New design, new interior finishing and new equipment marks out the midlife facelift of the Lexus NX mid-sized premium SUV and though it's not the most uniformly satisfying vehicle of its type, it remains an intriguing proposition.
In the metal
Lexus has done very little to the NX SUV, three years after it launched. Thus, you're still left with the styling that is potentially very divisive. We happen to like the way the Lexus looks, but we understand that it will not be everyone's cup of Barry's. For the record, the 2018MY cars feature a new spindle grille with a revised front bumper and some fresh alloy wheel designs, LED head- and taillights (on the more expensive models equipped with LED headlights, that is...), some additional colour options and bits of trim within, extra equipment in the form of the Lexus Safety System+ (a pack that includes semi-autonomous driver assist items like Pre-Collision System, All-Speed Adaptive Cruise Control with stop-and-go functionality, Lane Keeping Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition, plus Automatic High Beam on the lower models, with a more advanced, 11-LED Adaptive High-Beam System from F Sport and above) and a bigger 10.3-inch multimedia display for the NXs fitted with Lexus Premium Navigation.
Nothing ground-breaking, then, but the NX still cuts the most readily identifiable aesthetic dash in this class and if you like its appearance, then half the battle of getting you to sign on the dotted line in a Lexus showroom, rather than an Audi or BMW dealership, is already won. Furthermore, F Sport trim does it plenty of favours, beefing up the exterior looks with lower body trim, attractive 18-inch alloys and a larger roof spoiler. Shame the interior lets the car down a little. Oh, there's plenty of space inside and the general standard of fit and finish is exemplary, with some lovely materials used, but there's still a sort of haphazard approach to switchgear - none of the buttons seem to match for design or labelling from one area of the console to the next, while the flat touchpad controller for the infotainment system is infuriating to use and needlessly obtrusive. Lexus, it's about time you just admitted defeat and went for a rotary controller here, please.
F Sport trim presents something of a dichotomy. Presumably, buyers of the NX are going for it because of its hybrid USP, meaning they're interested in saving the planet by proxy. So to then go and slather on the visual signifiers of a sports model seems strange. And, once you sample the NX 300h, you'll realise it's not dynamic in the slightest. The petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, which is the solitary engine choice in the NX's line-up, is unchanged as part of the facelift and so you remain saddled with an e-CVT gearbox and a rather coarse four-cylinder combustion engine that does not like to be extended at all. There's the traditional Toyota/Lexus row whenever you depress the throttle pedal a significant amount of distance towards the floor, a rumbustious racket that thoroughly dissuades you from ever accelerating swiftly in the NX again.
Shame, because the Lexus' utter reluctance to go quickly is about the only smirch on its dynamic report card. Driven as a hybrid should be, which is to say gently, the NX is a fine companion. The e-CVT is seamless and quiet at anything below 60 per cent throttle openings, while the suppression of noise across all disciplines is fabulous on the NX; that means it's a serene cruiser and also pretty handy in town, where its drivetrain has just enough torque to make the SUV feel punchy enough to take half-gaps in traffic. Lexus has also tweaked the underpinnings on these 2018MY cars to enhance the comfort levels, the Adaptive Variable Suspension managing to provide a supple ride in all conditions, even with the F Sport's 18-inch rims on performance-orientated tyres.
There's even a decent chassis on the NX, with little body roll to report, very good steering and a set of brakes that no longer have a horrid, two-stage feel to them as a result of their need to harvest kinetic energy for the on-board nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries. So it's a pity that this hybrid propulsion system is all that's offered, as the NX feels like it could take a more focused engine and gearbox and deliver a fairly sporty drive.
What you get for your money
Trim lines for the Lexus NX here run S-design, Dynamic, Executive, F Sport and Premium. On the first two of these, the NX is front-wheel drive only, while the latter two are all-wheel drive only - leaving Executive as the only level where you can choose to have one driven axle or two on the Lexus SUV, the AWD coming at a €1,500 premium.
Equipment levels are reasonably generous across the board, all models coming with at least alloy wheels, cruise control, auto wipers and heated front seats as standard. However, Executive (from €54,450) looks to be the sweet spot of the range, as luxury items like 18-inch alloys, electrically adjustable front seats, a powered tailgate, leather upholstery and a wireless phone charger are among the standard luxuries. F Sport variants like our test car come with the sporty exterior addenda, although a €60,000-plus starting figure is somewhat steep. Obviously, as hybrids, the Lexus NX in all its guises qualifies for a €1,500 Hybrid VRT Rebate, and that is already included in the prices we've quoted here.
The Lexus NX has its work cut out, because it competes in a segment with some frighteningly talented European rivals. Nevertheless, small detail changes on the 2018MY models do improve the package and it has its idiosyncratic looks, a smart, well-equipped interior and the tax break benefits of its (admittedly compromised) hybrid drivetrain to fall back on, making the NX an alluring proposition for some buyers. There are better SUVs out there, of course, and the lack of choice in terms of engines is a brave, possibly even foolhardy move by Lexus, but the resulting machine at least has a very clear sense of its own identity. That enough is alone to make the NX a likeable alternative to the diesel mainstream.