A few days with a Lexus NX

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, November 21st, 2014

AWWLexusNXDay one: As American car journalists like to say, full disclosure: Lexus invited me to a hotel in the Cotswolds to celebrate their 25th birthday. They lent me an RX450h to get there and an NX300h to go home in. They paid for my stay, and let my wife and baby son come along too. I wasn’t going to accept but Mrs Sniff said it was nice to be asked and rude to say no. I think she just wanted a night away in the Cotswolds. Anyway, we drove there in the RX which is a funny old bus with a sort of high tech dashboard yet a glowing digital clock from 1981 and bizarre touches like needlessly concealable heated seat controls. We had a nice walk down the lane and then there was a press conference with a man called Alain Uyttenhoven who is Vice President of Lexus Europe. He told us some things about Lexus. The company knows its cars are bought for rational things like quality and customer service but now they want to be bought for emotional reasons. One way to do this is with more interesting styling. Hence the riot of folds and creases all over the NX. To make sure design gets priority from now on, they’ve put Toyota’s styling boss in charge of the whole of Lexus. Also, they’re not trying to topple the Germans because that would be ‘impossible’ and that Lexus wants to ‘represent an alternative’. Oh, and they’re considering a more mainstream replacement for the LFA.

After this, there was a dinner starting with treacle cured salmon, moving on to roast beef medallions with winter veg, progressing through a superb lemon tart and ending with coffee and some little cubes of fudge that looked confusingly like cheese. There was also a 2009 Saint Emilion, which I found delightful, and an after-dinner fireworks display, which I also found very delightful, although that might be because I’d drunk several glasses of the 2009 Saint Emilion.

Day two: When we arrived yesterday there was an LFA and an original LS parked outside the hotel. I thought they were just for display. But no, they were driveable. I’m up early, it’s a beautiful morning, I’ve never driven an LFA. It seems rude not to. On first impressions, it’s an unusual car. All the controls seem to be in strange places and even selecting reverse takes a bit of working out. Creeping off down the lane, it feels massively wide and determined to follow the camber of the road. The first gearchange on the paddle shifter is a shock too. No seamless PDK-style trickery here. It’s a single clutch and it seems to take ages. Also, the roads are a bit greasy and it’s not entirely clear how much grip the LFA is going to find. The immediate, unsettlingly slithery answer as I pull out of a junction is, not much. It’s a rare car, it’s worth 300 grand or so and it belongs to Toyota UK who seem to like it the shape it is. One way or another, this might be quite a short drive. But then I give it some revs and holy mother of sweet Jesus all manner of exciting things happen at once. There’s a sound like an old F1 car and a sensation of being pushed into an open lift shaft and at precisely that same moment I drive into an unexpected bank of thick mist which is shot through with shafts of clear morning sunlight and just for a second I think, well this is it. I’ve died. I didn’t feel it happening but here I am, in heaven. And heaven sounds like a Honda RA109E. It later turns out I’m not dead. I’m alive. I’m very, very alive, driving a Lexus LFA around deserted Cotswold roads, getting braver and braver, using more revs, loving the sharp turn-in and the frisky back end and the quirks of that gearbox and the sense of a fundamentally well-sorted chassis. But most of all, just relishing the sound and the fury of that sensational engine. One day when everything has a turbo, we’ll look back on engines like this with their love of revs and their raw sound and their sheer sense of joy through engineering and we’ll lament what we’ve left behind. It dominates the LFA yet doesn’t overwhelm the feeling that the whole thing is a unique and very special piece of work. After an hour of driving I decide against just heading towards Scotland with no plans to return and take the LFA back to the hotel. What an hour. What a car.

AWWLexusNX2Driving home in the NX isn’t as exciting. What can I tell you? There’s quite a lot of room in the back. The dashboard has a touchpad controller for the stereo and nav which has some sort of weird haptic feedback. It’s quite quiet for the most part, but going up hill on motorways you can hear the four cylinder engine droning in an unappealing way. The NX is a hybrid of course. So are 97.1% of Lexuses sold so far in the UK this year. Yea, that’s right, I’ve been to a press conference AND taken notes.

Day three: My neighbour Louis comes out of his house this evening and admires the NX. A while back there was a concept version of this car. To my eyes it looked awful, like someone had crumpled up the design sketches by accident. The real life car is much better. The front overhang is a bit long and from some angles there’s a bit much going on but overall it’s interesting and different. The interior is a mixed bag. In some places it feels expensive and well designed. In others, like they’ve not bothered. The large amount of black plastic on the centre stack, for example, or the engine start button that bulges out next to the instruments and seems to have been taken off a cheap washing machine. For no accountable reason, there’s a tiny cubby in front of the arm rest with a removable lid which has a mirror set into its underside. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they’re trying to attract cocaine addicts.

Day four: A bit of trundling round town. Toyotexus hybrids are always good at that, silently purring through traffic jams on electric power. I’d read somewhere that the standard NX had a bad ride. But this press demonstrator has the optional adaptive dampers and it’s not bad at all. I mean, it could be a bit softer but Lexus seems to think this is a sporty car and instead it has a sport mode, and a sport plus mode, which make things firmer. I tried them a couple of times and went back to normal mode.

