“Can we take the cool car, Dad?”
Begged our nine year-old daughter every time we went out during the week the new Lexus NX300h was at our house.
Two aspects of this request were extraordinary. The first was that Susanna – who spends most of her time exclusively preoccupied with perfecting her cartwheels – should express any kind of opinion about a press car. Normally, she regards the cars that come to our door in connection with her father’s work as being as far below her interest as her father’s clothes.
The second unprecedented feature was that the car being described as “cool” was a Lexus.
Many are the virtues of Lexus – the premium brand for Toyota – and many a time have I praised them. Nobody is a more ardent admirer of the fabulous engineering, build quality and finish of Lexus cars and I have often thought that, if I had no financial restrictions in buying cars for my family, I would gladly settle for an IS C convertible and an RX hybrid (we live in the Scottish hills where we sometimes need 4×4 capability).
Despite this enthusiasm, however, the word “cool” would never have crossed my mind in connection with any Lexus. All Lexus cars exhibit the painfully uptight conservatism of the Japanese car industry in regard to style: the outward appearance of their cars is as individually expressive as a platform party of Japanese politicians – every one of them in their dark blue suits, white shirts and blue patterned ties.
Now here comes a Lexus that a nine year-old car – the final and absolute arbiter on all questions of taste – can, without the faintest whiff of irony, describe as “cool”. What on earth has happened?
Keen watchers of car fashion might have seen it coming. The LF-NX concept cars Lexus presented at the Frankfurt and Tokyo motor shows in 2013 declared an unprecedented awareness at Lexus of the need to get up to date with some edgy styling. The NX – Lexus’s first foray into the market for premium SUVs like Audi’s Q5, BMW’s X3 and Range Rover’s Evoque – follows those models with styling that, in Lexus’s own words, is meant to be in keeping with “high-quality sports watches, bikes and fashion – generally ‘urban sports gear’ – with an edgy design that will help it connect with a typically urban, active customer base.”
In other words, it’s got a low roofline, a strong cab-forward silhouette, a diamond-shaped body and powerfully flared front and rear wings. My wife summarised this appearance by judging that the NX looked “like a Transformer” – which was not entirely a compliment, I think. Our daughter was not, however, the only one who was knocked out by its looks. When we took the NX to a party, one of the guests came in asking “Whose is that cool Lexus outside?” I think that’s the last word on that question.
Beyond that superficial cool, the NX operates like a perfectly average Lexus – ie superbly.
Interior is of faultlessly high quality, with gorgeous leathers and subdued metals. With a new Lexus Remote Touch Interface with a touch pad control and a 6.2” head-up display, the information/audio/satnav system is – like all Lexuses – the best on the market (ie easiest and clearest to operate and simplest to understand). All Toyota/Lexus hybrids are at the forefront of technological development. The NX’s system combines a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine, electric motor and E-CVT automatic transmission. On the front-wheel drive version of the NX, this set-up brings emissions down to 116g/km of CO2 (front-wheel drive NX 300h S model) yet has a maximum output of 195bhp/145kW.
It’s never going to set the Tarmac alight but the NX is better to drive than Range Rover’s Evoque because it is so predictably neutral in corners which means that the limits of cornering capability are more likely to be the driver’s rather than car’s. The price range £29,495 – £42,995 considerably undercuts all its premium rivals while overall quality is superior.
And there’s only one premium SUV crossover on the market at present that any informed judge would call cool.
Astonishingly, it’s a Lexus.