Lexus NX VS Mazda CX-8
- Easier to park than a CX-9, with almost as much space inside
- Much more useful boot than CX-5
- Very comfortable to drive
- Big price jump between Sport and Asaki
- No CarPlay until late 2018
- No petrol option
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|
Remember Mr McGreg from The Simpsons who copped the brunt of Dr Nick Riviera? "With a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg."
It may have the long wheelbase and seven-seat layout of a CX-9 but the narrower width of a CX-5, and the headlights from the latter and tail-lights from the former, but it's all for good reasons, and plonks the new model right between the two in Mazda's very appealing SUV line-up.
This is indeed a foot in both the mid-size and large SUV camps, but also gives Mazda an answer to the emerging range of seven-seat mid-sizers like the CR-V, Kodiaq, 5008, X-Trail, Outlander, and upcoming Tiguan Allspace.
Its journey to Australia has not been an easy one, being classified as a Japan-only model when it was revealed late last year and arriving with a relatively limited model line-up and no petrol drivetrain option.
With the coat-tails of CX-5's five-year run as Australia's favourite SUV to ride on, combined with the CX-9's credentials forming the other half of its gene pool, there's a very good chance a lot of Australians will be glad it made the trip.
We were among the first to drive the CX-8 at its Australian launch this week.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
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.
Mazda has taken a little of Column A and a little of Column B to bridge the gap between CX-5 and CX-9 quite nicely. It could only be better with the CX-9s petrol engine and perhaps a few more trim levels, but it's a good thing. Having said that, the sweet spot is definitely the two-wheel drive Sport, because it comes with what I consider to be all the important features, and represents the best value.
Will the CX-8 tempt you up from a CX-5 or down from a CX-9? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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).
Rather than a smaller CX-9, it's fairest to describe the CX-8 as a long-wheelbase CX-5 given it shares all panelwork from the B-pillar forward with the latter. Everything rearward is unique aside from its tail-lights, however.
CX-8 development boss Hideki Matsuoka explains his team started with the CX-9 though, with the seven seat layout a core element of the project. Rear legroom was another key criteria, which is why it uses the CX-9's 2930mm wheelbase to match the large SUV.
The rear doors have been extended accordingly to optimise rear seat access, following a formula only used by the Kodiaq, 5008 and Tiguan Allspace to date.
Retaining the CX-5's 1840mm width was also important for easier manoeuvrability, but it's worth noting that the CX-8's 11.6m turning circle is closer to the CX-9's 11.8 than the CX-5's 11.0.
The 129mm narrower body, shorter front and rear overhangs and 175mm shorter overall length than the CX-9 are certain to be beneficial when parking though.
The net result can look like an elongated CX-5 from the front three-quarter view – surprise, surprise – but in isolation it's yet another fine Kodo-era SUV design.
The interior is a similar package, with the dash and door trims from the CX-5 blending with the split-lidded centre console from the CX-9. Everything rearward is also unique, and the top-spec Asaki's presentation nudges premium brands with actual wood trim on the dash and nappa leather on the seats, particularly in the optional and CX-8-specific 'Dark Russet' colour.
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.
Mazda defines the life stage of a typical CX-8 owner as having two kids under their belt and considering a third, with the need to often bring their friends along for the ride.
This sits above the CX-3's 'young people or young couple' profile and the CX-5's 'couple thinking about kids or have a kid', but beneath the CX-9 as the go-to for large families.
The key element of the CX-8's remit is clearly the third row of seats, which has been designed to suit heights up to 170cm, which essentially means taller kids. This 172cm tester found it quite cosy, but possible, so you wouldn't want to push it much further. Legroom is officially within 5mm of the CX-9, but the limiting factor is headroom.
Access to the third row is as easy as you could hope for thanks to those long doors opening 80 degrees, with the second row sliding forward from either side with a single action. The third row also folds flat with a simple single action for either pew.
The second row is really just a narrower version of the CX-9's with the same legroom and ample headroom for this tester. It won't swallow three adults or child seats as comfortably as a CX-9, and you'd need to choose your child seat carefully if attempting the latter.
The sliding second row seat is likely to make for much more comfortable front seating with a rearward facing child seat fitted, too.
On that note, the CX-8 has the same child seat anchorage layout as the CX-9, with ISOFIX mounts for the outward second row seats, and top tether points for all five rear seats.
Despite having a shorter rear overhang than the CX-9, the CX-8 still manages to have a useful 209 litres (VDA) of space in the boot (loaded to the roof) with the third row upright, which expands to 742 litres VDA (loaded to the roof), or a much bigger space than the CX-5 with the third row folded.
Both rear rows fold flat to reveal 1727 litres (VDA) in total, and there's a further 33 litres of underfloor storage.
The CX-8 retains all the other important practicality elements, including bottle holders and cupholders for all three rows, 12-volt and USB points, and there's tri-zone climate control that gives second row passengers an extra zone, but like the CX-9 there's no individual ventilation for the third row.
If you're looking to tow with the CX-8, it carries the same 2000kg braked tow rating as the CX-9, which is 200kg ahead of the figure applied to all CX-5s.
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.
