As my right foot stomped on the accelerator pedal, the eerie whine of electric motors made way for a resonant mechanical racket – as if a beast was awakened from its slumber. Yanking me back in the seat, the car hurled itself forward like a boulder off a catapult. Now there wasn’t an M, RS, or AMG slapped on the badging, but a small-case ‘h’ denoting that it was a hybrid. That’s the charm of the Lexus NX300h. Although it is an entry-level compact SUV from the Japanese carmaker, nothing about the NX is entry-level.
After driving it almost three years back, we got a chance to spend a few days with it recently. So, let’s take a look at the five things that we think should make you consider buying the NX300h and two things that can make you deter.
1. Conspicuous and Radical Styling
If you are a person who prefers remaining under the radar, you are better off buying any other German luxury SUV. Because the NX announces its arrival and grabs attention like a pin-up model walking into a ball. You’d turn heads wherever you go owing to its broad-chested ‘Spindle’ grille leading the way. Flanking that large grille are sleek yet edgy headlamps. Even the slit-LED day-time-running light looks mean. Move to the side and the edgy-ness continues with its sharp creases and bulges. As the cliché goes – it looks fast even when standing still. If you don’t like the front, you’d surely love the rear with its high-placed sleek-LED taillamps with blacked-out elements.
2. Hybrid Powertrain
The NX has two electric motors working in conjunction with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. The 152bhp at 5,700rpm and a max torque of 210Nm between 4,200-4,400rpm from the engine is supplemented by 50kW from the two motors bringing the total to 195bhp. The engine sends power to the front wheels channeled by an e-CVT while there’s a motor on each axle. It’s a complex mechanism but Lexus – thanks to Toyota’s vast expertise with hybrids – has made it nearly indistinguishable to the driver. We loved the fancy display on the screen telling you the working of this complicated powertrain, which is absolutely fascinating to look at.
What’s the benefit of this complex hybrid, you may ask? Lexus claims that the NX300h has an ARAI fuel efficiency of 18kmpl. We tried putting this figure to test and found that in the city-run the NX returned 12.8kmpl, while the highway fuel efficiency was around 15.7kmpl. That rounds up to around 14.28kmpl, which isn’t bad for a luxury SUV.
At slow speeds, say up to 20-30kmph under light throttle input, the NX hybrid solely runs on the battery feeding the electric motors. And under braking, the regeneration feeds charge to the batteries without any intrusion. Go slightly faster and the engine kicks-in unannounced. At this point, the petrol engine will not only power the wheels but will also feed charge to the batteries. Meanwhile, egg it some more, and the engine and electric motors start working in conjunction, to power all four wheels for an exciting acceleration. To give you a perspective about its quickness, the NX goes from zero to 100kmph in 10.94 seconds, as measured by our VBox. The combined boost from the motors and engine also adds to the roll-on acceleration dramatically. When measured, the NX hurtled from 20kmph to 80kmph in 5.73 seconds while the time for 40-100kmph dash was achieved in 8.15 seconds.
There are three drive modes to choose from – Eco, Sports, and Sports+. Although there wasn’t much noticeable difference between the Sports and Sports+, things in the Eco mode are dialled down to extract the best fuel efficiency. A switch to Sports mode instantly adds slight zing to the drivability. The throttle response is sharpened and the steering weighs up. It also stiffens the chassis by electronically controlled damping.
Meanwhile, the electronic-CVT, although seamless, does have a noticeable rubber-band effect on the move. But under normal driving conditions, it shouldn’t be a bother. What would be a bother for some is the low-speed ride, where all the irregularities and bumps are felt on the inside. It doesn’t reach a point of being uncomfortable to the passengers though. Go faster and the ride does get considerably better. With batteries and motors reducing the centre of gravity on the NX, there’s not much body roll. But you shouldn’t plan on heading out for chasing corners in the NX. For its steering is good for quick direction changes but lacks that connected feel. Also, it’s quite heavy for city usage.
4. Feature Loaded cabin
One of the reasons you should consider buying the Lexus is the long list of features it has on offer, many of which are still unheard of in its segment rivals. What we have here is the Luxury line which comes equipped with eight airbags, heads up display, massive panoramic glass roof, wireless charger, electrically adjustable front row seats with heating and cooling functions, dual-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera, auto headlamps, heated steering wheel, electronically-folding rear seats, and an electric tailgate.
What’s more, you get a 10.3-inch infotainment system which isn’t touchscreen but you get a touch-pad to navigate with the help of a cursor. It has a relatively clean interface and gives out a host of information. Yet it needs to be pointed out that the touch-pad takes some time to get used to. Add to it the 12-speaker Mark Levinson system with 5.1/7.1-channel surround sound and the audiophiles should be happy. An analogue dial in the middle of the dash is a neat touch as well.
5. Ergonomics, Space and Practicality
With electric adjustment for steering and memory function for front row seats, finding an ideal position is easy. There’s good visibility all around and everything is at an arm’s reach. While there are many buttons on the cascading centre console, those few ones hidden behind the steering wheel are odd and difficult to reach. The rest of the cabin is high on practicality and comfort. There’re soft-touch materials everywhere and ample space to store your knick-knacks. Attention has also been paid to provide a soft cushion behind the touchpad to rest your palm.
There’s a good amount of headroom and shoulder room up front and the same can be said for the second row. But since the floor is set higher than usual, there’s a lack of under-thigh cushioning and taller passengers might not find it comfortable on longer hauls. And there’re no USB points for rear passengers. To make up for it, the glass roof feels a novelty while there’s a cooling function for the seats too. Lastly, the boot space of 475-litres is sufficiently large. But it’s been compromised a bit to fit a battery pack below the boot. So, you end up lifting your luggage more than usual to get it inside the boot.
1. Passé interior
When it was launched globally in 2015, the NX was ahead of its time. Now after being around for more than half a decade, the cabin has started to look dated. The best example of this is the MID screen on the driver’s display which is the same screen used in the Innova Crysta these days.
There’s still an old-school CD player present in the centre console. And it should have used a digital instrument cluster by now. Essentially, what the cabin lacks is the opulent finesse you’d associate with Lexus.
2. No powertrain choice
Lexus aims to stand out from its competition by offering a hybrid powertrain that not many manufacturers are ready to introduce in India. So, the NX is available with a single powertrain choice and there’s no hope of getting any other engine or gearbox option either. This poses a problem for those who want a diesel or a manual in their NX.
And even though it has a four-wheel-drive of a sort, there’s a limited amount of off-roading that you can do. The rear-wheel powered by electric motors does jump in to shove you out of a tricky condition, but a similarly priced Evoque would run circles around it in off-roading.
Our test vehicle was reading close to 40,000km on the odometer, but there was no sign of rattles on the inside. Everything felt as solid as it’d have been when it rolled off the factory floor. Truly, the interior of our Lexus had stood the test of time.
Priced at Rs 59.63 lakh (ex-showroom), the NX300h is on par with its rivals that include the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace, and the BMW X3/X4. What makes the Lexus stand out from the lot is its styling, hybrid powertrain, and a cabin that was ahead of its time. Although it would require a revamp on the inside, the exterior design can carry on for a few more years. In the end, the NX300h is a well-thought-of, well-engineered luxury SUV that won’t give you any reason to complain. Oh, and you should also buy the NX for its exclusivity.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi