There is little doubt the song of the open road – be it heavy metal, rock, blues, pop or nature’s own orchestral manoeuvres – are best appreciated while plumped in a form-fitting seat atop a finely tuned suspension and propelled by enough power to handle everything asked.
The Lexus NX does just that. I am, however, just that ‘old school’ enough to still believe if I intend driving really quickly my butt should be mere centimetres from the road rather than reaching for clouds – in fact, old school enough to question why anyone would want an SUV capable of 200 km/h.
Sure, it is a thing – there is the brutal Jeep SRT and Range Rover’s Sport – but the marriage of good off-road capability and sports type speed has me flummoxed. True, almost none of the trick SUV’s ever find themselves outside of an urban environment, but that is not the point.
To be fair, the Lexus NX handles both good tarmac and smooth dirt roads with aplomb and it is difficult to find fault with its handling on either surface even when pressed beyond the limits likely to be achieved by Joe Average.
The Lexus NX was Lexus’ first foray into the compact premium SUV market. Featuring an unmistakeable angular design language, with strong body lines and prominent contouring the NX is hard to miss in any playground.
Late last year all models received front styling refinements, with new headlamps, a bold new front grille utilising a chrome frame, altered side grille, bumper and lower bumper elements.
At the rear, came new LED combination lamps. The rear bumper and license plate garnish have also gone under the surgeon’s knife and tie in with the overall design theme.
In F-Sport guise, the spindle-grille ‘frame’ is finished off in a ‘black chrome’ effect, which ties in with the dark ‘F-mesh’ grille.
The brushed-aluminium-effect lower apron, which runs the full length of the front, creates a sporty appearance and ties all the frontal design elements together. Graphite-coloured vent trim on the edges of the bumper accentuate the powerful stance and F-Sport identity.
As part of Lexus’ global strategy, the ‘200t’ moniker (signifying a 2,0-litre turbo-charged engine) was been replaced by ‘300’. The 300 badging bears reference to offering an equivalent power output to that of a 3,0-litre powerplant – this has been adopted to achieve parity between the petrol and hybrid engine models’ badging convention.
As such, the badging changed to NX 300 in E, EX and F-Sport iterations respectively.
The F-Sport as tested is delivered with the all-wheel drive configuration and 6-speed automatic transmission to serve the 2,0-litre turbo-charged ‘4-pot’ engine – offering 175 kW with 350 Nm on tap between 1 650 r/min and 4 000 r/min.
The engine utilises a combination of port and direct injection (known as D-4ST) along with Variable Valve Timing intelligent Wide (VVTi-W), to optimise combustion in the pursuit of both power and efficiency. The twin-scroll turbo-charger delivers a wide-spread of torque assisting with acceleration.
It runs an 8,4 second sprint to 100 km/h and is capable of 200 km/h. In Eco mode, the overall fuel consumption could be squeezed to below 9,0 l/100 km, pushing up to over 10 l/100 km when in press on mode in Sport or Sport+.
My test average (combining all modes) came to 9,7 l/100 km, making it competitive with its peers in the marketplace.
Compared to the previous version, the upgrades to the suspension provide a much firmer and stable ride with less body movement.
Refinements include a new calibration for the rear stabiliser bar and stabiliser-bar bushing, as well as new front dampers with reduced friction, while the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) on F-Sport has been upgraded to the latest iteration, borrowed from the LC premium sports coupé.
F-Sport has a unique suspension calibration and alloy wheel design. Rear stabiliser-bar stiffness on the refreshed NX, has been increased by 22% in order to suppress roll angle and optimise vehicle turning posture.
Specification upgrades on the F-Sport brought in dynamic headlamp levelling, chrome steering switch accents and aluminium detailing on the instrument cluster.
A key feature is the new 10,3-inch display audio screen (previous 7-inch) with enhanced graphics and clarity and the button design has been modernised while the analogue clock redesigned with increased contrast between the hands and background for ease of viewing. The clock is now linked to the GPS function, so the time is set automatically.
I am not a huge fan of the finger operated ‘mousepad’ and found making changes involved too much time with eyes off the road to ensure accurate placement of the cursor. Admittedly, I had the car only a week and in all likelihood, this operation would become more intuitive over time, with most owners making fewer changes than someone trying to investigate every feature does.
The usual comprehensive active safety systems are of course on-board and include anti-lock braking, EBD, Brake Assist, Traction Control, Enhanced VSC, Hill-start Assist, Trailer Sway Control. Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA).
Lexus prides itself on ‘what you see is what you get’ with no lengthy list of costly options to bring the base car up to a decent spec but, what is missing from this package – in a car costing R786 600 – are Adaptive Cruise Control and auto dimming headlights.
All Lexus NX models come with a 4-year/100 000 kilometre warranty. F-Sport also gets the Distance Plan Complete (full maintenance plan), all over a 4-year/100 000 kilometre period.