LEXUS RESHAPES ITS HYBRID FUTURE

2014 Lexus NX 300h F Sport

Lexus continues its conversion to hybrid vehicles apace, with the NX 300h crossover recently reaching our shores. Lexus origins lay in the mid-1980s with a desire to replicate all that’s good about a luxury vehicle with particular reference to the Europeans such as Mercedes-Benz.

Since then, it has become clear that lifestyles are being shaped by younger more affluent professionals, some of who are turning away from traditional prestige in search of a more radical driving experience.

With the NX series Lexus says it has sought inspiration from trend-setting fashion, watches and running shoes. The result is a vehicle with distinctive looks clothing elements of the latest in automotive technology.

Lexus NX is a crossover vehicle which, interestingly, is currently only available as a petrol-electric hybrid. Later this year a 175 kW turbocharged four-cylinder sporty performer will be launched here.

2014 Lexus NX 300h F Sport

The NX 300 comes to market in two-wheel and all-wheel drive form in three variants – Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury – with the choice of two Enhancement Packs.

Prices start at $60,801 for the Luxury 2WD and top out at $81,953 for the Sports Luxury. All prices include on-road costs and premium paint finish. The first service at 12 months or 15,000 kilometres is free and owners are cosseted by the Lexus Encore Program.

Our test vehicle was the NX 300h F Sport with Enhancement Pack 1 which included a moonroof (half a sunroof) and Mark Levinson 14-speaker superior sound system. The pack added $4000 to the car’s price of $66,000.

2014 Lexus NX 300h Luxury with enhancement pack

STYLING
The face of the NX 300h is that of a square-jawed comic superhero, thanks to the deep-set Lexus signature spindle radiator grille flanked by the latest in front-end LED projector lighting with a layout including daytime running lamps. To say this combination dominates the vehicle is to sell it short.

The remaining shape is firmly out of the SUV / sports hatch box with a coupe-ish profile supported by 18-inch F Sport alloy wheels in a choice of three designs. The NX 300h signs off with an LED L-shaped rear lighting set-up making it unmistakably a Lexus.

Lexus says the dashboard control area is designed to ensure things happen easily and safely. Instruments and controls are in distinct positions, cutting out any confusion as to where they can be observed or operated, the key to the latter being a touchpad conveniently positioned on the centre console.

Attention to detail is everywhere, from the F Sport leather seats to the metallic look highlighting handles, gearshift and paddles. A power tailgate can be operated from the instrument panel or the key fob and the height of elevation can be predetermined to allow for low roof areas.

INFOTAINMENT
Lexus has never been short on innovation and the NX 300h follows the script. Central to the vehicle’s human / machine interface is a touchpad on the centre console through which much information can be accessed via the dashboard-mounted 7-inch full-colour screen. Pad operation is made easy by a conveniently positioned palm rest.

Lexus recognises driving styles vary from person to person and accommodate this with its Drive Mode Select system which in the F Sport model offers four modes – Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ — which change hybrid operation, transmission, steering and suspension to suit.

Eco mode has the vehicle operating with optimum fuel efficiency; Normal delivers balance between performance and economy, Sport has all drive systems adapting to acceleration and handling demands, while Sport+ heightens these even further. EV (electric vehicle) mode is also available with the NX 300h.

Advanced satellite navigation includes live traffic alerts, weather details and nearest service station, while easily accessible connectivity is a given. For example, a tray situated under the centre console lid cradles smartphones while they are charged wirelessly.

ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The NX 300h 147 kW 2.5-litre hybrid powertrain consists of an electric motor with reduction gear and generator coupled to a power-split device that divides the engine’s power into electrical and mechanical.

The hybrid battery, often guilty of robbing a vehicle of interior space, has been split into two units positioned under the rear seats. Ducts increase cooling and reduce noise.

The all-wheel drive 300h also includes a magnet motor on the rear axle allowing for AWD operation. Sporty manual-like shifting of the six-step continuously variable transmission is possible through the centre console lever or steering wheel-mounted paddles.

SAFETY
Lexus 300h safety begins with a body that is designed to absorb crash forces and redirect them away from the passenger cabin where occupants are further protected by a suite of eight airbags.

A blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert uses a sophisticated radar system to tell the driver of unseen vehicles in adjacent lanes if they haven’t adjusted their mirrors correctly. An illuminated warning flashes on the appropriate exterior mirror.

DRIVING
An extended period with the Lexus NX 300h F Sport enabled a broad picture of the vehicle to be painted from go to whoa. For example, the low-set coupe-style roof had me banging my head the first couple of times I got into the driver’s seat.

Once there, it was generally accepted by me and the front seat passenger that these were two of the most comfortable seats we had encountered in any vehicle. Their power operation and positional memory only added to the feeling of wellbeing.

The Drive Mode Select system spent most of the time in Normal, adapting well to driving conditions and the river’s mood. Eco was predictably less responsive to acceleration, Sport sharpened things all round, while Sport+ added some spice and really put the ‘Sport’ in Sports Utility Vehicle.

As far as fuel economy is concerned, Lexus rates the NX 300h F Sport at 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle.

The best the test vehicle computer was a little over six litres per 100 kilometres. The best around town was eight litres per 100 kilometres.

In Eco mode, where performance was an afterthought, generally we got six litres per 100 in stop-start city driving.

The coupe connection restricts the amount of cabin glass, so all-round visibility is limited. On the upside reversing cameras project an all-round view of the vehicle when parking.

SUMMING UP
The NX 300h is another example that Lexus has woken up to the fact that luxury car buyers are demanding the full package – edgy looks and zip without zapping the wallet.

AT A GLANCE
NX 300h Luxury 2WD: $55,000 (automatic)
NX 300h Luxury AWD: $59,500 (automatic)
NX 300h F Sport AWD: $66,000 (automatic)
NX 300h Sports Luxury AWD: $75,000 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Lexus dealer for driveaway prices.

FEATURES (NX 300h F Sport)
18in F Sport alloy wheels with Bridgestone Dueller tyres
Sports tuned suspension
Sport S+ Drive Mode with adaptive variable suspension
Smart key card entry and start
Rain sensing wipers
Automatic fold, self dimming, seat memory linked exterior mirrors
Blind spot monitor
Wireless smartphone charger
10-way power front seats with driver’s memory
Heated / ventilated front seats
Revering camera with panoramic view
Electric tilt slide moonroof (Enhancement Pack 1)
14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system (Enhancement Pack 1)

SPECIFICATIONS:
(2.5-litre petrol engine)
Capacity: 2494 cc
Configuration: Atkinson Cycle in-line 4-cylinder
(Electric Motor)
Permanent Magnet Synchronous
Maximum Power: 147 kW 5700 rpm
Maximum Torque: 210 Nm @
Maximum Torque (petrol): 147 Nm @ 4200-4400 rpm
Hybrid system: Series / parallel
High voltage battery: Nickel-Metal Hybrid

DRIVELINE:
Drivetrain: Lexus Hybrid Drive, all-wheel drive, electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission

DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4630 mm
Width: 2130 mm
Height: 1630 mm
Wheelbase: 2660 mm
Track: 1580 mm (front /rear)
Ground clearance: 185 mm
Kerb weight: 1800-1895 kg
Gross vehicle mass: 2385 kg
Seating capacity: 5
Cargo capacity 475 litres / 1520 litres (rear seat backs folded)
Fuel Tank Capacity: 56 litres
Turning circle: 11.4 m

SUSPENSION AND BRAKES:
Suspension: MacPherson struts and lower arms (front); double wishbone with trailing arms (rear)
Brakes: Ventilated discs (front); solid discs (rear). ABS anti-skid brake system with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control. Traction Control
Steering: Electric power assisted rack and pinion
Wheels / tyres: Alloy 18in / 235/55 R18 100V

PERFORMANCE
Acceleration 0 to 100 km/h: N/A
Top speed: N/A

FUEL CONSUMPTION:
Fuel type: 91 RON unleaded
Combined Cycle (ADR 81/01): 5.7 litres per 100 km. CO2 emissions 133 g / km

GREEN VEHICLE GUIDE RATINGS:
Greenhouse Rating: 8.0 / 10
Air Pollution Rating: 8.5 / 10

WARRANTY:
Four years / 100,000 kilometres
Eight years / 160,000 kilometres (hybrid battery)

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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