Lexus NX VS Lexus RX
- Long electric range
- Flexible drive modes
- Excellent interior overhaul
- Feels much bigger than outgoing car
- Ride not as good as RAV4 relation
- Fast but doesn't feel sporty
For Lexus. a lot is riding on the new NX. It's one of the brand’s most important models, playing in the key mid-size SUV space, and it brings with it a lot of new technology and design elements for the historically conservative maker.
The key one we’re looking at here is the first ever Lexus plug-in hybrid, and the most expensive NX model ever, the 450h+.
The question is: Should you pick this one over the brand’s renowned 350h hybrid variant, and how does it compare to its luxury PHEV peers?
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
For those of us unlucky enough to remember the first Lexus RX to launch in Australia, the memories aren’t the fondest.
If you can’t remember it, just picture the stodgiest-looking SUV you can - make it so bland a mere picture of one could cure insomnia - dragging a glass-walled cube behind the rear wheels.
All of which makes the current-generation RX so incredible. I mean, just look at it; those big rims, the 3D-effect grille, the outrageous lines and creases. It’s about as far removed from its snooze-worthy predecessors as it is possible to get.
Little wonder, then, it has emerged as the second-strongest performer in the Lexus line-up. And with the RX recently refreshed (and with a seven-seat RX L model added for the first time) its high time we took a closer look at the Japanese premium brand’s large SUV.
Read More: Lexus RX 450h 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus RX 450hL 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus RX 350 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus RX 300 2018 review: snapshot
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The NX 450h+ is a leading example for plug-in hybrid models. It’s a big ask for a buyer to switch to this technology at a correspondingly higher price, and others could follow the example set by this car as it nails the brief for core offerings.
It has a long range, charges relatively quickly, and the hybrid system is easy to use, yet is also customisable to allow keen users to extract the most out of the technology.
The NX does all of this whilst also being a big step forward for the brand in terms of its interior design, technology, and features.
What remains to be seen is if there’s a big enough target market for PHEV tech when Lexus sells an even easier-to-use standard self-charging hybrid version.
A comfortable and ferociously well-equipped offering (even from the cheapest trim level) - and with a very good ownership package to boot - the RX has earned its place high in the Lexus pecking order.
There are faster, more pulse-quickening SUVs available, of course, but as a sedate suburban warrior, the RX is hard to fault. For ours, we'd be opting for the bang-for-bucks sweet spot of the Luxury trim, paired with the punchy-but-efficient hybrid powertrain.
The design of the new NX is perhaps the thing I love the most about it. I was no fan of the prior model, which seemed a pretty average re-imagining of the previous Toyota RAV4 on which it was based. This new one, though, is a stratospheric leap into the future.
It thoroughly owns its appearance inside and out, leaving hardly a hint that it might share its underpinnings with the RAV4, and moving the Lexus brand forward in so many ways.
It has a newfound imposing stance thanks to its significantly expanded dimensions, with the signature Lexus descending roofline, massive wheels, and expansive grille.
While I wouldn’t call it ‘elegant’ it’s certainly contemporary, with the contours running down the bonnet, and particularly the ones surrounding the rear wheel arch cutting strong, post-modern lines.
It looks distinct, and importantly, far more resolved than its predecessor, to my eyes for the first time truly earning its place as a Lexus.
Interesting touches this time around also include the typeface across the rear, and sharp LED light clusters front and rear.
If you agree the exterior is an impressive step forward, wait until you see the inside. Lexus has clearly re-thought its entire approach to interior design, with the dash a clean slate exercise.
Immediately dominating the design is that massive touchscreen, which has an entirely new and much easier to use interface. Some clear thought has also been given to ergonomics, as, despite its size, even the furthest elements are easy to reach for the driver. And the clumsy touchpad interface which plagued the previous car has finally been consigned to the bin.
