8

10

Model

NX

Price

$60,000

The Numbers

2.5L hybrid, AWD, 145kW, 210Nm 5.6L/100km 0-100km/h 9.1secs 1860kg

The Topgear Verdict

With original funky looks, and capabilities based on real-world needs, this is a real contender to trouble its European rivals.

2014 Lexus NX

What is it?

The NX is the latest and most important bid by the sexier, shapelier arm of Toyota to grab the youthful-ish buyer (is over 30 young?), lobbing as it does into the biggest growing market not just in Australia, but the world: SUVs.

Of course, calling it an SUV is like describing me as a Socceroo because I own a Tim Cahill shirt.

Paul Williamsen, a surprisingly frank Yank from Lexus International, was upfront about this question at the car’s launch in Canada: “Off-road capability is not a big concern for buyers, it’s more for the active-lifestyle buyer,” he says, making SUV owners who never leave town sound adventurous and fit-looking. “It will get you to the snow if it’s snowing, but we’re not marketing it as an off-road product, and that’s not what these buyers are after. There’s not a lot of ground clearance and the tyres are not an aggressive four-wheel-drive tyre.”

What’s underneath?

The NX will be available in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive when it arrives in Australia in November. For its first five months on sale, a 2.5-litre hybrid-engined 300h will be your only option, although you can get it in front-wheel or a special hybridised version of all-wheel drive.

There’s no drive shaft connection to the rear wheels, just a third motor generator attached to the rear diff housing, which provides more torque to the back end when the stability-control computer decides it’s required. A part-time 4WD system would be a fair description. The engine provides 115kW and gets a 30kW kick from the batteries, dragging it to 100km/h in a non-exciting 9.1 seconds, but it is good for a claimed 5.6 litres per 100km.

The excitement will come in March when the significantly quicker and quite impressive all-new 2.0-litre turbo engined NX 200t arrives, once again driving either two or four wheels through a semi-all-wheel-drive on demand set up and providing a 0 to 100km/h dash of 7.2 seconds.

The 175kW and 350Nm turbo power plant features some clever new tech  and will soon be turning up elsewhere in the Lexus range, look out for a 200t version of the IS for a start.

What’s it like to drive?

While the hybrid slurs and whirs, thanks to its annoying CVT gearbox, the 2.0 is the engine you want, doing an impressive job of hauling 1700-1860kg kg of high-topped sedan around. It should be great fun in a lighter car.

Still, the NX is an impressive drive, despite being based on a Toyota RAV4 — although Lexus says 90 per cent of the parts are newly engineered. More vitally, the basic structure is 20 per cent more rigid than a RAV, and that shows through in the car’s feeling of solidity.

NVH is mostly of luxury level, although there was some tyre roar on boomy concrete freeways. The interior feels as hand-crafted as they claim, and cops a new Remote Touch Interface that’s a big step up on the wobbly knob Lexuses past have used. Gloriously, the foot-operated parking brake is also a thing of the past, replaced by a modern electric one.

Once you’re on the go, it’s a classy, competent-feeling medium SUV, with nicely weighted steering and a very well sorted ride. We weren’t given the roads to properly test its cornering, but through nice, smooth corners it behaved nicely and smoothly.

One weird letdown for such a tech-savvy company is that while the transmission in the NX is new, it’s only a six speed, rather than the eight or nine that’s now increasingly standard. The result is overly shifty, but far from awful.

Legroom and comfort are excellent, front and back; and while the boot looks shallow, at 500 litres, it’s actually not too bad (an Audi Q5 has 540.)

How big is it?

Size wise, Lexus says the 4.6m-by-2.6m vehicle falls “in the sweet spot” between smaller compacts, like Audi’s Q3, and mid-sizers like the Q5 (and is significantly shorter and narrower than an RX); there’s no plans to introduce a smaller SUV. Lexus is clearly hoping its offer will stand out as being unique.

It certainly does so in styling terms, and it’s a good enough drive to compete with the Europeans, particularly for buyers who will never push it hard or take it on gravel.

What will it cost?

Lexus has yet to confirm local pricing or specs. In the US, the NX is expected to start at $35,000 to $40,000, but the same car is expected to be closer to $55,000 or $65,000 here.

Intriguingly, the plan is to price the hybrid versions at the entry level, putting the lie to the old story about that technology being more expensive. The company is sticking firm to its belief that hybridisation is the future, and that Australian buyers will fall in love with it, eventually.

Where the NX will really win buyers, and particularly the hipsters it’s after, is in the styling. The LF-NX Concept was wild and edgy and looked like the helmet from Battlestar Galactica, and the production car has maintained the brave styling bits while shedding the silly, showy parts.

Having the really pretty one will cost you, though: the all-wheel-drive-only F Sport model — in either hybrid or 2.0-litre — is the only version to get the awesome new Lexus spindle grille.

Cheaper models, which Lexus admits will take up most of the market share, get a horizontal grille that make them look like ugly step sisters, by comparison.

Driven: July 01, 2014