2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier AWD review – Luxury Crossover Aims for a Younger Market

Lexus NX?

Front view of the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier review

2014 saw Lexus enter a new car into the fray of the fast-growing compact crossover sector – the NX. This is a tough segment with heavy competition from big manufacturers, but as this is a Lexus it’s aimed directly at the luxury end of the market, narrowing the field of rivals.

Importantly, the modern NX will attract a younger slice of the market too, as aside from the CT the rest of the cars in Lexus’s range naturally appeal to a market of a what Lexus describe as a ‘younger, style-conscious [and] typically urban, active customer base.’

We were sent the range-topping 2015 Lexus NX300h Premier to review, and see how Lexus’ newest ‘compact premium SUV’ does in such a fiercely competitive market…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

rear 3/4 view of the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

Watching the Lexus NX 300h rolls silently towards me from around a bend, its slim, jagged ‘L’ shaped LED running lights catching eyes and turning heads, I grinned a little. It’s about time Lexus bought out a car that physically looked cool, and like it was aimed at a new generation of buyers. With this NX, it’s not only achieved that but also pushed things slightly ahead of time, as there’s an almost futurity about it.

will.i.am features in the TV advertisements for the NX, and while I’m not a fan of the commercial, they do get the point across – NX is stylish, contemporary, edgy (literally), cool and one for a fresh-faced generation with energy galore.

Aggressively styled 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

The NX’s front end is currently the most aggressive in the range, and as angular as they come. Look carefully, and you’ll notice a huge amount of the Lexus ‘L-finesse’ design language implemented into every area, even featuring inside the fantastically-executed main headlights. Around the 300h Premier, Lexus have used an incredible 90 LED lights – 23 in the daytime running lights and another 16 in each turn indicator.

The huge grille looks good, but in my option is far cooler with the F Sport ‘spindle’ design (also standard on the 200t) over the one you get on the rest of the models.

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The entire front end is so full of deep cutouts, angular grooves and pointed bodywork that you can’t help but feel that at the time of clay modelling a skilled Samurai sword-wielding designer went at it heartily. Even the unobtrusive fog lamps/cornering lights set in the lower section of the bumper look like little knife blades.

Looking down the sides, this design continues with the lower sections of the doors jutting out aggressively, the wheel arches squared off to give the NX a sporty, taut appearance. I’ve got to say though, if you’re looking at buying the base 300h ‘S’ model, the standard (and quite dull) 17-inch wheels are swallowed by the big arches, and look rather boring so do yourself a favour and option the 17″ five-spoke winter wheels instead.

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Around to the back of the NX, and the roof dives quickly, rear quarter glass in the sides coming to a teardrop point and jutting below that an enhanced and muscular shoulder line. The rear lights are in the same slashed, contemporary design as the fronts, and are a real standout feature of the car.

This is good news, as it really annoys me when cars look great at the front but are as bland and featureless as custard when you walk around to the back. All said, the 2015 Lexus NX is a fantastically-designed car, and a bold step forward for Lexus. Certainly, this is the car to do it if they want to attract a new audience.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier front drivers seats console steering wheel

The NX 300h Premier I was sent is the fully-loaded top model in the range. Below that (in order) are the S, SE, Luxury and FSport. As this is a Lexus, even the base S version comes very well equipped, but the Premier is just that, and sports a huge list of luxuries and goodies as standard.

So, let’s list some of the ones that stand out: power-adjustable steering column with easy-exit, power tailgate, dual-zone climate control with soft-flow air conditioning, full leather seating with the fronts heated and ventilated, an 8-way power passenger seat, and a 10-way power seat for the driver with easy-exit, heated leather-bound steering wheel, wireless smartphone charger, 8 airbags including driver knee bag and curtain shield bags front and rear, 7-inch Lexus Media Display, 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system with DVD, DAB, Bluetooth, USB & AUX ports, Lexus Premium Navigation, 360˚ Panoramic monitors and heads-up display (HUD).

Sumptuous front leather seats on the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

Sitting in the driving seat of the NX, there’s an immediate sense of luxury and comfort. The materials in the cabin used are well chosen and classy, with many soft-touch areas and matte-finished trim instead of the overly-common piano black every manufacturer seems to be using. Where used, the satin-finished aluminium looks thick and solid, and the interior LED lights come on as you brush a finger over them. In all, a highly refined and well-built cabin with a premium feel.

