Sur­ren­der to the lux­ury of these ri­val 2-litre SUVs and yield to the de­mands of mod­ern mo­tor­ing in style.


Mpar­ents, for the first time in a long while, sur­pris­ingly greeted the shiny new four­wheeled things I brought home with ef­fu­sive praise.

“Okay lah, nice cars,” they gushed, at­ten­tion briefly trans­fixed with dead­pan cur­sory re­gard. Their mono­tone voices pos­i­tively fiz­zled with de­grees of ex­cite­ment greater than they have ever mus­tered for any one of the sports cars, supercars or bright orange thun­der-ma­chines I have dis­turbed their slum­ber with.

“Quite com­fort­able,” their re­lent­less praise con­tin­ued, as they stepped out upon ar­riv­ing at my grand­mother’s place. “What’s for din­ner?” The avalanche of ex­hil­a­ra­tion fi­nally slushed to breath­less halt.

It warms this son’s heart to see his par­ents’ eyes sparkle with the verve he thought long lost to the ether, when they would re­gale him with tales of sen­sual Alfa Romeos, zippy Austins and re­gal Mercs that made up the au­to­mo­tive land­scape of their youth.

It’s nice to hear them again fete with faintly dis­in­ter­ested praise two finely built, slightly tall ap­pli­ances of trans­port.

What’s more, the mar­ket is full of these things now, and they are ev­ery­where for us to ad­mire. Like iPhones! What a time to be alive. Any­way… Volvo XC60 and Lexus NX. Luxurious crossovers. Hot cakes in to­day’s au­to­mo­tive mar­ket­place. Tall, tippy things of leather, steel and CPUs. If the for­mat is fa­mil­iar though, the shapes them­selves tell tales of each com­pany’s re­cent rapid evo­lu­tion.

Lexus, pre­vi­ously head pre­fect of the anonymous beige-box club, sud­denly had an epileptic fit and emerged with its de­sign­ers bran­dish­ing spiked hair and ser­rated knives.

Be­gin­ning with the truly weird

cur­rent IS, their stylis­tic ma­nia has, like a pre­co­cious teenager’s tem­per­a­ment, been fi­nessed with each new model to de­liver in­creas­ing co­her­ence and even some­thing ap­proach­ing beauty.

Fi­nally, in 2018, their de­sign lan­guage is in full, mag­nif­i­cent bloom. Just look at the jaw­drop­ping LC and the exquisitely crafted new LS for ev­i­dence. The NX was born part­way through this com­ing-of-age process, and the dizzy­ing num­ber of hacks, slashes and sur­face-changes are only just about hand­some enough.

De­spite the now ut­terly con­ven­tional hatch-on-stilts shape, this lends the Lexus a strik­ing pres­ence un­likely to be missed by your col­leagues in the com­pany carpark.

Par­ents ev­ery­where could learn a thing or two about guardian­ship from Geely.

Hav­ing lan­guished for years un­der Ford’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously un­der- and over-in­volved own­er­ship, the wounded Swedish brand came un­der the wing of Geely. The Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate pumped in bil­lions in funds, but al­lowed its ward to flour­ish and forge its own path.

The re­sult: every model from the XC90 is achiev­ing crit­i­cal ac­claim, and Zhe­jiang Geely Hold­ing Group has a so­phis­ti­cated Euro­pean foun­da­tion upon which to launch its new pre­mium brand Lynk & Co.

If the cur­rent Lexus’ de­sign par­a­digm re­quired ma­tur­ing, Volvo’s was born beau­ti­ful. The XC60, the mid­dle rung in the Swedish mar­que’s SUV fleet, ar­rives not just in a mar­ket uniquely primed for cars of its type, but also with a bold, clear con­fi­dence ooz­ing from a brand very much in the as­cen­dency.

Far less com­plex in sur­fac­ing and nu­mer­ous in el­e­ments, the XC’s Scan­di­na­vian clean­li­ness jux­ta­poses starkly with the NX’s Ja­panese techno-wiz


The two cars’ me­chan­i­cal make­ups are far more pre­dictable. Both have tur­bocharged petrol 4-cylin­der mills mak­ing horsepower num­bers in the mid-200s.

