The Lexus NX SUVs sell like hot cakes –but how fares the 2018 version?
Different strokes for different folks. That’s what you’d want to keep in mind when considering the NX 300 in the Lexus catalogue. Where the entry-level crossover from the Japanese marque sticks is its pocket-friendliness – at $215,000, it’s about a tenth less costly than its luxe competitors. It’s a gateway vehicle, if you will, to the rapidly expanding world of the luxe SUV. As we ﬁnd out after a weekend in the car, it delivers admirably on that premise, though not on much else. Therein lies the duality: The NX 300 is a great contender, for the family or that family member who wants Lexus-build quality with the conveniences of an SUV, but a marriage of top-end performance and exhilaration (which the bigger boys in the stable – the RX, GX and LX – bring) it is not. All that said, the NX line remains one of the best-selling in the category, at least in the US, so the brand is doing something right.
Those familiar with Lexus offerings might recognise the 2018 NX 300 as a subtly reskinned 200t, which was so named for its two-litre turbo, back in 2015. Shedding those digits for a “300”, while retaining the engine, is a sidestep in naming convention that may confuse prospective buyers – it’s the same clanker underneath. To be fair, this is a liberty that other big-name carmakers take fairly often. We got our mitts on an F Sport variant, which doubles down on the facelift agenda.
Chiselled lines sharpen the visage of the already aggressive grille, and extend into the fenders for even more of a hawk-faced scowl. A few more folds and we’ll have a Transformers logo on hand. Lexus has plumped up the wheel arches with a bit of muscle and lifted the lines joining the B- and C- pillars, imparting jaunt where there was none. Chrome trim limns the windows, mimicking the aesthetic of a coupe.
Inside, a two-tone touch makes luxe everything a prospective buyer would want: some of the comﬁest sports seats to grace this segment, aluminium pedals and metallic gear shift and buttons, a steering wheel clad in perforated leather that makes even roundabouts feel important. In the F Sport Premium package, said wheel telescopes towards you and retracts when one starts and stops the engine, so you don’t have to fuss with the knees when clambering aboard or during a hasty exit. It’s a ritual that never gets old or superﬂuous. Watch what you order, if you’re already in the dealership: You may ﬁnd yourself squandering any ﬁnancial savings on an NX 300 purchase with the toys Lexus has to offer.
GHOSTS OF LEXUS’ PAST
Inescapable, though, are the artefacts left when a car receives a facelift and not an overhaul. There has been progress. The Remote Touch Interface (RTI), previously controlled by an impossible mahjong-tile-andjoystick hybrid, now works via a touchpad. This makes navigating menus somewhat manageable on the roads (you would have to pull over previously – it was that unintuitive). Nevertheless, we still estimate weeks of practice before an owner learns not to careen over the intended buttons with the digital cursor. The software is otherwise orderly and a joy to use. Thankfully, you’ll be able to supplement the touch input with passable voice controls – as long as you do not push the loud engine too hard.
Right out of the early 2010s, too, is the six-speed automatic transmission that may do it for those who aren’t spoiled by the smoother seven- to eight-speeds of most contemporary cars. Put it in Sport Mode and the torque does help bridge awkward gaps between 02 ratios. Barring some understeer issues, the car handles comfortably, thanks to a wealth of dampers and suspension tweaks – making it ideal for trips in city and highway settings.
The verdict? The NX 300 is not for those with a bent for high-octane spurts, but an attractive package for cocooning loved ones in the relative safety, comfort and style of a Lexus ride. If you are cynical about spending double the sum in the relatively new marketplace of luxury SUVs, here’s a chance to dip the toes in, without singeing the wallet.
TEXT LIAO XIANGJUN
01 HONING IN
Keener tail lights are framed by an unbroken ridge running the length of the car.
02 SURFACE BEAUTY
The interior receives top billing for one of the most pocket friendly options in the market.
03 AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Lexus expects you’ll take to the improved RTI – there’s even a padded rest for the wrist.
THE NUMBERS ENGINE:
2-litre 4-cylinder turbo (AWD optional)
238bhp at 4,8005,600rpm
500Nm from 1,370 to 4,500rpm