Lexus NX VS BMW X4
- Fabulous engine
- M-spec interior/seats
- 4WD Sport setting
- Confusing combination of style and substance
- Not pretty
It’s only taken nearly 15 years, but Lexus has become a fully accepted prestige brand in Australia – it outsells Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Mini, Porsche and Peugeot. And the NX mid-sized SUV is far and away the most popular Lexus model.
Read on to find out what I found out.
Read More: Lexus NX 2018 review
Read More: Lexus NX Sports Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX F Sport 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX 300 F Sport AWD 2018 review
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
Launching new cars must be an endlessly repetitive job, and trying to keep over-fed, overly feted and ostentatious motoring journalists entertained would strain the will to live of any human being, or even a house elf. So it’s easy to see why the people at BMW tried something different when it came time to launch its new X4 M Competition.
They were also dealing with a very strange car; not just an M version, but a Competition variant of a mid-size SUV (or SAV, as they prefer) with a kind of quirky coupe roofline that makes it look like it would prefer not be an SUV (or SAV) at all.
While the idea that someone might use this car for any kind of motorsport “Competition” seems as likely as Clive Palmer running for the bus, what it means is that this X4 gets an absolute rocket of an engine and all kinds of go-faster bits.
So, BMW decided to create a place called M Town - “a place where too much is just right”, as they put it - where we could experience this car in what you would have to call its unnatural environment.
M Town, in this case, was a giant clay pan hidden in the middle of the South Australian outback, with a rally circuit laid out on it, where we would be invited to drive the X4 M Competition as no one intended.
Cue much hilarity, and a highly unconventional non-road test.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The standard of the SUVs in the mid-sized premium segment is so high – high in terms of features and tech, high for practicality and comfort, but also high for the way they drive, and this is an area in which the Lexus NX300h F Sport falls short. At the same time, apart from the much pricier Volvo XC60 T8, it’s the only hybrid among its rivals and the fuel saving is not to be dismissed. Still this is a premium good-looking package at a great price.
Would you choose a Lexus NX300 over, say, a BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC or Volvo XC60? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Clearly it is hard to give a verdict on what car generally bought to be driven on public roads 99.9 per cent of the time is like to drive when you've only smashed it around a clay pan like a (very) amateur rally drive.
What we can tell you is that the X4 M Competition is a far more serious, exciting version of the (small) family friendly/cool and trendy young couple mid-size SUV, the basic X4. It also has a very exciting engine, and lots of polished gloss black bits on it and, for some reason, seems slightly more fun than the X3 it is closely twinned with.
It is not a car that will attract, or makes sense to, everyone, and its high price will scare a lot of sensible people away. But clearly BMW believes there is a niche market of people who will want one, and will pay top dollar for one. There's no doubt Aussie buyers do love an M badge, and they may well warm to this one.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
You’d be fibbing if you thought there wasn’t anything interesting about the design of the NX300h F Sport. Whether you think it’s good looking is another thing altogether, but I happen to reckon it is. I do like that Darth Vader grille, those LED headlights, the side profile and even the back with its egg-splat style tail-lights (very Toyota though).
The F Sport grade brings that expensive cheese-grater-made-of-Onyx-look to the grille, angry looking bumpers, LED indicators that light up in the direction you’re turning, and 18-inch alloys with a smokey-looking finish.
The only outward indication this is a hybrid is the badging.
The NX300h F Sport’s insides go beyond interesting into the realm of intriguing, with that enormous centre console that will make any front seat hankypanky impossible, to the dash puckered with switches and buttons, then there’s that layered trim: a combo of leather and a fish-scale looking material, there’s the F Sport steering wheel, F Sport pedals and scuff plates and F Sport seats.
There are things that confuse me like the tiny padded pull out mirror near the centre console, things that seem out of place like an analogue clock in a high-tech cabin, and things that annoy me like the seat position memory buttons that hide under the armrest in the door and can’t been seen or reached properly unless the door is open.
The NX300h F-Sport’s dimensions show it to be 4640mm long, 1645mm tall and 1845mm wide (not including the mirrors).
It only seems reasonable to give the X4 M one more point out of 10 for deign than its X3 non-identical twin sister, because at least the designers have had a bit of a go at the rear.
The idea of a coupe SUV has always seemed like something a hunchback came up with so that people wouldn’t only stare at him, but it obviously appeals to some people.
And yes, parked next to an X3, this version looks better, with sleeker tail lights and a more stylish rear altogether. The more pronounced swoop of the roofline is also an improvement.