There’s also no doubt the NX reaches into the premium realm, with soft touch materials and tasteful grey finishes everywhere. There are even some clever elements, like a padded leather strip running alongside the centre stack for the driver’s knee, and largely tasteful application of piano black finishes.
The digital dash and wheel design is aesthetically pleasing, while maintaining a driver-oriented approach, which can sometimes feel a bit lost on some other new designs which replace an indented cluster with a single continuous panel for the dash and multimedia functions.
There’s also a distinct lack of buttons to clutter up the design, which ties into the practicality of the space which we’ll look at next.
This current RX is like the butterfly that’s emerged from the caterpillar-cocoon of the older models, looking plenty premium and serving up road presence by the bagful.
No matter which model you go for, you’ll find the angry 'Spindle Grille' up front (which, for ours, is reminiscent of the Predator’s toothy grin, while 20-inch alloys are an impressive size, and a very un-Lexus body kit wraps from the front end all the way around to the rear spoiler.
The interior (check out the interior photos for a closer look) is premium-feeling, if a little busy, with the doors and dash covered in a combination of soft-touch materials and padded leather.
The brushed aluminium-look central tunnel that separates the front seats is super wide, as it houses the cupholders, drive-mode selector and the strange mousepad that controls the entertainment system, but feels nice under the touch and becomes a kind of focal point in the cabin.
The NX is much bigger than before, meaning it has a lot more cabin space, but what cabin space is on offer is also more efficiently used.
A prime example is the centre stack and armrest console. The latter is simply huge and features the brand’s signature top with a trick hinge so it can be opened both ways.
The lack of clumsy controls featured in previous cars, as well as a tidy fly-by-wire shifter, means a lot more space in the centre console for two huge bottle holders.
Under the climate controls is a neat, floating, wireless charger, which slides back into the dash to reveal yet another large storage area and 12V power outlet. Front passengers can also make use of a choice of USB 2.0 or USB-C for connecting to the multimedia suite. Nice.
Moving onto the touch panel itself, and the basic dual-zone climate functions are controlled via big shortcut touch units, as well as the smart inclusion of physical dials for temperature. There’s also a physical dial for audio volume in the centre, and shortcut buttons for instant de-fogging. Smart.
There are big bottle holders with a small bin in the doors, and the space on offer for front passengers is great. The seating position is quite high, but the excellent seat trim which Lexus has built a reputation for is still present. The F-Sport seats in this variant offer unexpectedly good side-bolstering, too.
The rear seat continues with the lovely seat trim, and the 60/40 split backing has two states of recline.
The space offers plenty of room for my 182cm tall frame, featuring ample airspace for my knees and head. Oddly though, it doesn’t feel as big as its Toyota RAV4 relation.
This could merely be perception, as the interior trim consists of dark leather with dark headlining and a deep tint for the rear windows.
For storage, pockets feature on the backs of the front seats, alongside a decent bottle holder in the doors and an armrest console with two more.
Amenities include dual adjustable air vents with a lock-off (but no independent third climate zone), as well as dual USB-C outlets and a 12V socket.
Finally, there’s the boot. Volume is decent, with 520 litres on offer. The loading lip and floor is quite high, though, and it’s notable that 60 litres have been lost to this car’s design when compared with the RAV4.
It fits the three-piece CarsGuide luggage set with a little space to spare, but the luggage cover had to be removed to accommodate the height.
Under the boot floor there is no room for a spare, but a small storage cutaway, perhaps for your charging cables, as well as a tyre repair kit and a compartment which houses the 12V battery.
With dimensions stretching 4890mm long and 1895mm wide, the RX sits squarely in the large SUV category, and there’s plenty of space for riders in both the first and second row.
Up front, there is a cup holder for both driver and passenger and extendable pockets in each of the front doors, and the deep cubby that separates the front seats adds plenty of storage space, and is home to two USB connections, a power outlet and and aux connection, but there is no sunglass holder.
