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As far as clichés go, attempting to make “a silk purse from a sow’s ear” couldn’t be more apt than when contemplating the original NX of 2014.
What was essentially the Lexus-fication of the vocal, fidgety and thirsty old Toyota RAV4 may have worked a treat sales-wise, but proved trickier when assessed against the lens of a BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 rival.
The earliest NX just wasn’t refined enough.
Now, finally, the NX redesign has followed suit, moving on to a variation of the Toyota’s stronger, quieter and more advanced TNGA architecture (dubbed GA-K) as a starting base.
Speaking of which, let’s dive straight into the least-expensive version, the NX 250 Luxury 2WD auto, to find out if the most popular Lexus model in Australia has finally found its mojo.
Why aren’t there sportier versions of Australia’s most popular vehicles?
Given how successful the XR6 and SV6 were in their respective Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore ranges, you’d expect similar souped-up and/or go-faster grades in the top-selling Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4.
Now, we know many offer turbo models already, but they’re skewered more towards the higher-end or luxury side, rather than setting pulses racing.
Yes, it’s strictly a looks-only proposition, with no additional power or chassis upgrades to entice the keener driver. But, considering how accomplished the current generation is in pleasing enthusiasts as well as eco warriors, hope exists that it may add something fresh and exciting to a dull class.
Or, are we expecting too much from what is essentially a middle-of-the-road midsized hybrid SUV?
Let's check it out.
So, is the cheapest Lexus NX the grade you’d skip? Depends on where you live and drive.
If you’re urban based and bound, save up a bit more and go the petrol-electric hybrid; otherwise, out on country roads especially, the spirited and sporty NX 250 is more than up to the task.
Either way, though, the latest NX is finally fit to fight the other premium brands’ medium SUV efforts, head on and held up high. Welcome to big mid league, Lexus.
Ignore or underestimate at your own peril, everybody else.
The XSE hybrid 2WD is yet another member of the very talented and likeable fifth-generation RAV4 family. But it isn't the optimal version.
Why? Despite go-faster looks inside and out, it's no more a sports SUV than any other current RAV4, with no engineering or performance upgrades to set the XSE apart. Frisky and fun though it is, don't expect a latter-day Falcon XR6 or Commodore SV6.
You may as well buy the cheaper GXL hybrid, save $2800 and still enjoy a high degree of driver enjoyment for a midsized SUV, and without those clammy Softex seats to boot.
Lexus says that nearly one million of the original-shape NX versions were produced, so there’s no way that the brand was going to mess with the styling of the latest version. Which explains why picking new from old is a serious case of trainspotting.
But that migration to the TNGA GA-K platform has brought some benefits from a design point of view. The styling now breathes more, especially when viewed rear-on, thanks to a body that’s 20mm longer and wider, as well as a handy 30mm wheelbase stretch.
Drilling into the details, the headlights have an LED ‘tick’ motif, the corporate ‘spindle’ grille isn’t as in your face and the rear gains ‘LEXUS’ lettering spelled out, probably to accentuate stance.
Crisp and elegant, the design works well. This is a handsome machine. Looks expensive too.
There is little doubt that the RAV4’s chunky, Jeep-esque design has helped it finally break away from the fey soft roader image of earlier iterations, appealing to a very broad spectrum of buyers.
The Toyota’s aesthetic appeal also seems to transcend social structure, probably by dint of providing advanced hybrid specification. That’s evident in its phenomenal sales success.
More specifically, the XSE hybrid’s two-tone roof and glossy wheels do provide a striking point of difference vis-a-vis other RAV4s, while the series as a whole has aged remarkably well over against flashier younger rivals like the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, offering a distinct style that melds both form and function.
Few would argue that the current RAV4 taps into the current consumer mindset with consummate ease. A future classic in the making.
Though distinctively attractive and obviously well built, the previous NX was quite small for a medium-sized SUV inside, with tight rear legroom.