But my argument remains that BMW calls this X4 M Competition “bold and functional”, which tells you all you need to know. When a marketing department can’t come up with a better term than “functional” when talking about design, for a BMW, it’s just not hat exciting to look at.
In fact, it looks like a shopping trolley with bigger wheels and go-faster stripes.
The non-M X4 is not exciting to look at it, either, it’s even more… functional, and this version is delineated as being M special by covering as many things as possible with “black high-gloss bits”, so black mirrors, black side gills, black chrome tail pipes, you get the picture.
BMW might have also used the word “tough” to describe this X4, and they did keep talking about how people might track it, which seems as likely as me entering a rocking horse in the Melbourne Cup, but I think they’re having a lend of themselves.
The interior feels like a proper M car, though, with the big red, programmable M buttons on the chunky steering wheel particularly eye catching, and a very cool looking gear stick. The M Sport seats also both look and feel fantastic, and the Merino Leather is lovely.
Well, it’s snug inside the NX300h F-Sport. That beefy centre console means room is tight in the footwell for the driver, especially with the foot-operated park brake. Meanwhile in the back seat my legs touch the seat-back when I sit behind my driving position (I am tall at 191cm, though), but headroom even with the optional sunroof (or moonroof, as Lexus calls it) is good.
Two cupholders up front, two in the back and bottle holders in all the doors, storage space inside is excellent – particularly the centre console storage bin which is deep and wide, has two USB ports and the Qi charging pad. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and that media controller is challenging to use.
In practicality terms, the X4 loses the gains it made on looks against the X3, because you’re obviously getting less headroom in the rear, and slightly less boot space as well.
For a vehicle of its mid-size, the X4 isn’t too badly sorted for interior space, however. The rear seats, in particular, are impressive, in terms of knee room at least, although headroom is not fabulous.
I’m 176cm tall, and I could comfortably sit behind my own seating position without my knees even touching the seat in front, and headroom is also excellent, front and rear.
Those sporty front seats do make things feel slightly squeezed in the front, and the width of the headrests effects forward visibility for those in the rear, but they’re so great to sit in that you’d put up with that.
The rear seat splits 40:20:40, giving you access to the boot, which is 525 litres in the X4 M with the seats up, because you’ve chosen the more practical option (the X3 gets 25 litres more).
Drop the rear seats and you’ve got a useful 1430 litres of loadspace when you’re driving two-up, although you’d have 1600 litres if you’d chosen the cheaper X3 M.
There’s plenty of space for your phone, on its wireless charging pad, and you also get two cupholders for the front chairs, with another two in the rear armrest.
Price and features
Guess what? You’ve saved a few thousand already by not buying this car this time last year. That’s because NX300h F Sport was previously only offered in all-wheel drive, but the added two-wheel drive version gives you a lower entry point into the F Sport grade, at $63,300.
So, while the all-wheel drive version still exists - and costs $67,800 - this front-wheeler gets all the same features for less moolah.
Coming standard is a 10.3-inch display with sat nav and 360-degree camera, 10-speaker stereo with digital radio and CD player. There’s also a wireless phone charger, 10-way power adjustable seats (heated and cooled), paddle shifters, power tailgate and proximity unlocking.
The mouse pad-style controller for the screen is so hard to use I avoided it whenever possible, it’s something Lexus must change… please.
But please don't change the little valet kit which is stored in the boot - see the images.
Our test car was fitted with the Enhancement Pack 2 which costs $6000 and adds a moonroof, 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, and head-up display. The premium paint (Sonic Quartz) costs $1500.
As for how the features and price compares with its rivals, well there aren’t any other hybrid mid-sized luxury SUV competitors to list, only combustion-engine ones such as the $70,900 Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d, the BMW X3 xDrive 20d for $68,900, an Audi Q5 2.0TDI for $65,900 or the Volvo XC60 D4 Momentum for $59,990. Notice how I chose diesels - there are petrol equivalents of those, too. But if you've got 50 per cent more budget, you could look at the pricey Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid.
At the time of writing Lexus was offering a driveaway price of $64,673 on the NX300h 2WD.
It’s a tricky thing to evaluate such a weird beard of a car as this in terms of value, because normally when you’re being asked to spend $164,900 for a BMW you’re getting something that’s all sports car, wrapped in sexiness.
To be fair, the X4 M has a more coupe-shaped roofline than the X3 version it shares its M Competition badging with, but this is a case of being less unattractive rather than better looking.
