Road trip. Two words that can be music to the ears of many a motorist or a threat of an impending nightmare for others. No matter which column you fall into, at some stage everyone needs to give it a crack.
Despite the convenience offered by air travel, some journeys are still best undertaken by road. This trip was meant to test the long distance credentials of the new Lexus LX480d, however, scheduling issues forced a rethink.
Instead of the diesel-powered behemoth, we switched to the 2018 Lexus NX300h. The NX range was refreshed at the end of last year and this was a good opportunity to get reacquainted with one of Lexus’ best-selling models.
The NX300h is a rather unique model, the hybrid drivetrain differentiates the car from the hordes of premium SUVs.
Unique is the descriptor that should accompany many Lexus models. The brand is doing plenty to distinguish itself and forge a new path forward.
At the premium end of the market, things are becoming increasingly crowded, however, Lexus has toiled away for long enough to now be a perfectly legitimate alternative to the usual suspects.
On the back of renewed desirability, build quality and a reputation for delivering a pleasurable ownership experience Lexus is in form, especially so when you look at the success of their SUV portfolio. Lexus has seen its range bolstered by the addition of the new LX and the seven-seat RX L, there’s also the upcoming UX which company heavies say will allow Lexus to achieve 10,000 local sales annually.
With the market now enamoured with SUVs, Lexus has the showroom bait to see its numbers climb.
Our NX300h tester is the 2WD F Sport variant, it can reside in your garage for $62,300 plus on-roads. In typical Lexus fashion the NX is well equipped, standard kit includes heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory, adaptive suspension, 360-degree camera system and automatic everything.
Pleasingly, for the 2018 model year, every NX gets the Lexus Safety System+. As a result, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, steering assist, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are all standard.
Now the itinerary was simple enough, Port Melbourne to Bondi and back. Sounds simple enough.
It doesn’t take long to feel right at home behind the wheel, the seats are incredibly comfortable and light years ahead of anything Qantas can provide on a domestic flight.
While it’s a very pleasant cabin that utilises quality materials, it’s getting to the point where a new look is necessary. The stepped, central dash design could be refreshed. The infotainment screen was upgraded from a 7- to a 10.3-inch screen, however, it’s not a touchscreen – something more and more buyers would expect.
Lexus consistently delivers premium interiors (in some cases, they are mind-blowing) and these criticisms are only minor in the grand scheme of things. One thing we would like to see is an updated instrument cluster. Surely Lexus can offer the option of a digital display.
After finally being freed from Melbourne’s congested roads, the cruise up the Hume was rather subdued. The interior of the NX is well insulated from wind and tyre noise which allowed us to enjoy a series of podcasts. The Mark Levinson audio system delivered a brilliant sound, it’s far better than some of the BOSE systems we have sampled.
Lexus is yet to jump on the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bandwagon. We wonder how much longer they can hold out.
In the bush, the NX was able to attract an onlooker or two. At Gundagai, the Lexus was easily the most interesting car of the many clambering for a park near the Dog on the Tuckerbox.
The NX won't trouble stablemates like the LC coupe when it comes to being a selfie magnet, however, the exterior is still a thoroughly modern design that is likely to age well.
Our tester uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric motor to develop 147kW and 210Nm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT automatic. The system works as intended and if you like things smooth you can’t go wrong.
While the NX doesn’t pretend to be a performance SUV, the hybrid powertrain offers more than enough go. The transmission has six stepped ratios to make it feel more like a conventional automatic. At the top end, CVT technology has come a long way, most drivers are unlikely to notice what type of gearbox is in use.
There is an obvious focus on providing a comfortable and quiet ride. It’s what used to be described as a luxury driving experience.
The F Sport model gets front and rear performance dampers along with adaptive variable suspension with a specific tune. There’s also a drive mode selector with a sport setting.
Lexus engineers have also stiffened up the stabiliser-bar by 22 per cent in an effort to improve body control.