Volvo’s pow­er­train range now con­sists en­tirely of 4-cylin­der mo­tors, with a cor­po­rate com­mit­ment to even­tu­ally jet­ti­son­ing diesel op­tions.

Else­where in the Lexus sta­ble, in 2.5-litre NX300h form, is a heinously com­plex and dev­il­ishly clever but slower hy­brid pow­er­train that will not par­take in this test, which in­volves the 2-litre NX300 with no h.

On the chas­sis front, while both crossovers have slightly dif­fer­ent sus­pen­sion el­e­ments, they do not, as we will ex­plore, ma­te­ri­ally dif­fer in dy­namic ob­jec­tive or char­ac­ter.

In­te­rior de­sign in re­cent times has re­volved around the in­te­gra­tion of ever more so­phis­ti­cated in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems. By and large, car com­pa­nies have sep­a­rately ar­rived at one of two lay­outs – ei­ther a land­scape screen perched atop the dash in the man­ner of the en­tire move­ment’s pi­o­neer­ing BMW iDrive, or the sim­ple in­te­gra­tion of a touch­screen be­neath the ven­ti­la­tion ports.

Volvo, how­ever, has gone the way of Tesla and in­stalled a gi­ant por­trait screen in the mid­dle and crammed every con­trol it could into the soft­ware in­ter­face. This ap­proach has freed up the rest of the dash­board as a can­vas for the de­signer’s whim.

This fresh­ness is an aes­thetic tri­umph in the show­room or, even bet­ter, out in the sun­light, where the uniquely Swedish bright-and-airi­ness comes ra­di­antly to the fore.

The fix­tures, the flow­ing and cas­cad­ing metal sweep run­ning right across the dash that ties it all to­gether, their taste­ful res­traint, and their place­ment all

com­bine to cre­ate an am­bi­ence dis­tinctly Volvo. The XC60 is a won­der­ful place to spend time in.

Use it, though, and in­evitably some func­tions re­quire more fuss than they would with­out the same artis­tic com­mit­ment to min­i­mal­ism. Hav­ing to prod at a touch­screen sim­ply to ad­just the air-con­di­tion­ing is at best mildly ir­ri­tat­ing and at worst dan­ger­ously dis­tract­ing while on the move.

First ac­quain­tance with the cock­pit of the NX is less likely to leave you awash with the same sense of lovely moder­nity.

The con­sole is a com­par­a­tive but­ton-fest, for one, and the grey busy­ness of it all is lack­ing in grace­ful sim­plic­ity.

Spe­cial cha­grin, how­ever, has to be re­served for the in­fer­nal in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, con­trolled as it is by a touch­pad on the cen­tre con­sole. There is a rea­son why dash in­ter­faces do not run on Win­dows XP. Mouse­based sys­tems that re­quire fine pre­ci­sion do not work in a mov­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The Lexus’ be­fud­dling menu lay­out only makes it even worse.

On the ap­pear­ance front, this Ja­panese in­te­rior seems at once penned with too much imag­i­na­tion and not enough.

To wit, why are there white bor­ders around every menu? Why is there an un­nec­es­sary mu­sic-note water­mark in the me­dia in­ter­face?

They are the equiv­a­lent of us­ing clip art on your Pow­erpoint pre­sen­ta­tion, and the kind of thing that would make Steve Jobs turn in his grave.

Rather than flow smoothly and cas­cade nat­u­rally with the eye, the fine stitch lines con­tain hap­haz­ard changes in an­gle. The Lexus de­sign­ers clearly don’t be­lieve in “less is more”.

Oh, and the big block of sil­ver brack­et­ing the whole she­bang re­flects on the wind­screen in di­rect sun­light.

All that ini­tial ir­ri­ta­tion, how­ever, is a cau­tion­ary tale against judging a book by its cover, and il­lus­tra­tive of the per­ils


of choos­ing your car with­out an ex­tended test drive. Be­cause the Lexus’ ir­ri­tat­ing at­tributes very rapidly fade away on pro­longed ac­quain­tance.

Cruise along for a day in the NX, and the ex­cep­tional hush and in­tan­gi­ble but un­canny sense of im­mense in­tegrity will have you con­grat­u­lat­ing your­self on money well spent.