The interior dimensions ensure there’s plenty of space in the back seat, although the central stack that houses the air vents and another power outlet does jut out into the rear legroom of the middle-seat passenger. There are two bonus cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider that drops from the middle seat, and two ISOFIX attachment points along the backseat.
Open the automatic tailgate (by waving your hand in front of the Lexus badge) and you’ll find 453 litres of luggage capacity, with boot space increasing to 942 litres by folding the backseat down. Theres’s a sliding cargo cover (the SUV version of a tonneau cover), too.
Price and features
The NX 450h+ is the most expensive NX ever, wearing a before on-roads price-tag (MSRP) of $89,900. It’s some $6000 more than the well-received NX 350h 'self-charging' hybrid and offers a huge battery with an unusually long range for a PHEV.
We’ll look a little more closely at the detail behind that in a moment, but you should also know that in the context of its PHEV competition the value equation is not as alarming as it first seems.
Standard equipment is also excellent, with the NX range a huge leap forward for Lexus, the 450h+ only being available in the top F-Sport trim.
This includes a brand new and enormous 14.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in nav, an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, head-up display, wireless phone charger, 14-speaker premium audio system, full synthetic leather interior trim, dual-zone climate control, power adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, keyless entry and push-start ignition, 20-inch alloy wheels, colour-matching F-Sport bodykit, fully adaptive LED headlights, and a power tailgate.
Adding further value on top of the standard F-Sport equipment mentioned above, Lexus throws in the sunroof, heated steering wheel, and digital rear-view mirror which are optional lesser variants.
It doesn’t end there, though, with the NX featuring the full suite of active safety items offered by Lexus, as well as a particularly large hybrid battery (18.1kW) which allows a claimed NEDC range of 87km.
It also throws in the polite inclusion of a Type 2 to Type 2 charging cable, which you’ll need to charge up at public AC locations.
So yes, the 450h+ is the most expensive NX ever made and will still be too tall an order for many, but it’s actually a lot better value than it first seems in the context of its rivals.
The Lexus RX arrives in plenty of trim and engine combinations, so exactly how much yours will cost is largely up to you.
The minimum RRP, though, is $74,251, which will buy you an RX300 Luxury. A little further up the price list lives the RX350 Luxury, at $81,421, which makes use of a bigger engine, while the hybrid RX450h Luxury will set you back $90,160.
The range then steps up to the second of three trim levels, the F Sport, for which you’ll be paying $86,551 for the RX300, $93,721 for the RX350 and $102,460 for the RX450h.
Finally, the range tops out with the Sport Luxury trim, which will push the budget to $92,701 for the RX300, $99,871 for the RX350 and $108,610 for the RX450h.
Okay, so that’s what you’ll be paying. But take a deep breath now, we’re dive into the model comparison.
Even the Luxury-badged cars are a premium package, arriving with 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, a powered tailgate, LED headlights and fog lights (with daytime running lights) , a smart key with keyless entry, roof rails and rain-sensing wipers. Inside, expect a laundry list of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, sat nav (which, as far as GPS navigation systems go, is a breeze to operate), push-button start and leather trim.
Your 8.0-inch screen (it’s not a touch screen) pairs with digital radio and 12 speakers, there’s Bluetooth for your MP3s, as well as wireless charging (though iPhones require a special case), and you get heated and cooled front seats, too. Be warned; there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto anywhere in the range.
Step up to the F Sport - a pseudo sport edition - and you’ll add a bigger, 12.3-inch infotainment screen that adds a CD player and DVD player and pairs with a better Mark Levinson sound system complete with 15 speakers (including a subwoofer). You get a new colour head-up display (HUD), too, and a whole heap of sport-flavoured styling flourishes.
Compare that to the Sport Luxury, which adds with soft leather trim elements, heated seats in the second row (vs just the front seats on the F Sport trim) and a power folding function for the backseat. There’s no heated steering wheel here, but then, who needs one in Australia? The adaptive front lighting system cn be switched off, too, should you prefer the traditional approach.