The front seats are superbly well designed and supportive in the right areas, and each person has their own space thanks to a raised console, which allows for a feeling that you the driver are piloting the NX, rather than driving. Lexus have thought the position out well, optimising comfort levels with things like a thickly-padded centre armrest set in exactly the right position. It’s not adjustable, and doesn’t need to be thanks to Lexus’s designers doing thing properly.

The perfectly accurate lines of the contrast stitching around the cabin catches the eye, and are especially noticeable in areas you wouldn’t generally… notice.

For example, Lexus have gone to lengths to make sure you know the NX oozes absolute quality. That contrast stitching runs over a leather wrist-rest, which supports your hand as you use the remote touchpad on the centre console. Behind that is a small tab with more stitching – pull that and out comes a small mirror, enabling girls (and I guess, blokes) to check the back of their hair when used alongside the mirror in the sunblinds.

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That touchpad I just mentioned has feedback which pulses slightly under your fingertips, to let you know you’ve landed on a menu and category, and just for more comfort the feedback is adjustable in its strength.

The instrument cluster is clean, crisp and exceptionally readable. I believe simple is always best with dials, and the ones in the NX are no exception. In the centre of these is a 4.2 inch full-colour TFT LCD multi-information display, which has a ton of easily-accessible menus to flick through, and shows everything from the music you’re listening to, to turn-by-turn navigation arrows, the hybrid system in use and much more.

I love the way the lower controls and drive mode dial on the centre console (in front of that touchpad) are simply designed yet ergonomic and easy to remember what each does. On the upper facia, these are again designed to be easily readable, but personally I would like to have seen less of them, as in total there are 20 individual buttons, plus 5 more in a lower section for the radio/media etc, all of which was hard to get used to.

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Surprisingly, a few of the controls for things you use fairly commonly – including the brightness/height adjuster for the HUD, the pre-crash safety alert and the heated steering wheel control – were hidden from view on the dash behind each side of the steering wheel, and a distraction trying to feel for them whilst driving. Of course, you can set the car up before pulling away, but occasionally it’s necessary to use them when driving thus they are not well positioned.

The slick graphics and neat menus of the media display are laid out well enough, and I enjoyed using the little touchpad to control it all. However, I was vastly disappointed with the satellite navigation system for several reasons. Firstly, you can only input a certain amount of post code (zip code) letters and numbers, and then it brings up a list of streets, but not the exact point on the street you want to be.

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Next, the graphics for it are way outdated – even next to the superb ones on our £17,500 Kia Soul long termer – and if we passed a junction for whatever reason, it would actually show us to be on another road for a while, not the one we were driving on.

I also found the view of the motorway roads/slip road exit almost indistinguishable at points, and it also kept trying to re-route us after we’d taken another way back, instead of simply updating the route. It should to be way better than it is, but perhaps a software update could do it?

The cabin is superbly well made overall – it has to be as the NX 300h is so quiet, especially in EV mode. However, there was a tiny rattle from the HUD trim in the dash which annoyed me as I couldn’t stop it. It was only one minute rattle, but it was noticeable enough to be irritating.

Right, back onto the positives, of which there are many. Sitting in the rear seats, you’ll notice how attractively designed they are. They’re comfortable, and seem to shape to the body superbly as you sink into the sumptuous leather. The backrests are adjustable, and recline to such a degree that you can get entirely comfortable for long distance journeys.

Rear leather seats in the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

A point I noticed is that unlike many cars your entire feet (up to the ankles of course) will fit underneath the front seats, which allows you so much more extra legroom – a good 8 to 9 inches in fact. The central section is also comfier than most ‘5 seat’ cars, although it still isn’t really suitable for sitting in for hours at a time.

The armrest-integrated cup holders have a gentle gearing to them, so that they open at just the right speed and noiselessly, instead of snapping out loudly, further expressing to you that the NX has been well thought out.

Luggage capacity in the boot is what I’d expect of a compact crossover, with 465 litre rear seats up, and 1,520 with them folded. Adding to that, even the boot carpeting is plush and in both look and feel every fitting and piece of trim is bolted together solidly.

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All in all, I have a lot of love for the Lexus NX cabin. Sure, there are a few points that need improving – the naff sat nav being the main one – but as a whole Lexus have continued to impress with a high quality and refinement level, and with the amount of equipment you get too, easily holding its own against the likes of the Volvo XC60, Range Rover Evoque and other marques its price range.