All of these measures don’t add up to an overly sporty ride, but does it really need to? There seems to be a compulsion in the media to rule a line through any model that doesn’t offer a sporty drive.
In our experience, even those who stump up the cash to buy something like a Porsche Macan rarely, if ever, utilise the sports side of the package. It’s similar to having all-wheel drive, understandably, owners are reluctant to explore in their expensive SUV. The majority of these cars live in urban areas where speed, handling and off-road prowess are redundant.
If you are wanting an SUV to burn rubber and remain stoic during high-speed cornering, a 2WD NX isn’t going to scratch the itch.
On the road, adhering strictly to speed limits, the NX is a lovely car to get around in. The high level of refinement is appreciated over a long stint on the highway.
Heading into Sydney traffic, the drivetrain is barely audible below 50km/h. After pulling up in the car park at Bondi Beach, we disembarked feeling fresh and ready to inhale the unmistakable sea air.
It needs to be said, size wise the NX is the sweet spot for negotiating city traffic, it has that Goldilocks thing going for it. Easy to manoeuvre and easy to park are essential characteristics for negotiating the tight spaces in any major city.
Getting around town in a car might take longer than opting for public transport, however, the comfort factor can’t be understated. The new Metro in both Sydney and Melbourne will need to be something special for us to leave the car at home.
The drive home only served to reinforce how comfortable the NX is over long distances. With perfectly positioned stops in Goulburn and Albury before the run into Lexus HQ, the return leg was some of the easiest miles we’ve ever done.
Melbourne to Sydney is one of the busiest air routes in the world, the time-saving aspect of plane travel is a big factor but is the overall experience as convenient as it sounds?
Flying often sounds more convenient than what it actually is. If it’s a family trip, having a car at the destination is worth the extra travel time.
Then there’s the cost. A family of four flying return from Melbourne to Sydney during school holiday periods is far more expensive than the cost of fuel. This trip covered 1863 kilometres and returned a combined consumption figure of 7.2L/100km. Do the sums, it makes sense.
Interestingly, despite the number of highway miles, we couldn’t get anywhere near the claimed figure of 5.6L/100km. Subconsciously, there is an expectation a hybrid will achieve some astonishingly low level of fuel consumption, in this instance, the hybrid proved no better than any other SUV of this size.
We are still waiting for Lexus to embrace the new world and offer a capped-price service program. Customers don’t seem to mind, Lexus regularly achieves high satisfaction ratings from owners. Lexus does trump its main rivals by offering a four year warranty period.
In front-wheel drive guise, the NX300h is a luxury SUV. What it lacks in sportiness, it makes up for in ride comfort. This is what a luxury car is meant to be – comfortable and refined. Not every car needs to tick every box. The NX provides that cosseting ride that elevates the dreary morning commute.
The hybrid tech gives the Lexus a point of difference. Every brand seems to be banging on about their respective green credentials and the flock of electrified models on the cards, but competition for a like for like comparison is nonexistent. Volvo has a hybrid option in the XC60 range, however, the price is an astronomical $92,990 plus on-roads – tell ‘em they’re dreamin’.
If you plan to spend long spells on the road and comfort is at the forefront of consideration, the NX is worth a look. The range opens at $54,800 (plus on-roads) which puts it within striking distance of buyers at the top end of the mainstream offerings.
After this drive, the motor car proved it can still surprise owners if given the chance. The next time a trip between Australia’s two largest cities is required, run the numbers on the car before the airlines get your credit card digits.
2018 Lexus NX300h F Sport 2WD Specifications
Price from $63,300 plus on-road costs Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid Power 114kW @ 5700rpm Torque 210Nm @ 4400rpm Transmission CVT automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.6L/100km Tank Capacity 56L Performance 0-100km/h 7.3 seconds Length 4640mm Width 1845mm Height 1645mm Wheelbase 2660mm Ground Clearance 170mm Kerb Weight 1895kg Turning Circle 11.4m Service Intervals 12-months/15,000km Warranty four year/100,000km
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