Colours include 'Titanium' (metallic grey), 'Sonic Quartz' (white), 'Premium Silver', 'Onyx' (a kind of black), 'Graphite Black', 'Vermilion' (red), 'Metallic Silk' (rose gold), 'Deep Metallic Bronze' (a fancy brown) and 'Deep Blue'.
How many seats? That would be five. If you want a third row seat, then you’re shopping for the RX L, as the standard RX is strictly a five-seat affair.
A thick accessories catalogue includes specialty floor mats, roof rack and boot liner options, bull bar, nudge bar and rear seat entertainment system options, as well as a panoramic sunroof, which will set you back $3675. You won't find Homelink though (which automatically opens your garage door), as it's yet to be made available in Australia.
Engine & trans
Okay, this is where it gets tricky. You ready? The Lexus NX 450h+ has a combustion engine up front. It’s a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine producing 136kW/227Nm which runs on the Atkinson cycle, meaning it sacrifices some power in favour of efficiency.
The idea is that the slack is taken up by the electric motors, of which this car has two. It has one more powerful unit on the front axle, producing 134kW/270Nm, and a second unit on the rear axle facilitating the all-wheel drive system, producing 40kW/121Nm.
The electric motors are, in fact, the same ones used in the ‘regular’ 350h hybrid, however the higher voltage 18.1kWh battery pack in the 450h+ allows a full range of motion in the fully electric driving mode, up to 135km/h without any assistance from the combustion engine.
Combined power is rated at 227kW, but no system peak torque figure is given. Lexus claims the NX 450h+ will sprint from 0-100km/h in just 6.3 seconds.
There are three (petrol) engine size options on offer; a turbocharged 2.0-litre in the RX300, a punchy V6 in the RX350 and a hybrid set-up in the RX450.
First up, the four-cylinder turbo engine serves up 175kW/350Nm (decent specs for a smaller engine), channelling it through a six-speed automatic gearbox and sending it on to the front wheels.
The six-cylinder petrol engine is good for 221kW/370Nm, sending that power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The hybrid (it’s not a plug-in hybrid) option uses the exact same engine, but paired with an electric motor that lifts the total output to 230kW/335Nm. That combination pairs with a CVT auto, sending its horsepower to all four wheels.
All are petrol powered (there are no diesel or LPG options, and no manual transmission, for that matter), and for ours, the combined engine specs of the hybrid powertrain make the most - and most expensive - sense.
While the Luxury, F-Sport and Sport Luxury models all have adjustable drive modes (including Eco mode), tweaking throttle response and gearing, only the Sport Luxury serves up true variable suspension.
The F Sport and Sport Luxury also make use of the Lexus AWD system (though 4WD aficionados will notice the lack of low range that prevents it being a true 4x4). The RX300 is front-wheel drive, with no rear-wheel drive options anywhere in the range.
Expect a braked towing capacity of at least 1000kg (provided you’ve picked a tow bar/tow hitch receiver from the accessories catalogue) with a gross vehicle weight that starts from 2500kg.
For reported problems and maintenance, including transmission problems, battery and oil type, and changing your timing belt or chain, see our owner’s page.
The 18.1kWh battery pack which features in the NX 450h+ grants it an unusually long range for a PHEV, at a claimed 87km. This is to the more lenient NEDC testing cycle, however, and in our real-world driving the car reported around 62-65km of pure electric range at close to 100 per cent charge.
That’s still the longest real-world range of any PHEV I’ve tested, which bodes well for the usefulness of this system.
Unlike some PHEVs, the NX 450h+ has flexible options for controlling the drivetrain. The car defaults to EV mode, but with a flick of the switch it can be driven as a parallel hybrid (like any other Toyota or Lexus hybrid system) which does a great job of maintaining the battery level.
Or you can switch to charge mode, which constantly runs the engine using excess idle power to charge the battery.
The only thing I wish you could control here is the regenerative braking, which has a single mild state of tune. The ability to control it with the paddle-shifters would make for a more efficient EV.
