Spirited performance from Lexus sport utility vehicle

LEXUS NX300: Sophisticated sport utility vehicle.

I had the good fortune recently to take part in Lexus’ Summer of Performance experience at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.

Put simply, it is an event where most of the Lexus range is available for racetrack exercises. It served to prove that beneath the luxury attributes which makes the marque so desirable lies a performance base. Of course, some models have higher performance than others but the point I’m making is that there are a wealth of models that are vastly capable in a track environment.

It was also a chance to be reacquainted with my favourite from the Lexus stable, the IS series, in particular the IS200t, a compact four-door sports sedan. Its engine is by far my favourite turbocharged four-cylinder unit in today’s market.

This evaluation doesn’t surround the IS200t, but the NX300, a mid-size sport utility vehicle which shares the same engine, and such is the unflustered way the 2-litre unit operates in a larger vehicle, simply amazes me.

The entire NX range has had a bit of facelift and there has been some badge engineering so that the nomenclature of each model sits in line with other luxury brands.

Major features in the facelift include new grille, bumpers and lights. There is also more kit in the car, especially for safety, and there’s a new four-wheel-drive hybrid model.

Elsewhere the two and four-wheel-drive NX retains all of the key features which make it an SUV out of the ordinary. Its luxury interior reeks of sophistication, and as an occupant you just feel so comfortable. The seats are exquisite and the ergonomics are amazing, everything is at easy reach, it is intuitive and user-friendly.

This is why I like Lexus product so much, the ambience and functionality is first class, there’s no corner cutting, everything is manufactured to a high standard.

Starting at $82,400, the NX is not a cheap SUV option. The 300 Limited with four-wheel-drive, as tested, sits at $94,800, and bear in mind, too, that the hybrid options start from $86,900.

However, as I’ve mentioned, the turbocharged-four is the engine for me. It is rated by Lexus at 175kW (4800rpm to 5600rpm) and 350Nm all of the way from just 1650rpm to 4000rpm. These figures provide the flexibility which makes the engine such a standout, they are strong but it is the low maximum peak points that are the most interesting. The engine doesn’t need high revs to produce its best power delivery.

Of course, there are also three different drive modes that the driver can activate through a central console dial, each is self-explanatory – sport, normal or economy, the latter responsible for a 7.9-litre per 100km (36mpg) combined cycle fuel usage rating. My average returned very similar consumption figures, sitting around 8.9l/100km (32mpg).

Drive is through a traditional six-speed automatic transmission, the ratios invite spirited motoring.

The NX in this form is a brisk mover and once again I relate to the engine, it is a strong boosting unit with available power everywhere in the rev band. It will initiate a 7.1sec, standstill to 100km/h acceleration time, while a quick overtake can be made in around 4.9sec, which gives peace of mind.

I must reinforce that mid-range power request is outstanding, it is swift and confident, not to mention that the NX in this form is refined, the engine does its job smoothly and is well hushed.

The NX300 cruises quietly, it covers ground quickly and quietly, it is the quintessential SUV in terms of how it travels, but it has hidden depth in terms of handling.

Even though it is tall at over 1.6m, there is little gravitational force over the suspension, the spring and damper rates are biased towards comfort, but somehow its balance in a corner seems unaffected, the suspension deals to road ripples without an in-cabin effect.

The tyres are Yokohama compound and measure 225/60 x 18in. That translates to a lot of rubber on the road and consequent feedback at the steering wheel. The way Lexus does its steering is a constant source of amazement, there is so much information to be gleaned through the steering wheel, yet it isn’t heavy, the weighting is perfect.

Four-wheel-drive is constant through a power proportioning system. The NX300 isn’t a cross-country charger, but with 190mm of ground clearance it has a system that will get you into that high-country lake for a summer camp, or the ski-field access road mid-winter.

I particularly like the direction Lexus, as a company, is travelling in at the moment. There are a couple of models that are on my Lotto-win wish list, and I’d even be tempted by an NX300 such is the impression it has left on me, of course, that is largely attributed to its engine and its quality of build.

Price – Lexus NX300 Limited, $94,800

Dimensions – Length, 4640mm; width, 2130mm; height, 1645mm

Configuration –  Four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 175kW, 350Nm, six-speed automatic.

Performance –
0-100km/h, 7.1sec

Fuel usage – 7.9l/100km