Qual­ity is qual­ity, and 29 years on from when the LS400 stunned the lux­ury car in­dus­try, still no­body does it quite like Lexus. This NX SUV has so­phis­ti­ca­tion suf­fused into its very be­ing. Plus, the air-con chan­nels the arctic wind and could con­ceiv­ably

bring win­ter to Sin­ga­pore if you left the win­dows open.

The XC60’s 505 litres of boot space, ex­pand­able to 1432 litres with the seats down, com­pares nicely to the 475 litres and 1520 litres of the NX300. Wheel-arches are marginally less in­tru­sive in the Swedish trunk than in its Ja­panese ri­val, but both cars are ca­pa­ble of pre­sent­ing a large, flat load area when you do need to haul cargo.

A mi­nor quirk is that the NX does take a cu­ri­ously long time to open its boot’s tail­gate upon com­mand, such that on oc­ca­sion, I have pushed the but­ton twice and con­fused the elec­tron­ics.

The kids will be happy on the

back­seats all the way through to their teenage years in ei­ther of these ve­hi­cles, but with the Volvo’s more up­right stance again let­ting in more light. What about the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? Does it mat­ter? These are lux­ury SUVs with­out “Porsche” em­blems, so they flop around the city with suf­fi­cient as­sured­ness to avoid be­ing dan­ger­ous, but in a largely de­tached fash­ion.

Ul­ti­mately, both cars have front and rear axles and cen­tres of grav­ity that con­verse with the awk­ward po­lite­ness of busi­ness as­so­ciates forced to min­gle at the com­pany D&D, rather than with the pas­sion­ate ro­mance

of in­ti­mate lovers. You will need to think slightly ahead of any sud­den move­ment, in­stead of flow­ing nat­u­rally into it like you would in a hot hatch.

Of the two, the Volvo is the more un­pre­ten­tiously dis­in­ter­ested in be­ing driven be­yond a mat­ter-of-fact pace, which there­fore brings with it just a lit­tle more bump iso­la­tion. Which, like the rest of the Volvo range, suits the XC60’s easy-go­ing, com­for­to­ri­ented per­son­al­ity just fine. The Swedes make no bones about this, and the XC60 T5 tested here in Mo­men­tum spec­i­fi­ca­tion does not come adorned with “F Sport” badg­ing

or adap­tive sus­pen­sion like the Lexus NX300 does. You get a smidgen more body con­trol in the NX and you do sit a lit­tle lower, but even­tu­ally I set­tled on the “comfort” set­ting and drove the Lexus the way lux­ury crossovers are meant to be driven: sen­si­bly.

Any­way, if you want driv­ing en­gage­ment, look at a Porsche Ma­can. But if an en­gag­ing drive is your pri­or­ity, why buy an SUV?

Re­gard­less, that’s a philo­soph­i­cal ar­gu­ment I’ve since badly lost, so I guess it would in­ter­est shop­pers here at most to know that both the Lexus NX300 and Volvo XC60 are good

enough in this de­part­ment.

Ditto for their 2-litre turbo pow­er­trains. Strong enough and in­vis­i­ble enough to not dis­tract you from One FM 91.3, un­less the red mist de­scends and you star­tle them. Then they drone and grum­ble dis­tantly like the four-bangers that they are un­til you calm your­self back down. Which lux­ury SUV would you rather have? They do their jobs very well, and they do grow on you with pro­longed ex­po­sure as com­mut­ing tools. Their dis­tinc­tion, with the ul­ti­mate ir­rel­e­vance in­her­ent in their type of most dy­namic mea­sures, will in­evitably come down to a mat­ter of aes­thetic taste.

NX300 cabin is im­pec­ca­bly solid, pow­er­fully air-con­di­tioned and of un­ques­tion­able qual­ity, but Lexus needs to learn a les­son in “less is more” which can be taught by Volvo.

XC60 cabin is very clean, very sim­ple, very Swedish, very spa­cious and lets more light in than the NX300.

NX300 is more nim­ble, but less com­fort­able over un­even tar­mac; XC60 (right) is quicker and bet­ter pre­pared for long-dis­tance jour­neys, but prefers a re­laxed pace.

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