Claimed fuel consumption for the 450h+ is just 1.3L/100km, and after my testing, covering several hundred kilometres in a few drive modes, on the freeway and around town, I came to a final figure of 3.9L/100km.
That's pretty good, but if you were able to make more use of the EV drive mode, it could easily be less.
In terms of charging, the NX uses a European-standard Type 2 charging port. Importantly, the NX can charge at a rate of 6.6kW, double that of many PHEVs.
This means despite a relatively large battery you can get to 100 per cent charge on a public AC charger from the reserve level in just 2.5 hours. A more realistic proposition for those who only have on-street or apartment parking and cannot charge at home.
Total range can theoretically be in excess of 1000km with a full charge and tank of fuel. The NX takes 55L of fuel but notably requires mid-shelf 95RON premium.
For the smaller, turbocharged engine, Lexus claims fuel economy of 8.1 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, with emissions pegged at 189g/km of CO2. Stepping up to the RX350 increases fuel consumption numbers to 9.6L/100km and 223g/km, while the hybrid gets by with impressive mileage of just 5.7L/100km and 131g/km.
Expect a 72-litre fuel tank that requires 95RON fuel in the 300 and 350, while the hybrid’s fuel tank capacity is 65 litres.
The NX feels entirely different from the previous model. The new car feels bigger, wider, heavier, almost as though you’re driving the previous-generation RX, a full size up.
It’s also a completely different beast from the RAV4 on which it is based. Visibility is still excellent with expansive glass on all but the rearmost window, while the refreshed cabin design feels spacious but more luxurious, too.
The steering is heavy, regardless of drive mode, making the NX feel substantial, but not inconvenient or artificial, with some organic feedback letting you connect with the road.
The hybrid drivetrain is the real star of the show, however, with Lexus putting its decades of experience on full show.
The car defaults to EV priority mode, moving primarily as an electric car at up to freeway speeds without needing the combustion components.
In hybrid vehicle mode, the components (which are the same as the standard hybrid, anyway) do an excellent job of mimicking the series/parallel drive of other Lexus and Toyota hybrid models.
The key brilliance of this system is how drive to the wheels is managed by the transmission, so it is imperceptible to the driver when the engine is assisting (aside from distant noise at higher loads).
The mastery of this tech is such that it is still the leading hybrid drive on the market for smooth power transfer.
The NX also has a charge mode, where it will operate primarily as a combustion vehicle with less electrical assistance. The idle time from the engine is used to charge the battery via the transmission.
While it’s not an efficient way to use the energy, it may be useful for where you want to maximise the amount of energy saved during a freeway trip in order to have a full charge for emissions free motoring at your destination.
The only area of drivetrain customisation I wish the NX had is in regeneration. The stock regen tune is quite mild, so I feel as though it could get even more range out of EV priority mode if you were able to maximise this.
The NX is also quite fast in a straight line, with Sport and Sport+ modes allowing you to eke otherwise hidden performance out of the electric motors.
Raw acceleration does make the 6.3-second claimed 0-100km/h time feel like a realistic proposition, but I wouldn't put this SUV in amongst its performance rivals.
While its electrified straight-line performance is impressive, the each-way suspension tune and weight of 18.1kWh of batteries leaves a little to be desired on the handling front.
This car feels its weight in the corners and comes with a fair bit of body-roll to keep it out of the same league as German sports machines like the GLC53 or BMW X3 M40i.
The suspension tune was another source of disappointment. For context, the ride is generally very good, but I found the large wheels, low profile tyres, and new adaptive suspension package give the NX a ride with a harsher edge than I was expecting.
This is perhaps more notable because its RAV4 relation is particularly good for ride comfort. Seems odd that the relatively affordable Toyota-branded SUV rides with more grace than its Lexus luxury equivalent.
The same goes for road noise. Not bad, but it could be better on coarser chip surfaces, where you can hear the difference the big Lexus wheels and low-profile rubber makes.