It also had a nonsense mouse-operated multimedia controller that was fiddly, annoying and counter-intuitive to use.
Thankfully, the new-from-the-ground-up design has rectified both these issues in the latest version.
Now the NX is properly medium-sized, and so easier to get in and out of, as well as palpably roomier front and rear. Employing the RAV4’s TNGA architecture results in a lower and roomier cabin, that benefits all in terms of packaging.
Never mind. There are minivan levels of practicality at work here, from the superb and easily manipulated ventilation system to the seemingly endless storage options, that include bottle holder capability in the doors, a clever lid operation for the huge centre console and properly engineered cupholders.
Lovely lush materials of satisfying quality are further plus points.
We’re also fans of the NX’s electric door opening system with a failsafe handle, meaning you can grasp the door handle inside or out and a solenoid activated by a press in of a thumb releases the door quickly and naturally in a single action; it feels… upmarket and ergonomic once accustomed to.
Accessing the back seat is easy due to the latest model’s larger proportions. Much of the same applies out back as the front seat area in terms of quality of finish and attention to detail. Sculptured and enveloping backrests (adjustable for two reclining positions), a well-padded cushion and more-than-sufficient space for two burly adults or three smaller people means this NX is more family friendly than the swoopy exterior styling suggests.
We’re also happy to find large people-facing air vents, two USB and a 12V outlets, one-touch electric windows with that premium-car soft close mechanism, overhead LED lights, grab handles, centre armrest with cupholders, map storage behind both front seats, coat hooks and good lines of vision further enhance the appealing and comfortable back seat environment. It feels like a Lexus should.
Further back than that, after releasing the electric tailgate via either an interior button or exterior switch, you’ll find that the boot has a fairly high loading lip, but then offsets this with a long, flat floor with matching levels of appropriate-quality finishes. Another 12V plug and two bag hooks are included, along with ample lighting and tie-down hooks. There’s also a hidden deep storage compartment underneath the floor, due to the discontinuation of a spare wheel (due to runflat tyres, remember).
Capacity is rated at a fairly ordinary 520 litres, extending to 1411L with the split/fold backrests folded. You’d expect a remote actuation for the latter like Mazda wagons have had for decades, but none is found at this price point.
Note there is no solid cargo cover either, just a flexible/flimsy fabric item that’s foldable and easily stored.
Overall, though, despite of its base positioning within the NX hierarchy, the 250's interior experience is in keeping with the brand's image.
Immensely, since the RAV4’s aesthetic and functional harmony carries over inside.
Big windows, lofty seating (perhaps too much so for taller front-seat passengers), bags of space, heaps of storage, high-quality materials and a practical dashboard all come together beautifully. Easy to get in and operate, few vehicles are quite as user-friendly with little or no familiarity.
The attractive and generously bolstered front seats provide generally excellent all-round comfort, with ample support and position flexibility.
In the XSE’s case, the driver’s seat is electrically actuated, and includes lumbar support and height adjustability, for an even better experience. Combined with the tilt/telescopic steering column, finding the perfect driving position shouldn’t be too hard at all.
However, there are a few cons to offset all the pros, with one specific to the XSE.
Staying in the back, the bench is fixed, as there are cooling vents and other electrical gubbins lurking underneath. While the position as chosen by Toyota works fine for most people, some competitors do offer sliding and reclining rear seats.
Still with seating, the front passenger’s one is manually operated with no height adjustability (or lumbar support). Taller riders may end up with scalps scraping the ceiling. This may be a deal breaker for some families.
Equally annoying is the XSE’s choice of upholstery. It’s perplexing why car manufacturers equate imitation leather with sportiness and/or luxury. Historically, the similar PVC or vinyl seat coverings were long regarded as strictly basement spec, good for being hard-wearing and a cinch to clean but not much else. Even in mild weather, they make the RAV4 feel clammy. Bring back softer, breathable fabrics please. This cheap, chemically-rich material is enough to undermine comfort. Unless you’re Catwoman.