AWWLexusNX3Goodbye: The NX is going away. The more I look at it, the more I like the design. The driving experience is less interesting. The NX has some of that ‘like driving, but less so’ feeling of its hybrid brothers but rather than embrace that by making it totally relaxing and calm the NX has been made to tow the official line that Lexus is getting sportier. A quarter of all the cars they sell in Britain now are in F Sport trim, which is sort of like their BMW M Sport or Audi S Line. So that sort of thing is what they’re focussing on. But what about the 75 percent of buyers who don’t buy the sporty trim? They’re the majority so shouldn’t they be the people Lexus takes a steer from? Everyone’s trying to be bloody sporty and it’s getting quite tedious. Everyday saloons and SUVs aren’t going to be sports cars so why pretend otherwise when all you’re doing is fucking up perfectly pleasant and wafty cars that are never going to handle like a GT3 racer? Moreover, since Audi and Jaguar and Mercedes are all obsessed with this stuff, why can’t Lexus become a true alternative choice by making thoughtful, intelligent, civilised cars for thoughtful, intelligent, civilised people rather than for utter bellends with their Breitlings and Bicester Village suits who want four door rep cars to be ‘sporty’. Lexus could do this better than anyone, what with their avoidance of nasty, noisy diesel and their devotion to refinement. But no, they want to be sporty too. And it’s a shame. They’re inspired of course by their own actual sports car, the LFA. But the NX is not like the LFA. Nothing is. Nothing at all.

The car talked about here is a Lexus NX300h F Sport. It has a hybrid drivetrain featuring a 153 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor on each axle. Total ‘system output’ is 194bhp. Lexus says it can go from 0-62 in 9.2 seconds and on to 112mph. In this trim without options it costs £36,995.

36 Responses to “A few days with a Lexus NX”

  1. Nick81 says:

    Another masturbation session over the LFA for the 2112 millionth time on teh internetz. Must be why Toyotexus paint them white.

  2. GadgetBoy says:

    I think you should refer to your offspring as Little Sniff. Then you could say things like “My wife and Little Sniff.”

  3. Carroll says:

    A bit harsh Nick – but I did chuckle at the slivers of ‘Dab of Oppo’ stylee ramblings…

    Must assume that the LFA really is some kind of other-wordly OMG experience if it affects all motoring hacks as much as it seems to.

  4. Sniff Petrol says:

    When people complain that car writers are universal in praising a certain car, it never seems to cross their minds that perhaps it’s because the car is really good. The LFA, as if you hadn’t gathered, is really good.

  5. Gordon says:

    Nice homage to George Bishop there *hic*

  6. PeteH says:

    Hmm, I have a Breitling. In my defence I bought it 12 years ago before some jumped up working class feetballiste with a skinny wife started advertising them. I don’t want a BMW either, although a nice calming C-Class estate with an unholy V8 would be nice.

  7. tony cotton says:

    “To make sure design gets priority from now on, they’ve put Toyota’s styling boss in charge of the whole of Lexus.”

    I’ve always found Toyotas to be as stylish as they are good to drive.

  8. Jennifer Warts says:

    Oh joy, yet another generic looking SUV. Whilst I don’t realistically expect to be excited by these vehicles, I am constantly surprised at how mind-numbingly uninspiring these things have become.
    Makes me want my old Previa back. And that’s saying something.

    Meh and hmphh.

    AS for the fabled LFA… if a V10 isn’t exciting then someone has done something very wrong indeed.

  9. Matthew says:

    Apparently there are only two UK registered LFAs.

    Which is a shame.

  10. “the NX has been made to tow the official line”
    Does it come with a toe-bar?

  11. Norfolk Enchants says:

    I’m wondering if Lexoyota will poach Porsche’s head designer to help the Toyota guy, I’m sure they’d come up with some corking designs.
    I am disappointed to see that you didn’t try this off-roader off-road, unless I missed the bit where you drove it through a shallow puddle…which would neatly resemble to people who are likely to drive this, at very slow speeds and avoiding any kind of muck or liquid on the road surface.
    However being an SUV hybrid I’m sure it will be excellent for towing. Towing a plastic bag.

  12. Robbo says:

    Funny… said *exactly* the same thing when I was lucky enough to drive the LFA. That. Engine. Is. Just. Immense. Weirdburger bits and bobs – that seatbelt! What the hell! – and it’s dating pretty badly, but yes, the reason people bang on about the LFA is because it is that farking good.

  13. Andy_D says:

    “Mainstream replace”?? Replacement surely?

    I have the feeling that if you bought an NX, every time you came back to it after parking it in a public car park, you’d wonder if anyone had driven in to it or if it was part of the design.

  14. Sniff Petrol says:

    Well spotted on the typo. I had briefly turned into Borat. Fixed now.

  15. Yugguy says:

    The front grille is HIDEOUS. The rest is generic SUV.

  16. damon hynes says:

    Nick81–nice RUSH reference 🙂

  17. richardg says:

    Isn’t the LFA extremely rare because it was built to celebrate Ralph Schumacher’s first win in the F.1 Toyota?

  18. Ian A says:

    In the section on the LFA, was I the only one expecting to read “the back end skipped sideways but I simply caught it with a dab of oppo and was away. The Lexus LFA is a bitch and I spanked it!”

  19. Paul Morgan says:

    I don’t think I could ever be talked into buying a car with a CVT gearbox.

    Having driven a couple, and been a passenger in a couple more, all that whooshing and revving reminds me of an old Granada Scorpio I had with a buggered torque converter.

    I do like an auto, and a smooth one at that, but taking all the gears out entirely isn’t my cup of tea.

    On an unrelated note, I’d love to have a bash in an LFA. Any chance Sniff can fix it for me? It’d be like that great kids programme in the ’80s, hosted by Jimmy… Actually, forget I said anything.

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