Driven: Lexus NX

There must be something about Lexus design that just works. All those sharp edges, straight lines and contradictory angles on the NX leave some viewers aghast but, for every hater, there’s somebody that thinks a Lexus is the bee’s knees. If Marmite made cars, they’d build a Lexus.

There’s a confidence within the brand that spills over into the design. As a company, it accepts that not everybody will like what it’s doing and, frankly, it doesn’t care. It’s not trying to appeal to a serial Audi buyer, with its pleasant but non-confrontational, evolutionary design. BMW has designed itself into a corner that its buyers are happy with, and they’re not likely to wander over to view a cosmetically challenging Lexus (although they may be in for a shock when they see the next generation of BMWs coming down the line…)

Straight lines and strong angles mark the Lexus NX out.

It could explain why, six years after we first saw it, the Lexus NX looks as fresh as a sea breeze. Yes, it’s had a facelift over that time, but that was minor and just tidied up a few rough edges while adding swisher headlights. It remains every bit as bold as it ever was, standing clear in a market full of SUVs that could all be the same. Whether you like it is down to personal taste, but it makes a statement.

Inside there’s a large infotainment system, with a 10.3-inch screen on higher-spec models, but it still lacks the visual clarity of its rivals from Audi or Mercedes. Happily, Lexus has retained a number of physical buttons, but they’re a tad haphazard and somewhat reminiscent of a Matsui stereo from the 80s. Retro-cool, perhaps? However, it all works well, even the much-maligned touchpad interface for the system. That gets a lot of bad press, and it undoubtedly has a steep learning curve. However, once you’ve got used to it it’s slick and easy to use, even with your left hand. Lefties will find it a cinch from day one, of course.

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As with almost everything Lexus, quality is absolutely top-notch, with some exquisite materials and a perceived quality of construction that matches the very best. All models are loaded with equipment too, from navigation and 10-speaker surround sound to dual-zone climate control and leather-trimmed steering wheel. Step up to the rather more expensive trims and there’s a head-up display, an impressive Mark Levinson stereo system, a wireless phone charger and a heated steering wheel, amongst many other things.

It’s all placed in a cabin that’s pretty spacious, if not quite class-leading. That said, Lexus claims the boot is the longest in the class, once the rear seats are folded. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will find that handy.

The interior of the Lexus NX is top quality.

Under the shapely bonnet lies a 2.5-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor. It’s what Toyota naughtily call a self-charging hybrid but don’t think you’ll cover huge distances on electric power – the battery is only big enough for a couple of miles at best. However, by constantly recovering lost energy from braking coasting downhill, and so on, it ends up being surprisingly efficient. A drive into Stratford-upon-Avon saw the car running on battery power for around 65% of the time, although that reduces when you hit motorways. It’s smooth, the CVT gearbox means it’s quiet at speed, and emissions are kept in check in town.

It falls apart a little on a country road, where the engine gets noisy and the ride quality suffers from being stiffer than you might hope for. Lexus owners clearly prefer a relaxed drive as, at anything approaching enthusiastic, there’s a level of computer interference that is quite significant. Still, it’ll be nearly impossible to crash the NX and, if you do end up off the road, there’s four-wheel drive to help get you back onto the tarmac.

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Is it all worth the forty-odd grand that Lexus wants for the NX? There are tax benefits for company car drivers thanks to the petrol engine and lowish CO2 figures which may sway some, but you can’t help but think that newer rivals that have appeared over the last six years have moved the game forward.

That said, if you really like Marmite, then the ageing NX can just about hold its own.