Where does that leave us? This is a more luxury-oriented model when it comes to its ride and handling than some of its price-equivalent sporty rivals, but leans into its electric features to provide a customisable platform for energy-efficient adventures.
It’s silky smooth around town but leaves you with the confidence to have some battery left at the end of your trip without making it too complicated. I’d argue the ingredients on offer here are what more manufacturers should be combining to get people into PHEVs.
If BMW serves up the 'ultimate driving machine' and Mercedes delivers 'the best or nothing', then surely the review tag line for the RX SUV range should be 'easy like a Sunday morning'.
Sure, there are sportier-feeling SUVs - and faster ones, too - but there is an easy comfort to the way the RX goes about its business that you’ll undoubtedly appreciate more frequently than you would harder suspension, more in-touch steering and the endless pursuit of speed and 0-100 performance figures.
For the record, though, the hybrid cars will sprint from 0-100km/h in a brisk 7.7sec, a smidge quicker than the 8.0sec of the regular V6. The RX300 records a far more leisurely 9.2sec.
Probably most impressive, the RX doesn't feel overly large and cumbersome, and nor does its turning radius, and it’s equally at home in the cramped inner city as it is eating up kays on the freeway. The six- or eight-speed transmission is silky-smooth seamless, switching between cogs without you even noticing, and the cabin is commendably quiet - especially when you're coasting though the ‘burbs - locking the worst road noise outside out of the cabin.
You can inject a little excitement by selecting 'Sport' or 'Sport +' via the central dial, tweaking the accelerator and steering settings, and in Sport Luxury cars, firming up the suspension, removing some of the lolling about in corners, though there’s no air suspension.
While the F-Sport and Sport Luxury cars are AWD-equipped, the off road capability is hampered somewhat by its ground clearance, big chrome-look wheels and skirtings. This is an SUV built for the city over the bush, but you likely don’t need us to tell you that.
As the top-spec car, the NX 450h+ comes with the full suite of modern active safety, including freeway speed auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, a new intersection assist feature, a new emergency steering feature, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, safe exit warning, and panoramic reversing camera.
It also packs a whopping 10 airbags alongside the standard array of brake, stability, and traction controls, as well as dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the rear row.
At the time of writing, the NX was yet to receive an ANCAP safety rating.
Even the cheapest RX (which, admittedly, isn’t all that cheap) arrives with a long list of standard safety features, including a reversing camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, AEB, lane assist and parking sensors (but no park assist).
You’ll also find 10 airbags, and twin ISOFIX mountings for you baby car seat, as well as cruise control and the usual suite of braking and traction control systems.
The Lexus RX received a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the best possible ratings outcome, when tested in 2015. The Lexus RX is built in Japan.
Lexus offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty but goes one step further for its hybrid and electric models to offer an industry-leading 10-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for the high-voltage battery components.
Service costs are very competitive for the luxury market, too, with every NX costing just $495 a year for the first three annual visits.
Good value considering the PHEV is more complicated compared to standard combustion variants.
Specific ownership boons offered to buyers of the PHEV model include complementary home installation of an AC charging terminal, alongside a three-year membership to the Lexus Encore Platinum service.
Benefits include invites to various events and discounts with partnered venues and fuel stations. But perhaps most importantly, access to the 'Lexus on Demand' service which lets users swap their car for another model for up to eight days at a time.
This is a fairly generous ownership initiative which keeps Lexus ahead of its luxury rivals.
Expect a four-year/100,000km warranty (that's 12 months longer than BMW or Mercedes-Benz, so think of it as a kind of extended warranty), and the RX will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 15,000km.
Your first service cost is gratis, and the total maintenance cost for each service is available online - so there are no surprises at the dealership.
For common problems, complaints, issues and the like, visit our Lexus RX owner’s page. But your owner’s manual should be required reading, too. Traditionally, Lexus product ranks well in reliability ratings, resale value and initial value rating charts.