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Does the Lexus NX fit into the sweet spot of a perfectly sized crossover SUV?

The NX350h marks Lexus’s traditional style midsize-SUV. But does it have the necessary juice to be a better car compared to its competitors? I have intensively tested the car within two weeks to find the question’s answer and a clear overview.

First impressions

Lexus describes the NX as exuding a uniquely radical and sophisticated car idiom, designed for people who want to stand out from the crowd in the city. Beside the fact that SUVs and Crossovers do not make any sense in cities, Lexus completely hits the spot with this statement. The NX is an outstandingly interesting, contemporary designed and great proportioned car to look at. It seems that the rear end light bar appears in almost any brand’s line-up. A trendy movement which leads to a growing monotony. A bit questionable that car manufacturers are less encouraged to try their own new things. At least they spiced up the rear light bar and added Lexus’s signature L-formed LED lights.

What it’s all about

The shown model is a Lexus NX 350h AWD Excellence, painted in the optional “Khaki green” (1’600.- CHF) over the hazelnut leather and black wood interior (400.- CHF).

Compared to a PHEV, the NX350h's much smaller, lithium-ion battery pack has only enough energy to power the SUV short distances and lower speeds on electricity alone, whereas its plug-in peers are all capable of traveling more than 40-50km on battery power only. The old-school NX350h still delivers impressive fuel economy in this competition, though. Speaking of approximately 6.5l/100km (much better compared to the recently tested Alfa Romeo Tonale)! And it’s more basic powertrain also keeps costs down, allowing the CHF 76,900 gasoline-electric Lexus to take the title of a valuable hybrid in its segment, especially with the cheaper business package.

Driving experience

Getting from A to B is defined through a luxurious driving experience as comfortable as possible. The Lexus NX is a very chilled cruiser with a soft suspension.

The all-wheel-drive NX350h packs an additional 45 horses compared to its predecessor, extracting a total of 239 horsepower from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and trio of electric motors. (There are two up front - one of which connects to a planetary gearset to mete out the combustion engine's power in a manner that mimics a belt-driven continuously variable automatic transmission - and one mounted at the rear axle.) The continuously variable transmission (CVT) causes the car to emit an uncomfortably monotonous engine noise during harder acceleration, which in my opinion doesn't quite do justice to a luxuriously leaning vehicle.

A tiny downside is the flat windshield and side mirror placement which blocks the driver’s view in road crossings. The steering feels, let’s say spongey, and isn’t engaging enough to hunt down any corners. Speaking of comfort and steering characteristics: The NX’s software and cruise control doesn’t want you to allow high g-forces in corners and “throws the anchor” before entering corners, lowers the speed while driving light curves on the motorway or recognizes things they not even exist. Annoying.

But the whole concept bases on a chilled way to travel long distances as comfortable as possible. And this works rather well to be honest.

To the interior

The last-generation model’s biggest downfall was its terrible infotainment interface, which was a huge limping leg for me. The only way to interact with the system was via a clicky trackpad located near the gear selector that operated sort of like the ones you’d find on an older laptop. Frustrating to use while parked and impossible to operate while driving, the touchpad was finicky, erratic, and distracting enough if you weren’t very used to the interface.

But praise be the new NX scraps that system entirely, replacing it with a large and excellent touchscreen. Not only are the graphics crisp and modern, but the touchscreen is quick to respond, and the menus are laid out in a logical manner. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available and use up almost the whole screen.

The touchscreen’s bottom quarter is always reserved for the climate controls, which are clear and easy to use but should have rather be found as physical knobs (like the temperature regulation as rotating knobs) or buttons below the screen. It would have made the use of the additional climate control settings and functions a lot more intuitive.

The touchscreen buttons are large enough that a quick glance is all you need to hit the right one, and the climate control knobs placed on the surface of the screen with the temperature reading glowing inside is a fancy look that passengers seemed to be impressed by.

The back seats provide enough leg space for long distance driving. Speaking of long drives: The Lexus’s seats are very comfortable and are equipped with heating and cooling functions. Additionally, the NX has a wireless charging pad to charge up your phone.

With the 60/40-split rear seats folding flat I just hoped for an additional hatch to put through your skies if you don’t want to use a roof box. All in all the usability could have been a bit more thought out in the interior.

Now what to buy

If you want a practical family SUV with head-turning looks and efficient hybrid engines, the Lexus NX should definitely be on your shortlist and worth to have a proper look at it. It does the job at least as good as any of the german contenders. Just in a different and refreshing style.

The warranty until 10 years or 185’000km is a huge number compared to other manufacturers and worth mentionable.

To end this review, I wanted to thank Lexus Switzerland, for the opportunity to have a go in their Lexus NX 350h Excellence which they had in their press fleet. A car that definitely spices up the booming crossover market.

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