Finally, there’s no remote rear-seat backrest release, as per rivals like the CX-5. It would be a small but handy addition, to an otherwise considered cargo area set-up that practically has it all: easy load/unloading capability, a long flat floor with a hidden lower level, plenty of girth and latches to secure objects to. Capacity varies between 542 litres and 580L depending on floor height, while a space-saver spare wheel lives beneath there.
Suavely designed, solidly built, beautifully finished and adequately refined inside, the RAV4 continues to make for a great family conveyance. Especially if low running costs are paramount.
Priced from $60,800 (all prices are before on-road costs), NX 250 Luxury equipment levels are – in a word – generous for an entry-level proposition. In fact, we thought our test vehicle arrived jam-packed with options, but what’s in the photos is standard fare.
There’s no scrimping on safety, for example, with eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep and steering assist, adaptive cruise control, LED lights with auto high beams and Safe Exit Assist – which won’t allow doors to open if vehicles or cyclists are whizzing by and in danger of being struck. Clever.
The NX 250 also scores keyless entry/start, a 9.8-inch touchscreen featuring ‘Hey, Lexus’ voice control, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, digital radio, powered steering column adjustability, electric front seats with heating, dual-zone climate control, a powered tailgate and 18-inch alloys running on 235/50 runflat tyres (so no spare wheels whatsoever).
You’ll find luxuries like leather, adaptive headlights, instrumentation head-up display, a larger touchscreen, vented seats, surround-view camera, premium audio and 235/50 R20-sheathed 20-inch alloys in the bestselling 350h hybrid grade, in either swishier Sports Luxury or racier F Sport grades; both begin at $73,100, AWD adds $4800 and another (rear-sited) electric motor, while that price also covers the rapid and non-hybrid 350 Turbo AWD F Sport.
All NXs include Lexus’ ‘Encore’ aftersales subscription program offering myriad offers and services including “free” car rental.
Remember: we have detailed reviews of other RAV4 hybrid versions on this site, but this one is specifically for the XSE hybrid 2WD.
Toyota expanded the RAV4 range late last year with the arrival of the Series II facelift, slotting the XSE hybrid in between the mid-range GXL hybrid and luxury Cruiser hybrid grades. There are no petrol-only models.
Changes were mainly cosmetic and include projector-style LED headlights, LED foglights and revised alloy wheel designs, as well as minor equipment and safety upgrades.
For similar money, sporty midsized SUV rivals like the Mazda CX-5 GT SP AWD (from $48,790) and Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport (from $42,690) can more-or-less match most of the XSE specification, but approach neither the power outputs nor the startling fuel economy of the Toyota’s series-parallel hybrid powertrain.
Only the Haval H6 Hybrid Ultra (from $44,990 driveaway) manages that, and with extra features like a sunroof, cooled seats and a seven-year warranty instead of five years, but it is far from sporty or comfortable.
The Forester 2.0 Hybrid S from $47,190 is neither powerful nor athletic, while plug-in hybrids with punch – like the MG HS PHEV FWD (from $48,990), Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GSR AWD (from $52,490) and Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV AWD (from $53,440) – cost more than the RAV4 XSE.
Like we said earlier: finding a gutsy, racy midsized SUV without blowing well into the $50K-plus bracket is not easy – let alone one with hybrid efficiency.
There are two ways of looking at this.
Yes, the NX 250 is powered by a variation of the same engine found in the humble base Camry Ascent in Australia at almost half the price. On the other hand, it’s a Toyota powertrain and everything that’s good and reliable and dependable about that. Which is not always the case with premium SUVs.
Dubbed Dynamic Force, which may imply forced-induction like a turbo or supercharger but there isn’t any, the 2487cc 2.5-litre naturally aspirated direct-injection D-4S twin-cam four-cylinder engine delivers 152kW of power at 6600rpm and 243Nm of torque at between 4000rpm to 5000rpm.
