement, while further developing Lexus’ signature design cues with crisp creases and that gigantic waterfall grille. In the metal it looks striking. But is it enough to bat off the challenge from the Evoque et al?

What’s the Lexus NX 300h like to drive?

In a word, good. That might sound like we’re damning with faint praise, but we’re not. It’s not particularly quick, hitting 62mph 9.2 seconds after it leaves the line and 112mph flat out, but its performance is more than adequate.

But there’s a but. When you do need to make a quick getaway, the CVT Constantly Variable Transmission sends the engine revs screaming, even if Lexus’ engineers have worked hard to curtail this sometimes tiresome trait – you can counteract this by turning up the volume on the NX’s optional Active Sound Control synthesiser, although we’re not totally convinced with the results.

Instead, it’s much nicer to gently punt around, trying to extract the most from the battery pack and electric motors to achieve the NX 300h’s official efficiency numbers of 54.3mpg combined with 121g/km CO2 (this improves to 56.5mpg with 116g/km if you opt for the front-wheel drive only model).

It’s here where the NX’s soothing level of refinement comes into its own. Cruising along the motorway at, er, motorway speeds, there’s barely any din from around the wing mirrors or door seals, and only an attenuated roar from the 18-inch wheels on our F-Sport spec test car. It’s ahead of the competition here.

The NX loses a few marks when it comes to driving, however. The steering is nice – weighty and reassuringly solid, giving a stable feel – but the ride has a faintly brittle edge to it over bad surfaces.

Country roads in the UK might feel a bit bumpier, but stick to towns and well surfaced main roads and the lacquer binding the smooth driving experience together will very much remain in tact.

How much tech does the Lexus NX 300h boast?

The press pack for Lexus’ new mid-sized crossover is comprehensive – that’s because there is so much equipment on offer.

As standard the NX is well equipped – starting from £29,495 for the entry-level S trim, you get adaptive cruise control with pre-crash safety, as well as dual-zone climate control, a DAB radio, reversing camera, hill start assist, eight airbags, USB connectivity and LED headlights.

Above that sit the SE and Luxury models – the latter costs £34,495 and features heated, electric leather seats, parking sensors, keyless entry and automatic wipers on top of the S model. It’s predicted to be the UK’s bestseller.

Then there’s the £36,995 F Sport variant, which gets full LED headlights, special F Sport seats and electrically adjustable suspension dampers (these add another mode to the standard variable items), an electric boot, and wireless charging for your phone.

If that wasn’t enough tech, there’s the top of the range Premier model at £42,995, with its Mark Levinson sound system, sat nav, and a heated steering wheel – as well as loads of safety kit, such as Lexus’ 360-degree monitor, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot assist and head-up display.

All this contributes towards a calm, relaxing cabin. The new touchpad interface for the multimedia system is much better than in the Lexus’ larger RX off-roader, for example, and the interior is comfortable and practical (you can even get electrically folding rear seats).

Lexus’ technology charge extends to the chassis, with a modular design for the battery pack to ensure boot space stays competitive at 475 litres.

Improved body rigidity, along with new insulating engine mounts and adaptive suspension, deliver ride quality and refinement that’s more than a match for the NX 300h’s German rivals, as well as the Range Rover Evoque.

MR verdict: 2014 Lexus NX 300h

This is the best Lexus hybrid yet – the firm has really nailed the integration of the powertrain. And although it’s not-so-fashionably late to bring its first mid-size crossover to market, the Japanese manufacturer’s initial attempt is a convincing one.

The styling is recognisably Lexus and is helping carve out a company vernacular when it comes to vehicle design. Above all, it’s a well proportioned, posh but rugged looking off-roader. That its more efficient and better equipped than all of its rivals should be a big enough draw to tempt buyers out of Audi, BMW and Range Rover dealerships.

Rivals: Lexus NX 300h

  1. Audi Q5
  2. BMW X3
  3. Range Rover Evoque
  4. Volvo XC60

In this class, all the NX 300h’s rivals are either firmly into middle age or approaching retirement. The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 offer efficient diesel engines and a typically Teutonic approach to a mid-sized 4×4 – attractive enough, but when style is increasingly important in this sector, they’re starting to look a little old hat. The same goes for the Volvo XC60, with its Swedish brand of SUV features. The Evoque is the NX’s real competitor then, which means it’ll come down to buyer choice on looks and the hybrid vs diesel decision.

Specification: Lexus NX 300h

Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, permanent magnet, synchronous electric motor

Gearbox: CVT automatic

Price: £29,495 – £42,995

Power: 195hp (total combined output)

Torque: 199lb ft (total combined output)

0-62mph: 9.2 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

MPG: 56.5 combined

CO2: 116g/km