What Car? says...
Believe it or not, the latest Lexus NX is the first model in the Japanese car maker’s history to be available as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
It’s surprising not only because the premium brands Lexus competes against have sold PHEVs for years, but also because the company was a trailblazer for ‘self-charging’ hybrid technology in the mid-Noughties. If you're not clear on the difference between the two types of hybrid, we can explain.
Self-charging hybrid cars have small batteries that are charged up using energy that would otherwise be wasted (i.e. when slowing down) so it can be used to drive an electric motor to assist the petrol engine, cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The electric bits can’t, on their own, drive the car along for more than a few hundred yards.
A PHEV has a much bigger battery and can effectively function as an electric car for a limited time. The catch is that, as the name suggests, you need to plug it in to charge up – otherwise it turns into a petrol car lugging around a heavy battery and electric motor.
With the latest NX, Lexus has decided to give buyers of this family SUV a choice between both systems, so you can have a PHEV or a regular hybrid.
The regular hybrid is called the 350h and should appeal to those who simply can’t charge their car and/or want a cheaper entry point into the NX range. The PHEV version – the 450h – has an official electric-only range of more than 40 miles, which puts it in a lower company car tax bracket than the equivalent Audi Q5 and BMW X3 (the PHEV Mercedes GLC is in an even lower bracket).
While numbers are undoubtedly very important, the Lexus NX needs to be a good car in other respects too. Among other things, it needs to offer good performance, and be comfortable, refined, practical and well built – and over the next few pages of this review we’ll tell you how good it really is, rating it in all the important areas.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
When the Lexus NX 350h’s electric motor and 2.5-litre petrol engine work in unison, acceleration isn’t too shabby. In four-wheel-drive form, the official 0-62mph time is just 7.7sec, which is significantly quicker than a petrol BMW X3 xDrive20i. Just be aware that if you opt for the entry-level front-wheel-drive version, not only does that time increase to 8.7sec, but the engine generally needs working harder to get up to speed.
The NX 450h plug-in hybrid (PHEV) pairs the same 2.5-litre petrol engine with a more powerful electric motor for a combined power output of 305bhp. That’s a pretty punchy combination – enough for a 0-60mph time of 5.9sec in our tests, beating the Mercedes GLC 300e by half a second.
When its battery is charged up, the 450h operates just like a fully electric car. That means smooth, quiet and fairly nippy acceleration up to motorway speeds and beyond. Officially, it can do up to 45 electric-only miles (it varies slightly depending on trim level), which is more than the Q5 50 TFSIe and X3 xDrive30e. You won’t get that far in real-world driving, but 30-35 miles should be achievable, which is similar to what you'll see from a Volvo XC60 T6 Recharge, but much less than the 57 miles we achieved in a GLC 300e.
Suspension and ride comfort
Entry-level versions of the NX have 18in wheels, and they give you the most forgiving ride both around town and at higher speeds.
The larger 20in wheels that are standard on F-Sport and Takumi models still ride comfortably at low speeds, and even over potholes they don’t cause the car to lose composure and send nasty jolts through your backside. They're less impressive at motorway speeds, though – the NX jostles you around, almost as though you're sitting on a washing machine on a slow spin cycle. The experience is gentle and stops short of being irritating, but the Audi Q5 TFSIe is more settled at faster speeds.
The F-Sport gets adaptive sports suspension to tighten up the handling. Even with this firmer set-up, the NX is forgiving over ripples, expansion joints and potholes, being no worse than the GLC 300e.
The NX's cornering abilities are more than good enough. This isn’t a fun and sporty family SUV but it does grip the road well and there's not much body lean through corners. Its steering is precise and the weighting is natural and consistent enough to give you confidence on a winding road.
The heavier 450h PHEV feels a little less agile than the 350h, but the adaptive suspension on F-Sport models allows you to improve body control by firming it up at the touch of a button. Overall, the NX is closer to the XC60, feeling composed and more nimble than the GLC 300e, but not as sharp as the X3.