Drive is sent to the front wheels only, via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic. Tipping the scales at a pretty hefty 1705kg, it’s nonetheless the lightest NX, and manages a power-to-weight ratio of 89.1kW per tonne. That’s about the same as a GLC 200, which uses a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine.
Along with appearance, packaging and Toyota's reputation, here’s yet another telling reason why you might want an XSE hybrid.
The Euro 5-rated powertrain is the now-ubiquitous A25A-FXS – a 2487cc 2.5-litre double-overhead cam 16-valve in-line four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle petrol engine, boasting variable valve timing, direct-injection and stop/start technology. On its own, the combustion engine makes 131kW of power at 5700rpm and 221Nm of torque between 3600-5200rpm.
Mated to an 88kW/202Nm electric motor, power shoots up to 160kW, while the e-CVT electronic continuously variable transmission offers a trio of modes – Eco, Normal and Sport. They change steering, brake and throttle effort as well as the transmission shift pattern and drive torque distribution according to the driver's fancy.
Being a series/parallel full hybrid system, the engine is combined with a pair of motor generators, to provide electric-only drive or a combination thereof, to both the front wheels as well as to a (small) 1.6kWh Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, charging it on the go or via recaptured energy from the regenerative braking system. This is what Toyota means by a “self-charging” hybrid system.
Pure electric power is provided for under 2km, during very low speeds, when coasting along off-throttle or under very light throttle at certain speeds. The 0-100km/h sprint time is 8.4 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 178km/h.
Tipping the scales at 1690kg, the XSE Hybrid 2WD boasts a power-to-weight ratio of nearly 95kW/tonne helps, making it quite a muscular performer... that's also a teetotaller.
Rated Euro6b, the NX 250 demands 95 RON premium unleaded petrol. Same as Camry, actually,
We recorded a decent 9.7 litres per 100km during our time using the NX 250 in city, urban and rural conditions, against the trip computer’s 9.5L/100km and the official combined average of just 6.9L/100km.
Note this may be so because there was a lot of fast back-road driving, as the engine loves a rev and there’s a palpable wave of power that comes on strongly between 5000rpm and 6500rpm. A bit like Mazda’s naturally-aspirated units, but just not as sonorous.
At 55 litres, the fuel tank will allow for up to 797km based on the combined average cycle between refills.
Over a range of urban, freeway and highway testing, we managed 6.6 litres per 100km – and that was with the air-con on constantly.
The official combined average is 4.7L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions average of 107 grams/km.
With the 55-litre fuel tank accepting regular 91 unleaded petrol, an average of over 1170km between refills is possible. For a large, boxy and rapid family SUV, this is seriously impressive economy.
The NX 250 truly is a tale of two cars.
Around town, it is utterly capable and benign. The 2.5-litre atmo four-pot petrol unit is a revvy, raucous sort of engine, pulling away strongly off the line, responding quickly to pressing down on the throttle, shuffling up through seven of the lower gears smoothly (top is a highway overdrive), and generally being an easy vehicle to drive.
About the only concern is how noisy the engine can become if you’re needing to accelerate hard, with a definite mechanical zing that gives the Lexus a bit of a hoon attitude. We’re also a little hesitant about using the Sport mode in built-up areas, as ratios are held on to whether up or down shifting, amplifying the loud nature of this powertrain.
Other aspects of the NX 250’s driveability around town rate highly: light yet linear steering, with a tight turning circle providing easy manoeuvrability and parking; firm yet still absorbent suspension, offering an appropriately isolating ride over most bad road surfaces; and an overall sense of sound engineering. It seems quieter than an equivalent RAV4, more importantly.
It occurred to us that driving the NX 250 Hybrid out on rural backroads would deny the enthusiast of the base model’s lightness and agility, since the latter weighs hundreds of kilos less; the brakes are perfectly modulated instead of feeling vaguely mushy and/or trigger happy as with many electrified SUVs; and – even with the road noise being well-supressed – you’re far less aware that the atmo petrol engine is singing loudly at speed.