Engine & gearbox

The NX 300h hybrid powertrain is an updated version of the current one used other Lexus cars, like the IS and GS. There’s a petrol-powered naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC unit putting out 153 bhp at 5,700 rpm, and 155 lb ft (210 Nm) of torque between 4,200 and 4,400 rpm.

There’s also a 650 volt electric motor putting out 141 bhp (105  kW) and 199 lb ft (270 Nm) of torque, which uses a 244.8 volt battery. Combined, the hybrid system puts out 195bhp (145kW).

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There’s both a front-wheel-drive and all wheel drive (AWD) version of the NX 300h. I had the AWD, which has a trick E-FOUR AWD system. This uses an additional electric motor to drive the rear axle, while the front axle is propelled by power from the petrol engine, electric motor, or a combination of both.

The rear motor also acts as a generator when the vehicle in regenerative braking mode, increasing the amount of kinetic energy that can be recovered.

Warning – extreme geekery coming up: new for the NX is a HV transaxle provides a kick-down function for sharper acceleration. The unit comprises an electric motor generator and an electric drive motor, linked by a double set of planetary gears.

The planetary gear set fulfils three roles simultaneously: it operates as a power split device between the generator and front wheels; as a reduction gear for the electric motor, and, when both work together, as an electronically controlled constant velocity transmission (E-CVT). The transaxle provides a sequential shift, allowing maximum power to be delivered on demand and increasing engine braking.

 

The NX 300h’s engine mounts are tuned to suppress engine vibration at start up, reducing fuel consumption and contributing to ride comfort, and also has a positive effect on handling. 0 – 62 mph is done in 9.2 seconds, and it’ll do 112 mph at the top.

Official UK mpg stats are: urban: 53.3, extra urban: 55.4, combined: 54.3, with 121 g/km emissions. The real fuel economy averages for the hybrid system are hard to gauge, as the electric motor kicks in an out regularly and takes away from what fuel the engine is using.

However, a long motorway run over almost 420 miles showed an average of 37 mpg. Take it slightly slower (say, around 60 mph), and you’re looking at about 42 mpg.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Driving the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

Let’s start with how well the hybrid system works. Under normal conditions (unless the hybrid battery is low when you first set off), you’ll start in full electric mode. The NX 300h is already a very quiet car when driving, thanks to an amazingly well hushed cabin, and driving on fell electric is almost eerie, and especially so for those outside the car.

Around town, press the EV (full electric) button and you can drive up to 30 miles-per-hour on pure electricity (I actually managed 40 mph on full electric on a couple of slight downhill inclines), and you can go for a mile or two on that, depending on the terrain. However, the battery tops up so quickly during braking or coasting that I found the electric drive kicking in almost all the time below 30 mph. It hybrid system also means you can sit with the A/C on full in summer, or the heated seats in winter, without the engine running and using fuel.

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Should the NX be bouncing between electric and the petrol engine, and you’re only pottering about, a twist of the Drive Mode Select dial into ECO moderates throttle response and engine power for better fuel economy.

In the city, the NX 300h is supremely quiet and comfortable, taking you away from the harsh noises and heavy traffic-related stress of the outside world. So much so, in fact, that it has the warmly-familiar cocooning effect I’ve come to expect from the Lexus range.

There’s tech to make your journey easier too, with ones of my favourites being the ‘Hold’ button. Press this after you’ve started driving, and each time you come to complete stop, simply take your foot off the accelerator, and the NX holds the brakes (and brake lights) on, instead of having to slip it into neutral and apply the handbrake (which itself is electronic), or pushing the selector into park. Sounds like that’s a pretty lazy thing, but I got used to it after about the third time I’d stopped at lights. A superb feature.

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Oh, just to add to that, the e-handbrake is also automatically applied when you put the car into park, and releases when select drive again. Brilliant! More gadgetry include the 360˚ panoramic view monitor, which has cameras in the front, rear and wing mirrors, which allows you to see at ‘blind’ T-junctions safely, while Rear Cross Traffic Alert reads behind the NX for obstacles, all in making parking the NX ridiculously easy.