Noise and vibration
When the 450h’s battery is charged up, it operates just like a fully electric car. That means smooth and fairly nippy acceleration up to motorway speeds and beyond with just a hint of electric motor whine. If the battery runs flat (on both the 350h and 450h), the 2.5-litre petrol engine fires into life. You can hear it happening and you’ll notice a small amount of vibration through the seat, mainly because of the contrast with full electric mode.
When you put your foot down harder, it becomes a bit raucous due to the CVT automatic gearbox – the engine sounds rather coarse and channels vibrations up through the floor. At a cruise, the engine fades into the background. There’s a hint of wind noise by the door mirrors on the motorway, while road noise could be quieter, even on the smaller tyres of the entry-level model. The Q5, the GLC 300e and the XC60 do a better job of filtering this out.
By hybrid car standards, the brakes are fairly predictable. There's some grabbiness, but you'll find the same on many hybrid rivals and quite a few fully electric cars.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The front seats in the Lexus NX are some of the best you’ll find in any large SUV. They’re heavily bolstered and have a wide range of adjustments. On the 350h they’re electrically adjustable from Premium Plus Pack and up, while all 450h models get electric adjustment for the seat and steering wheel as standard.
The dashboard has been designed to wrap around the driver and puts everything in your eye line. It works well, with the raised centre console bringing many of the major controls to hand height – for example, you don’t need to use the touchscreen to adjust the interior temperature because Lexus has fitted some good old-fashioned dials. The vertical touchscreen doesn’t quite fall to hand as easily as the angled screen in the Mercedes GLC though.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The NX isn't quite as easy to see out of as the Q5 because its wide windscreen pillars tend to get in the way more at junctions and roundabouts. The low dashboard gives a clear view ahead though.
However, you shouldn’t have any trouble parking because all models come with front and rear parking sensors.
The 450h also gets a 360-degree camera and LED headlights with self-dipping technology as standard. To get them on the 350h you need to opt for the Premium Plus Pack.
Sat nav and infotainment
We’ve given Lexus some flack in the past for its overly complicated infotainment systems. Thankfully, the NX has a much more intuitive system that won’t leave you tearing your hair out.
It's a touchscreen – measuring 9.8in on entry-level NX and Premium Pack models and 14in on other trims – so it's more distracting than the rotary controller interface in the X3. The smaller screen is slow to respond and struggles to load menus smoothly, which is frustrating and distracting. The larger 14in screen is far better, with larger icons that are well spaced out, and the screen responds quickly to prods. It’s certainly better than the XC60's system.
All models come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. You also get a four-year subscription to Lexus online services. Takumi versions have a 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo – worth considering if you're a music lover.
The NX doesn't feel quite as solid inside as the Q5 or the XC60, but then few cars do. Lexus gives you some suitably upmarket fixtures and fittings, with a choice of a cream, black, red or tan for the leather bits. They arguably give the car a more special look.
Everything also feels well screwed together, and pretty much everything you touch feels ready to stand the test of time and the rigours of daily family use.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
As the Lexus NX is a big car, you probably wouldn’t expect to struggle to fit in the front. And you won’t, even if you’re really tall, although the optional sunroof (standard on Takumi models) does reduce head room slightly.
Storage space is respectable, with decent-sized door bins, a cubby under the centre armrest and a couple of cupholders between the front seats.
Three adults in the back of the NX will find it a bit of a squeeze – the same is true in most family SUVs – but you can recline the seatbacks for a more laid-back seating position and the central tunnel is reasonably compact. In the BMW X3 xDrive30e a central passenger is left with virtually no foot room.
The NX is not available as a seven-seater (neither are the Q5, X3, GLC or the XC60). If you want to carry more than five people, look at the Land Rover Discovery Sport or the Mercedes GLB. Of course, there are non-premium seven-seat SUVs too, including the excellent Hyundai Santa Fe.
Seat folding and flexibility
You can adjust the rake of the rear seatbacks in the NX, but they don’t slide back and forth on their runners like the seats in the Q5. We love this feature in the Q5 because it allows you to easily prioritise rear passenger space or boot space.