And, on the downside, you’re paying $7000 more than you would for the ever-so-slightly more practical X3 version, which would be hard to justify even if the X3 M wasn’t already very expensive.
What you are getting for the money is an engine that will blow you away, so that’s worth a bit.
The car only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia (it’s the top option elsewhere), due to the popularity of that kind of thing in our market, apparently.
That gets you the amazing engine plus a standard M Sport Exhaust, connected to four, black-tipped tailpipes, an eight-speed sports automatic, xDrive with 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, and an Active M Differential.
You’ll also score “Professional” satellite navigation, Comfort Access, a Panorama sunroof, M Head Up Display, Driving Assistant Plus with semi-autonomous functionality including Active Cruise Control and Parking Assistant Plus, plus Hill Descent Control.
And don’t forget 21-inch light alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting with six colour options, and alarm system, very sexy M Sport seats (the M logo on the headrests even glows at night when you open the door) with Extended Leather Merino trim, a 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo system, tyre-pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assistant, wireless charging, individual roof rails, rear roller sunblinds and BMW Connected Drive.
Are there any options you could even want on top of all that? Have you ever seen a BMW offered without them?
Strangely and uniquely, BMW asks you to pay for Apple CarPlay, which everyone will, at $623, and you can have your seats ($700), or steering wheel ($500) heated for winter mornings. Active seat ventilation is $1600 more, and metallic paint will sock you $2000, or $2350 for Individual Metallic (you can have Alpine White, non-metallic, for free).
Engine & trans
The NX300h F-Sport is a petrol-electric hybrid, but not the plug-in kind – there’s no charging port, just batteries which are recharging through regenerative braking.
The engine is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol which makes 114kW and 147Nm. The electric motor is a 105kW/270Nm unit.
Let’s not forget we are reviewing the front-wheel drive version of the NX300h F-Sport. There’s an AWD version, too.
The transmission is an automatic - a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and I’m not a fan of them - but the Toyota/Lexus versions seem to be the better ones.
No matter what you think of the X4 M Competition - its looks, its very existence - there’s no denying that its engine is something to be very excited about.
The 3.0-litre in-line six with M TwinPower Turbo technology is 90 per cent new, according to BMW, and will soon see action in the new BMW M3 and M4, and it is a rip snorter. The folks at M have thrown everything at it, using 3D printing to make the cylinder head, a forged crankshaft, and two new mono-scroll turbochargers, which are obviously different from the twin-scroll versions in the M5, and lift direct fuel-injection pressure from 200 bar to 350 bar. Apparently they’re even better. It also gets an electrically controlled wastegate for maximum efficiency.
The goal was an impressive 500 horsepower, or 375kW in our lingo, and they’ve achieved it. They’ve also made magic by combining both traditional BMW free-revvingness and savage turbo torque. With all of its maximum 600Nm available from 2600rpm to 5950rpm, it has the highest torque bandwidth of any BMW engine.
The screaming six can rev all the way to 7200rpm, at which point it sounds truly Wagnerian in its magnificence, and that 375kW peak point arrives at a dizzying 6250rpm.
This really is an engine that wants you to belt the hell out of it, and when you choose its most aggressive modes, and turn the adjustable M exhaust to its noisiest setting, it’s a joyful experience.
It’s also a weird one, because there’s just something so out of place about an engine like this in a car like this - it’s like finding out that your mum has secretly been cage fighting - but still, in pure engine terms, it’s a cracker.
The ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is also silky smooth and seamless, as you’d expect.
Lexus will tell you the NX300h F Sport will only use 5.6L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads, but my mileage according to the trip computer was 8.7L/100km which considering most of that was city driving is very impressive. Also pleasing is that despite this being a prestige car it’ll run on 91 RON, an X3, Q5 or GLC will turn it’s nose up at that stuff. Snobs.
This is the biggest drawcard for buying the hybrid. The fuel saving isn’t huge in the way a plug-in hybrid can be, but you’ll save money if you drive conservatively.
There’s no official Australian figure as yet, and we certainly didn’t do any testing that would be helpful, so all we can tell you is that the claimed figure is 10.6 litres per 100km. Which would be good, if you could actually achieve it. Good luck with all this temptation on board.
Lexus has made improvements to the suspension set up of the NX300h, but it seems the changes haven’t gone far enough, and the ride comfort and handling is lacking compared to other mid-sized premium SUVs.