The NX features a Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS) which detects vehicles and other obstacles on the road ahead. Should there be a risk of a crash, the NX first warns you before activating Pre-Crash Seatbelt pretensioners, Pre-Crash Brake Assist will supplement your braking effort, and if you don’t respond at all, the Pre-Crash system will automatically apply the brakes.

Driving the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

On that, the safety spec of the NX 300h Premier is rather extensive, and includes: ABS, BAS (Brake Assist System), TRC (Traction Control, EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management), HAC (Hill-start Assist Control), Pre-Crash Safety (PCS), Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane keeping Assist system (LKA).

Of course, the all-wheel-drive system will also keep you on the road, should the weather turn nasty, and there’s really not much in it with regards to fuel consumption (just 1 – 3 mpg according to official stats), so I really recommend paying the extra £2,000 over the base S model, and upgrading to the SE for this.

Each time I drove the NX, wanting to get to my destination across town in as much peace and comfort as possible, and at the same time passing through awful stop-start traffic, roadworks and general chaotic idiocy from an abundance of bad drivers, it never disappointed in providing a little slice of equanimity. Of everything I like about the Lexus models I’ve tested, it is their ability to provide the above feeling.

While the NX 300h Premier offers serenity around town, how does it do once you’re pushing along at motorway speeds? Actually, about the same as it does in the city. Wind and road noise is minimal, the suspension soaks up the bumps superbly well whilst also offering good stability around the twisties. Set the adaptive cruise control, and the Lexus will not only get you to a set speed, but also sit at a pre-set distance to the car in front, meaning you don’t have to use the accelerator or brakes. It’ll even do it down to a complete stop, and then automatically set off back up to speed again when the traffic moves.

Drive selector on the 2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier

The Head-Up Display is a spectacularly useful thing too. A clean and crisp design allows you to keep focussed on the road ahead, while reading information on your speed and power usage. In fact, I rarely used the normal speedometer dial, so good is the HUD.

All this added up to mean a 418-mile round-trip I took was beautifully easy, and I got out the NX 300h almost as refreshed as when I set off. And I mean that truthfully, and not as an over-exaggeration.

However. There’s a couple of issues I must bring up: whenever I accelerated in either Normal or Sports mode and the 2.5 litre engine kicked in, it seemed like it was all or nothing, for the revs seemed to bounce uncomfortably high up the dial immediately, and then letting off the throttle, it would die off immediately to low revs again, seemingly with with nothing between high and low.

Actually, this feels and sounds almost exactly as when a clutch is slipping on a manual gearbox. The high revving is accompanied by an annoying, false-sounding V6 engine noise – possibly coming from the speakers, which I suppose is meant to give the NX 300h a sporty edge, but rather fails at it.

2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier review

The acceleration is strange, because the NX 300h uses an electronically controlled constant velocity transmission (CVT), which means there’s no physical feel of a gear change, with either up or down shifting. So, it’s a bit like the slipping clutch I mentioned – lots of revving and the car kind of slides forward towards the horizon.

Because of this, using the ‘manual’ + and – on the selector doesn’t give a feeling that you’re shifting up or down the gears as it does with other cars, and I rather disliked it.

One more thing, although the NX 300h will whisk you about just fine, it really isn’t very quick. 0 – 62 mph is just over 9 seconds, and it’ll only get to a max of 112 mph. That may be fine for average roads, but it’s a bit crummy should you use the Autobahn regularly.

Okay, taking into account that the zero to sixty run isn’t everything, and neither is top speed in reality, the 300h still doesn’t feel fast enough when it comes to overtaking on country roads or motorways. It does both, but just not very well or anywhere near impressively. I said exactly the same about the GS 300h actually.

However, while a hike in power wouldn’t go amiss, the NX 300h rides and drives so well that I can forgive the lax performance to a large extent, as you probably will once you’ve driven it. Should you want that extra poke, test the faster NX 200t and see what you think.

Price

(Figures correct June 2015) The NX 300h has five different spec levels. In order they are: S: £29,495, SE: £31,495, Luxury: £34,495, F Sport: £36,995, Premier: £42,995.

Should you want a decent amount of tech and gadgets, but not want to pay for the top model, I’d recommend looking at the Luxury model as it still has lots of good kit without the £7,500 extra cost.

Regarding rivals, Lexus have always offered great value, thanks to loading their cars with tech and toys that other manufacturers only offered as options.