The NX rear seats fold down when you need extra space for luggage, splitting 60/40. Some rivals, including the Q5, the X3, the GLC and the XC60, split in a more flexible 40/20/40 arrangement. Lexus does at least give you a powered tailgate as standard on all trim levels.
The NX 350h and 450h both offer 520 litres of boot space, which is average for the class. That allows it to swallow seven carry-on suitcases with the parcel shelf and rear seats in place – one more than the GLC 300e and matching the Q5 50 TFSIe, the X3 xDrive30e and the XC60 T6 Recharge.
The NX also has underfloor storage for the charging cables and load cover, which you won’t find in most rivals.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Lexus NX 350h hybrid certainly isn’t the cheapest family SUV you can buy, but it undercuts premium rivals such as the Audi Q5 40 TDI, the BMW X3 xDrive20i and the Volvo XC60 by a healthy margin. The same can be said for the 450h plug-in hybrid (PHEV) – in entry-level specification, it's cheaper than the Q5 TFSIe, the X3 xDrive30e, the Mercedes GLC 300e and the XC60 T6 Recharge. Check the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages. (At the time of writing, the NX 350h is not available to order due to high demand.)
The NX is a compelling choice for company car drivers. The 350h produces less CO2 than the Q5 and X3, so you'll have lower company car tax payments. The 450h's low CO2 emissions good electric range means you’ll pay just 8%. That’s a lot more than the 2% an electric car attracts and considerably more than the 5% you’ll pay for the GLC 300e. However, the NX is still a strong choice, costing much less than the 12-14% you'll pay for a Q5 TFSIe or X3 xDrive30e.
If you opt for the PHEV, you could potentially save a lot on fuel too. You probably won't get close to its official 314mpg figure, but if you keep the battery topped up and make mainly short journeys it should be very frugal. When the battery runs down, you can expect up to 35-40mpg with careful driving. The battery can recharge at a rate of up to 6.6kW so a 0-100% charge takes around 2hrs 45min, a lot less time than the plug-in X3 or XC60, which are limited to 3.7kW.
Equipment, options and extras
The NX's specification structure isn’t very straightforward, but whichever model you go for, the standard kit list is impressive. The base spec-model, NX, is only available on the 350h hybrid and comes with 18in wheels, heated faux-leather front seats and the 9.8in infotainment system.
Premium Pack (which is the entry-level trim for the 450h) adds keyless entry, privacy glass and wireless phone-charging, but we recommend ticking the options box for Lexus Link Pro. That introduces built-in sat-nav and a larger touchscreen system. That combination is our pick of the range, but we wouldn't deter you from stepping up to F-Sport if you want adaptive LED headlights, ventilated front seats, a head-up display and 20in wheels.
We don't recommend the range-topping Takumi trim, though. It comes with loads of luxuries, including some more upmarket interior finishes and a digital rear-view mirror, but it pushes the price too close to that of altogether larger PHEV SUVs, including the Volvo XC90 (which is a seven-seater).
That survey didn’t include this latest-generation NX, but there’s no reason to expect a dip in form. The brand has never finished below second in the car makers table.
Safety and security
The NX was awarded five stars out of five for safety by Euro NCAP – and it certainly gets lots of kit to help you avoid an accident.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and traffic-sign recognition are standard across the range, with increasingly more safety aids, including blind-spot monitoring, fitted to F-Sport and Takumi versions.
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It's not available as an electric car but it is available in hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) forms. The regular hybrid, the NX 350h, gets an electric motor and 2.5-litre petrol engine, and can travel short distances using just the motor. The PHEV NX 450h can officially travel up to 45 miles on electricity alone.
We think most buyers will be served best by the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version, the NX 450h. Team that with Premium Pack trim (plus the optional Lexus Link Pro infotainment system), and you’ll have all the equipment you could want.
The main difference is how much kit you’re getting for your money. F Sport adds a slightly sportier look with plenty of luxury. Range-topping Takumi models come with even more kit, including more upmarket interior finishes and a digital rear-view mirror, but also costs substantially more.
|RRP price range||£44,430 - £65,295|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||256.8 - 49.5|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£769 / £3,977|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,537 / £7,953|