A CVT transmission is awesomely fuel-efficient but even with six steps ‘built’ into it, it doesn’t forcefully engage drive to the wheels the way a torque converter transmission, manual gearbox or dual-clutch auto does. The result is disappointing acceleration and an engine which sounds like its revving too hard.
Heavier-than-it-should-be steering, a steering wheel which I find flat and uncomfortable to hold, poor visibility through the rear window and a not the best pedal feel under my feet topped off a unimpressive driving experience.
There are some saving graces though – the well-insulated cabin is tranquil, the brake response is excellent, and there’s something special about travelling in bumper to bumper traffic just on silent electricity alone.
In theory, the X4 M Competition shouldn’t be very different to drive at all from the X3 M Competition with which it shares an engine, and just about everything else. At the same time, it would be nice if was more fun to drive, because that would help to justify the fact that it costs $7000 more than the (slightly more practical) X3 version.
The differences are mainly about looks, of course, but those aesthetic changes also make the X4 ever so lightly longer, wider and lower than the X3.
That really shouldn’t make a difference you can feel, yet somehow, every time I switched into the X4 and began another wild, hooting, dusty circuit of the rally course set out for us be foolish on at M Town, I found myself having slightly more fun than I’d been in the X3.
An actual rally driver who was in attendance, mainly to laugh at our ineptitude and because their diet consists largely of dust particles, told me he’d also found the X4 ever so slightly more chuckable, and stable, also.
So perhaps there are two reasons for choosing to spend $7K more on an X4 - the rear end, and the fun, but then again, this is probably only a factor if you attend to take your new BMW on some kind of mad motorsport adventure.
Certainly, in the unreal environment in which we tested these cars, they were hugely fun - overly powerful, playful, sporty in terms of steering feel and cabin ambience - but we will have to wait and see what they’re like in the real world.
Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality, even in Comfort mode, and other foibles for the new X3 M Competition - like the fact that it doesn't actually feel all that fast, thanks to the 1970kg it's carrying.
What we do know is that the engine is a crackerjack, the (adjustable) steering gives fabulous feedback, and, if you happen to be on a clay pan, it’s just the vehicle you need to plaster a huge smile across your face.
I recommend the video footage highly.
One touch of genius that was beautifully highlighted, though, was the combination of the properly sports-car spec M Differential with an M version of xDrive, which allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport, which “pretty much does become rear-wheel drive”, as BMW admitted to us.
This is such an M move it’s hilarious. Force us to make an all-wheel-drive car will you? Ha, we’ll put a button on it that turns it back into a proper BMW M car.
On a clay pan, where you can drive almost entirely sideways, sawing at the wheel and using that gorgeous engine to carve beautiful arcs in the Earth via the throttle,4WD Sport is a work of genius.
In the real world, in this car, it’s… still a bit weird.
The chassis feels super stiff as well, and the big strut braces under the bonnet show you how seriously they’ve taken that.
There’s no denying the how, or the know-how on display here, it’s just the why that’s hard to get your head around.
The October 2017 update of the NX300h also saw an upgrade in its safety equipment and that meant it achieved the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. The F Sport grade never used to have AEB, but the update added it across the range, plus it was improved to include pedestrian detection.
All grades now come with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and the F Sport has been given adaptive high beams with 11 independent LEDs.
For child seats you’ll find three top tethers across the rear row (two in the outboard seat-backs and one mounted on the roof), along with two ISOFIX points.
You’ll find a space saver spare under the boot floor.
The X4 M Competition has not been crash tested yet but the standard X4 previously received a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with six airbags - driver, front passenger, head airbags for both rows, side airbags with seat occupancy detection for driver and passenger and side-impact protection for the front seats.
You also get DSC, ABS and DTC and driver-assistance systems including Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistant Plus, tyre-pressure monitoring and a speed limiter.
The NX300h F Sport is covered by Lexus’ four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. There’s no capped-price servicing program but Lexus says you can expect to pay nothing for the first service, $720.85 for the second, $592.37 for the third and $718 for the fourth.
As is typical for BMW, the maintenance requirements for the X3 M Competition are controlled by a Condition Based Servicing system, which constantly monitors the car, and the way it’s being driven, to determine when annual inspections or oil changes are required.
BMW is offering two service-inclusive packages, a five-year/80,000km Basic level for $3685, or the Plus, for $8173, which you should choose “if you drive spiritedly and you go through brakes a fair bit”, because it includes brake pads and discs over five years.
BMW seriously seems to think people are going to track this thing. Go figure.