Y’s Alvin Thomas takes a spin in an SUV that lets him lap up the luxury and cut a dash on the driving front.
A Lexus is a thing of prestige, and owning one is like signing up to become a part of a luxury lifestyle – at least that’s what Lexus drivers will tell you. But it won’t take you long to realise they’re right and why it continues to stand out from its rivals.
Why it remains one of the Sultanate’s most popular luxury cars today is beyond us – but really, we’re asking the wrong questions here. You can’t convince a Lexus owner, at least one from the Arab world, to opt for something else; much like you wouldn’t ask a 10-year-old kid to take down his Lamborghini and Ferrari posters from the wall.
There’s a certain level of dedication required to join the elite club; that’s what keeps the brand moving. And for that very reason, the NX300 – the baby SUV in the brand’s lineup – works while refuting any qualms we’ve ever had about Lexus.
It may look much like any other SUV out there today. The designers carry forward the in-your-face styling and the edgy elements across the car. This works in its favour too and makes it stand out from its competitors, most of which hail from Europe.
The fascia is authentically Japanese. Upfront, you get the signature dual-headlamps completed by two Nike-esque daytime-running LED lamps and the gaping spindle-grille, all of which we’ve grown to like over the years. True, the Predator-like intake may split the audience but it looks like it just wants to gobble up cars ahead of it – and we love that!
Moving over to the side reveals sharp contours on the door that’s further complemented by bulging fenders. These contoured fenders then encroach on the wedge-shaped tail lamps. The rear is completed by chrome-tipped dual exhausts and black plastic bumpers, though, the latter may vary depending on the trim you choose.
What stays the same without any trim bias, however, is what’s inside. Yes, you can drape the interior in exclusive materials and technology but you must note that even the base trim of the car comes stacked with a plethora of features and high-quality materials.
The seats were covered in some of the best leatherette we’d seen in a long time while the dashboard and the inserts on the doors are all made of soft-touch materials. Plastic flanks much of the bottom panels of the cabin but that’s the norm today.
That said, the seats are cushy and offer excellent lumbar support, and cabin space is one of the best in the segment – even tall passengers can feel right at home with adequate leg and head room in the front and rear.
Boot space is respectable with just the right amount of room for a small family’s luggage. In our cargo test, we could fit three full-size suitcases into the boot. Still, the advantage of a square-shaped tailgate is dialled down by a high-loading lip that requires more effort while hauling in carbo on board.
On the tech front, our base model tester came packing a large, but rehashed, 10.3-inch (26cm) screen with astounding aspect ratio and high-contrast colours. The screen is controlled via a touchpad-style controller but it’s something you’ll need to get accustomed to operate while driving. Higher spec variants will receive maps and navigation but we still did get Bluetooth and USB connectivity among other thingamajigs.
Power is sourced from a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder turbocharged engine that pumps out 235hp and 350Nms of torque. The powertrain is completed by a six-speed torque converter automatic that then sends power to all four wheels.
The resulting performance – 0-100kph in 7.2 seconds – is admirable for an SUV that tips the scales at 1.8 tonnes. What’s more, because the torque delivery is linear, the engine also serves up a burst of torque at engine revolutions higher than 2,300rpm. This makes overtaking and quick manoeuvres on the highway a breeze.
For those of you who want a bit more drama, there’s a rotary dial underneath the steering wheel that accentuates the engine noise in the cabin. By engine noise, we mean an audio file that is synced to the engine to play noise through the built-in audio speakers. We’ve tested such systems out in the past but none comes as pronounced as the one in the NX. At full blast, it sounds like Chewbacca (a Star Wars character, for those of you who don’t know) set on fire. The resulting sound is appealing, to say the least.
The NX300 drives like any other compact SUV out on the market today; refined when you want it to be yet powerful when you push it to the limits. The overall experience, as expected, is a touch above what you’d normally receive from a comparable American SUV.
Putting your foot down will uncover a slight amount of turbo-lag but it’s masked quickly by an intuitive gearbox that shifts down to up the engine revolutions and eke more from the spooling turbo.
As is the case with most Lexus vehicles, the NX comes packing an electric steering system. The resulting setup is on point during normal commuting and the vehicle shifts direction without any complaints. The overly light steering, which can be a bit unnerving at first, still won out hearts in city driving. It’s easily one of the best city-friendly SUVs we’ve driven in a long time.
The NX300 may have been introduced onto the market as a bridge between the smaller CT hatchback and the larger RX SUV but it has somehow managed to become one of the best products to have come out of the Japanese stable of late. This further asserts a principle we’ve been working on: Lexus’ unwitting efforts in bringing out a car yields the best products.
• Engine: 2.0-litre ‘turbocharged’ in-line four cylinder
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic
• Power: 235hp
• Torque: 350Nms
• Triple-beam LED headlamps
• Cruise control
• 10.3-inch infotainment system
• Remote touchpad
• Dynamic voice commands
• 19-inch alloy wheels
• Leatherette upholstery
• Selectable drive modes
• Parking sensors
• Backup camera
• 4.2-inch multi-information display