Rivals in the same price bracket include the Volvo XC60Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, VW Tiguan, Porsche Macan, Audi Q5 and BMW X3.

What similar-sized crossovers can you get if your budget is smaller? Try any of these: Mazda CX-5 AWDKia SportageToyota RAV4Subaru ForesterHonda CR-VMitsubishi OutlanderSuzuki SX4 S-Cross ALLGRIP.

2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier verdict & score

2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier review

There’s a heck of a lot to like about the NX 300h, but let’s start with the no-so-good bits first: I believe the 300h needs more power, as it simply doesn’t seem quick enough. I’ve said the same about the other Lexus’s using the 300h engine too. It’s just not quite as fast as rivals, and the aggressive looks simply don’t go with the pace of the car.

The revs bounce sky-high almost every time the engine kicks in, and the CVT transmission means a weird sensation as you accelerate. Alongside that, the accompanying ‘sporty’ soundtrack in the background is almost annoying. Finally, the satellite navigation really is quite rubbish, and the graphics way outdated by today’s standards too.

If you’re after an AWD compact crossover that has more about it for tackling off-road rough stuff instead of ‘just’ snow, ice, heavy rain and muddied roads, I’d recommend the XC60, Evoque or Discovery Sport as they have better ground clearance, for a start.

Now for the positive stuff: the NX 300h is supremely comfortable, with a refined and well-thought-out cabin, which has the obsessive attention-to-detail Lexus pride themselves on. The quite glide-like drive of the NX 300h somehow takes out all the stresses from the average commute, and allows you to relax, unwind and enjoy its cocooned effect as you glide through traffic almost silently.

The NX 300h handles fairly decently for a weighty crossover, and rides nicely over bad sections of tarmac too. It isn’t a sports car, and doesn’t pretend to be, so just expect it to handle as a luxury compact crossover, and you won’t be disappointed. Long journeys are a breeze too, and it covers distances with absolute ease, all the while giving you and your passengers a very pleasant ride.

All said, I like the NX 300h though. Lexus never seem to disappoint when it comes to refinement, ride quality and plenty of good on-board tech, and if it’s those you’re after mainly, the Lexus NX offers those, and then some.

Do you own a Lexus NX, or have questions about it? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8
Interior  8.5
Engine  7
Gearbox  6
Price  7
Handling  7
Drive & Ride  8.5
 Hybrid system  8
Overall Score  7.5 / 10 

Specs

Model (as tested)  2015 Lexus NX 300h Premier
Spec includes  Power tailgate, dual-zone climate control with soft-flow air conditioning, full leather seating (fronts heated & ventilated), wireless smartphone charger, 8 airbags, 7-inch Lexus Media Display, 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system with DVD, DAB, Bluetooth, USB & AUX ports, Lexus Premium Navigation, 360˚ Panoramic monitors, heads-up display (HUD)  See website for more details
Options you should spec  Panoramic roof: £1,000
The Competition  Volvo XC60Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, VW Tiguan, Porsche Macan, Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Lower in the price-range: Mazda CX-5 AWDKia SportageToyota RAV4Subaru ForesterHonda CR-VMitsubishi OutlanderSuzuki SX4 S-Cross ALLGRIP.
Price  (June ’15) £29,495 – £42,995. As tested: £43,640 with paint option
Engine, Hybrid system  Engine: naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC | Hybrid system: 650 volt electric motor with 244.8 volt battery.
Power, Torque  Engine power: 153 bhp @ 5,700 rpm | Engine torque: 155 lb ft (210 Nm) between 4,200 and 4,400 rpm | Electric motor: 141 bhp (105  kW) and 199 lb ft (270 Nm) of torque | Combined power: 195 bhp (145kW)
Drive, Gears (as tested)  All-wheel-drive with E-Four | Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT)
Ground clearance, Towing Capacity  Clearance: 170mm (6.7 inches) | Towing (max): 680 kgs (1,500 lbs)
Top Speed, 0 – 62 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 112 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 9.2 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 5/5 stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 53.3, extra urban: 55.4, combined: 54.3 | CO2: 121 g/km
Weight (Kerb) / Luggage capacity  Weight (kerb/min-max): 1,785 – 1,905 kgs (3,935 – 4,199 lbs) | Luggage (VDA litres): Seats up: 475 | Seats folded: 1,520
Websites  Lexus UK, Lexus USA, Lexus international

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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