LEXUS NX 300

Driven - - Launched - Re­port & Images by BERNIE HELLBERG

Lexus in­tro­duced the NX just three years ago, but the lux­ury com­pact SUV has proven so pop­u­lar for the brand, that it now rep­re­sents a smidge un­der 25% of all Lexus ve­hi­cles sold in South Africa. BERNIE HELLBERG re­cently sam­pled the up­graded range-top­ping NX 300 F Sport.

Three years is al­most a life­time in car years, so for 2018, Lexus has gifted its mid-size NX cross­over a mild re­fresh, as well as a some­what new moniker, at least for the petrol only ver­sion.

In essence, an up­scale Toy­ota with RAV un­der­pin­nings, the NX is Lexus’ sec­ond best-sell­ing ve­hi­cle here, trail­ing the sig­nif­i­cantly larger LX, and lead­ing the RX off the dealer floor.

CHANGE HAS COME

Al­though not sig­nif­i­cantly so.

The car for­merly known as the NX 200t will now be called the NX 300, while the hy­brid ver­sion re­mains the NX 300h.

When it went on sale in 2015, the NX 200t was the first Lexus to fea­ture the brand’s new di­rect-in­jected, 2.0-litre tur­bocharged in­line-four en­gine – and the same 175 kW pow­er­plant con­tin­ues to power three of the four mod­els in the NX 300 range now. The NX 300h hy­brid re­turns with the 2.5-litre Atkin­son cy­cle four-cylin­der en­gine, which com­bines with two elec­tric mo­tors to pro­duce 145 kilo­watts.

For the 2018 model year, the en­try NX 300 E swaps its all-wheel-drive sys­tem in favour of a front-wheel-drive lay­out. EX and F Sport mod­els have kept their AWD abil­i­ties, as has the 300h, which uses the en­gine to power the front wheels via a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, while the elec­tric mo­tors drive the rear wheels.

Styling changes are min­i­mal but are es­pe­cially no­tice­able from the front. Be warned: if you did not like the ra­zor sharp styling of the pre­vi­ous NX, you’ll likely not en­joy this one ei­ther. On the NX 300 and NX 300h, the vast, gap­ing grille now ex­tends lower than be­fore, mak­ing the Lexus spin­dle grille even more prom­i­nent. The grille on the stylised F Sport model gets a more com­plex mesh pat­tern.

Both new grille de­signs are now flanked by air in­takes that en­hance en­gine and brake cool­ing, and all mod­els get re­designed LED head­lights.

At the rear are slightly wider tail­lights, and creases in the tail­gate now mimic the spin­dle shape of the grille. A re­designed bumper has larger tailpipe open­ings on the F Sport, and there’s a more prom­i­nent rear dif­fuser on the other mod­els.

IN THE CABIN

In­side, you’ll find the same, invit­ing wrap­around cock­pit but with a few new fea­tures. Steer­ing wheel-mounted pad­dle shifters are now stan­dard, as is an 8” in­fo­tain­ment screen. Also par for the in­te­rior course – from the EX trim equipped with satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and higher – is a seg­ment­largest 10.3” in­fo­tain­ment screen. All trim lev­els get a new, larger con­sole-mounted touch­pad and wire­less smart­phone charger, while heated seats are stan­dard on all but the base model NX. The F Sport adds ven­ti­la­tion to its leather-up­hol­stered seats.

De­spite the Lexus’ class-lead­ing pro­gres­sive looks and ap­pre­cia­bly high level of stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the ab­sence of Ap­ple CarPlay or An­droid Auto is con­spic­u­ous. In­stead, Lexus has in­cor­po­rated its own En­form op­er­at­ing sys­tem, which was last year in­tro­duced on the LC 500.

RIDE AND HAN­DLING

In gen­eral, the sus­pen­sion has been up­graded across all the trim lev­els, in­clud­ing re­vised shocks and sus­pen­sion com­po­nent bush­ings on mod­els with con­ven­tional sus­pen­sion, and an up­dated ver­sion of the Adap­tive Vari­able Sus­pen­sion (AVS), now avail­able on the F Sport.

The re­vised sus­pen­sion com­bines with sharp, well-weighted steer­ing to pro­vide a com­posed and well-con­trolled ride, while the drive mode se­lec­tor now com­prises five pos­si­ble se­lec­tions – Eco, Nor­mal, Sport, Sport+, and now, Cus­tom. With the lat­ter, the driver can now

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