Unlike the broad variant spectrum available with other Mazdas, the CX-8 is limited to just two trim levels; Sport and Asaki.
The Sport is available in two- and all-wheel drive configurations, which carry list prices of $42,490 and $46,490 respectively and sit a significant margin beneath the $61,490 Asaki.
The CX-8 Sport slightly undercuts the petrol-only CX-9 Sport by $1400 in either two- or all-wheel drive (AWD) forms.
The nearest diesel CX-5 would be the GT diesel at $46,590, but remember that every diesel CX-5 comes with AWD.
The CX-8 Asaki is only available with AWD, and priced $12,300 more than the top-spec CX-5 Akera, but $3300 less than the top-spec CX-9 Azami. In a nutshell, it's a bit cheaper than the CX-9 at either end of the range.
The Sport's standard feature list includes all the important safety gear, which you can read about in detail below, plus cloth seat trim but leather steering wheel, three-zone climate control, 7.0-inch multimedia screen with sat nav and digital radio, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto until it becomes optional later this year.
Sports also come with a head-up display, active cruise control, LED auto headlights, auto wipers, heated and power folding door mirrors, plus auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and can be best identified on the outside by their 17-inch alloys.
Over the Sport, the Asaki adds things like nappa leather seat trim with power adjustable front seats, seat heaters for the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, real wood trim, rear window blinds, a power tailgate, proximity keys, a 360 degree camera system, front parking sensors, adaptive headlights, plus LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Does that sound like an extra $15,000 worth? I'm not sure, particularly given the best way to pick the Asaki on the outside is by its bigger 19-inch alloys.
Mazda expects the two-wheel drive (2WD) Sport to represent 60 per cent of CX-8 sales, with the AWD version just 10 per cent, and the top Asaki making up the remaining 30 per cent.
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.
Yes, the CX-8 is diesel only, in a similar way to the CX-9's petrol-only status. The CX-8 was designed exclusively for diesel-loving Japan, which doesn't get the bigger CX-9 which was largely developed to suit petrol-loving US tastes.
Australia's proven love for Mazdas – currently the number two brand in our market - got the local business case across the line, which also included New Zealand. Fun fact: This leaves the Antipodean markets as the only two in the world to retail both CX-8 and CX-9.
The CX-5's relative breadth of drivetrain options comes down to the mid-size SUV's global appeal.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel is the same revised 140kW/450Nm unit fitted recently to the CX-5 and Mazda6. Maximum torque is available from just 2000rpm, which helps mask the six-speed torque converter auto's relatively low ratio count.
AWD versions come with the clever 'i-ACTIV' drive system, which embraces numerous sensors to predict surface changes before the tyre encounters them and react accordingly.
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.
The 2WD CX-8 Sport carries an impressive 5.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, and the two AWD variants are only 0.3L behind at 6.0L/100km.
The 2WD CX-8 figure matches diesel CX-5s, which are AWD, and compares with the 8.4 and 8.8 figures applied to 2WD and AWD versions of the CX-9 respectively.
With the 72 litre fuel tank from the 2WD CX-9, this suggests a very impressive theoretical range of 1263km for the 2WD CX-8, or 1200km from the AWDs.
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.
My first impression behind the wheel is very diesel CX-5, which is of course a good thing.
If you've been following Mazda's recent efforts with refinement in the updated 6 and CX-5, you'll be pleased to know the same formula has been applied to the CX-8. These cars are achieving their goal of troubling the established premium brands for comfort.
You can certainly feel the extra length over the CX-5, and for the most part this means better ride comfort over bumps as there's less pitching forward and backwards.
It also feels longer when chucking a U-turn or parking – don't forget that extra 60cm of turning circle.
As always, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel makes for relaxed cruising, but you can feel the effect of the extra 200 kilos of weight over the CX-5. It's not quite as spritely, but still more than enough for highway overtaking, and it's still more nimble around corners than a proper large SUV.
The CX-8 would probably be a better package with the CX-9's turbo-petrol, but the diesel's economy will probably win over a lot of buyers, particularly with that huge theoretical range between fills.
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 CX-8 is yet to be tested by ANCAP to see if it's worthy of the maximum five star ratings applied to the CX-5 and CX-9, but an announcement is expected in the near future.
Mazda expects it will get top marks, so our safety score is a tentative on that basis. Do check before signing on the dotted line.
Both trim levels come with airbags covering all three rows, front and rear AEB, reversing camera, rear parking sensors with cross traffic alerts, traffic sign recognition, auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane guidance and lane departure warning.
The Asaki adds rear parking sensors, proximity keys and active headlights.
One feature Japanese CX-8s miss out on, which Australian versions don't, is 'Intelligent Speed Assistance'.
This coordinates the active cruise control with the traffic sign recognition to automatically adjust your speed as you pass through different speed zones. This is likely to be particularly popular with Victorian CX-8 owners...
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.
The CX-8 is covered by Mazda's regular three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is starting to look a bit brief among the many five year and beyond periods on offer from other manufacturers.
The 'Mazda Service Select' capped price servicing plan applies, if 12 month/10,000km intervals are adhered to. Base scheduled maintenance for the first three services will set you back $318, $458 and $318 respectively.