PERHAPS morning TV host Samantha Armytage dropped into Lexus headquarters. The conservative luxury brand can now lay claim to its own version of "bringing sexy back".
This NX sports utility vehicle, alongside the stunning RC coupe, is among the new additions which are helping to change the "nice but boring" brand perception.
Both these new models have just welcomed high-powered engine variants, with this NX300h also having a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder sibling - which is the first turbo variant for Lexus.
We took the hybrid version for a spin which starts from about $55k, but this F Sport derivative costs about $10,000 more.
Japanese flair may be consider an oxymoron for many, but the NX interior offers interesting angles with premium feel.
The F Sport gets some unique athletic features over the base model, with judicious use of red materials and carbon-fibre looking inserts to inject some additional affluence.
Man-made leather on the quilted pews and dash feels soft enough despite not being the real deal, and the sports seats offer excellent support in the right spots.
An array of buttons can be a challenge at first glimpse. You can quickly find your bearings, with easy access to the air-con controls on the centre stack, with the stereo and trip computer functions at your thumb-tips on the steering wheel.
After having reservations about the primary system with its mouse-pad which sends a pulse through your fingertips when on desired menus, like sat nav, radio, we found it easy to use…although the dial system found on other premium offerings would be our preference.
The cabin offers four adults ample space, and three can fit across the back seat with no high transmission tunnel.
On the road
Under full power the NX can feel flustered. With hard acceleration the continuously variable transmission struggled to keep up with driver demands.
Its 0-100km time just shy of 10 seconds proves it won't surprise any onlookers at the lights. The new turbo petrol model has just landed, so those seeking some more punch will be better served by the 200t although we suspect the 300h will do the job nicely for families - the pivotal market.
With the F Sport you can choose between economy, normal and sport driving modes. There is isn't a massive difference between the choices, apart from the change in manufactured sound which emanates through the speakers, and the steering can feel lazy and a little cumbersome for keener drivers, although most will be rapt it rides quietly and accelerates smoothly which ticks the tight boxes.
What do you get?
Savvy buyers will be pleased with the basic kit on the F Sport variant.
Base NXs already come with sat nav, power tailgate, cruise control, 10-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic lights, but this model gets 360-degree cameras for easier parking, blind spot monitor, automatic wipers and lights, different suspension modes, wireless phone charger (for Qi enabled phones), 18-inch alloys, front seats which heat and cool your rear end and leather trim.
Our test car also had the $4000 enhancement pack which includes a sunroof and the 14-speaker Mark Levinson Audio system.
Safety is five-star, but it costs an extra $7500 to option the really cool gear, like radar cruise control, pre-collision safety, lane departure warning, cockpit style head-up display and automatic high beam.
Reputation is everything, and Lexus has a strong one for reliability and longevity. Servicing is annual, and costs are traditionally low by premium standards.
During our test we achieved about seven litres for every 100km, higher than the official figure, but pretty good for a vehicle of this size. It also runs on standard unleaded and is ethanol compatible.
Kudos for the thoughtful features, like dual cup holders in the console, each door can cope with a bottle, while the console has access to the dual USB/auxiliary plugs, 12-volt plug and the cool charger which can revive your smartphone battery just by sitting on the tray as long as it has Qi functionality.
Rear seatbacks can recline and fold flat (by pulling a lever at the base of the seats), although the boot is not as big as you might think. The power tailgate is great functionality, but we'd like to see something in the back which enables you to drop the seats from the boot.
Since Lexus introduced the F Sport packs it made an immediate impact. Buyers have loved the athletic extras, and this variant would be our choice from the NX line-up.
Big dual-arm, five-spoke alloys, hidden exhaust, red stitching on the black leather trim, alloy pedals, it's an arresting looking thing inside and out.
One conversation with an existing Lexus owner proved the NX is on the money. Already a hybrid owner, he was unperturbed about its performance, enamoured with the features, internal space and exterior looks.
The NX is an easy car to live with.
It does enough to exceed expectations in all facets.
What matters most What we liked: Good looker, impressive features list, excellent quality, typically quiet ride. What we'd like to see: Levers to drop rear seats in the boot, extra power although that's coming very soon in the new turbo model. Warranty and servicing: Four-year/100,000km warranty (eight-year battery warranty) with roadside assist. Lexus also gives you a loan car during servicing as part of Encore Privileges. Servicing is annual or 15,000km. Verdict: Four stars.
Model: Lexus NX300h F Sport.
Details: Five-door mid-size all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 114kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 210Nm @ 4200-4400rpm, and an 105kW (147kW combined) and 270Nm electric motor with nickel metal hydride battery.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 5.7 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 9.2 seconds.
Towing capacity: 1000kg.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $66,000.
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