Lexus NX 300h (2014-2021) review
The Lexus NX 300h is a sporty-looking hybrid SUV that’s luxurious and comfortable, but loses out to plug-in rivals for efficiency and driving fun
- Hybrid efficiency
- Luxurious-feeling interior
- Decent passenger comfort
- Noisy when accelerating
- Not as economical as you'd hope
- Annoying, dated infotainment system
|Car type||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions||0-62mph|
The Lexus NX 300h is an upmarket hybrid SUV with distinctive styling inside and out. It sits above the UX 250h and below the bigger RX 450h in the Lexus line-up, and shares quite a bit with the larger model including what Lexus calls a "self-charging" hybrid powertrain and the availability of four-wheel drive.
The NX 300h has many rivals, such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque if you want a plug-in hybrid, while the Hyundai Kona is an attractive electric SUV, but it hardly has the badge kudos or the space of the Lexus. The Volvo XC60 Recharge plug-in hybrid is a more upmarket alternative. While the ageing NX lags behind its main rivals in some respects, it’s unmatched for reliability and owner satisfaction. An all-new model, with the option of plug-in hybrid power, is on the way in 2022.
Unlike most of its SUV rivals, the Lexus doesn’t need to be plugged in to charge its battery. The SUV’s main propulsion unit is a 2.5-litre petrol engine, which is assisted by an electric motor to maximise fuel efficiency. There’s a relatively small battery under the floor at the rear and this is topped up by the engine and regenerative braking – a system that harvests waste energy when the car slows down. It’s the same setup you’ll find in the Toyota RAV4.
The engine drives the wheels through a CVT gearbox, which is a type of automatic designed to keep the engine at optimum efficiency. All NX 300h trim levels are available with four-wheel drive, but the entry-level car can also be specified with front-wheel drive for lower running costs. In use, the batteries can provide 100% of the drive and particularly in city stop-start situations, the Lexus will often move for short periods at low speed in electric mode.
However, the batteries only store sufficient energy for around a mile of driving, after which the engine cuts in to power the car and recharge the battery. This means the NX is good around town and in traffic, but plug-in hybrids have a significant edge with their larger batteries and much greater electric-only range.
There are several ways to order your NX 300h, starting with the entry-level model. It’s as well equipped as you’d expect a premium SUV to be: the kit list includes 18-inch alloys, the Lexus Safety System+ pack of safety kit, heated front seats with Tahara upholstery and eight-inch sat-nav screen. From 2020, there’s also now a set of parking sensors as well that can even apply the brakes for you if you get too close to something.
Sat-nav on a 10.3-inch screen is available on the entry-level model as an option, but it’s standard on all other trim levels. The recently introduced Premium Sport Edition is next, bringing auto-dimming mirrors, a black styling pack, an upgraded audio system, wireless phone charging and blind-spot monitoring. F Sport cars offer styling upgrades designed to make the NX look a little racier, while the Takumi is the range-topper; it’s lavishly specced with a panoramic roof, heated and ventilated front seats, a 360-degree camera, head-up display, leather upholstery, 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo and rear cross-traffic alert.
There’s no doubt the NX 300h is a sporty looker, but on the road it loses out in comparison to rivals, as it’s not very engaging to drive. It handles tidily enough, but the ride is less compliant than a BMW or Range Rover over the UK’s potholed roads and the steering feels a bit remote. The biggest drawback is the CVT gearbox, which makes the engine rev noisily before the car begins accelerating. It means the response feels sluggish, while the revving engine drones and doesn’t sound at all sporty. It ruins the Lexus’ otherwise decent refinement, too.
For drivers unconcerned about sporty credentials, the NX 300h offers a luxurious and spacious experience with a proper premium feel. It makes most sense around town, where it’s clean and relatively efficient compared to diesel rivals, although those more traditional SUVs will tend to be more economical over higher mileages.
As mentioned above, a new Lexus NX for 2022 has recently been revealed. While the styling is only subtly different, the update looks to address some of our main concerns with the current NX. It’ll get the option of plug-in hybrid power for the first time, for up to 40 miles of electric driving, as well as a new interior with a much larger touchscreen. Lexus’ frustrating mousepad controller will be dropped, too. If that all sounds good, it might be worth waiting for the new model to launch. For a more detailed look at the current Lexus NX, read on for the rest of our in-depth review...