Plus, the ride out in the sticks, even on our craggy old test strip that would jar the bones of some other midsized SUVs, remains calm and comfortably firm. That’s real progress for the NX.
We’d appreciate a bit more nuance in the way the stability control kicks in (quite late) to catch the tail; while the driver-assist tech like the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist do their jobs admirably, the latter’s constant chiming can be annoying; and there's a fair amount of road-noise intrusion over coarse bitumen. Like most midsized luxury SUVs, actually. Still quieter than a RAV4, though.
No jarring faults then. Lexus has done its homework and fixed most of the things that annoyed or infuriated us about the previous generation version. Good work.
If you like driving then you'll probably realise fairly quickly that the RAV4 is naturally enjoyable machine to punt around, instantly putting it in the upper echelon of medium SUVs.
While that 2.5-litre hybrid powertrain combo isn’t the quietest when revved hard, it is smooth and always willing, leaping off the line energetically, and maintaining a strong level of acceleration well past the legal speed limit.
Which means it’s both ideal for zipping in between traffic gaps and pulling out for fast overtaking manoeuvres, packing quite a wallop between 80-120km/h. Yep, the RAV4 is deceivingly rapid.
The constant shifting between combustion engine and electric motor is almost imperceptible barring the fact that the latter is obviously quieter, allowing for silent and smooth progress in heavy traffic, that in turn makes the experience less stressful. As with all Toyota hybrids, a realtime animation diagram can be displayed to show you just how discreet the system is.
Keep in mind, however, that if you mash the throttle once all that road congestion clears, there will be quite a bit of thrashy engine noise accompanying all that extra speed being amassed, courtesy of the CVT auto attempting to maintain peak engine rev efficiency. It isn’t too loud or harsh, just present.
But while you won’t mistake the XSE for a premium luxury SUV, it’s easy to get into a flowing and relaxing rhythm, thanks to nicely weighted steering that – like the rest of the car – is as equally at home in the cut-and-thrust of urban traffic as it is tearing through a tight set of turns away from the big smoke. The RAV4's handling is terrifically resolved.
Featuring struts up front and wishbones out back, its suspension feels planted and controlled in most situations, for fast, effortless progress regardless of prevailing conditions. In this sense, the XSE does possess an athletic dynamic attitude to match its sporty styling, since the chassis delivers a rewarding drive.
Better still, even on the 226/60R18 wheel and tyre package, the Toyota continues to impress with a ride that manages to provide absorbency across craggy urban streets while minimising body lean when hoofing along through fast corners.
About the only hiccups here are braking feel – sometimes the pedal can seem a little wooden and unnatural (though stopping performance is absolutely fine) – as well as noticeable droning over some highway surfaces. But neither are deal breakers; just things to get used to.
Finally, with 190mm of ground clearance, the XSE hybrid 2WD is fine for driving over gravel roads, and is enabled by expertly tuned traction and stability controls that intervene gently to help keep you heading in the right direction at speed – even over loose and slippery surfaces.
That said, we'd pay the extra $3K for AWD. Or, much better still, step 'down' into a GXL hybrid AWD for around the same money (at $43,450 plus ORC) and buy a glossy black roof wrap to mimic the XSE's. Because... guess what? Despite the sporty look, it doesn't move the RAV4's already-sorted dynamic game on one bit.
And you won't have to put up with hot and sticky vinyl-like seats. You win. Toyota wins. Everybody wins.
Tested in July, 2022, the latest NX range delivers a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. It managed high scores in all four categories: Adult, Child and Vulnerable Road User protections, and Safety Assist technologies.
You’ll find eight airbags (providing coverage to all outboard occupants, also taking in dual-front occupant knees and centre item to stop lateral head strikes).
The AEB system with intersection assist works between 5-80km/h for pedestrian and cyclist detection and works day and night, while the car-to-car protection works between 5-180km/h.
Then there’s lane-tracing, lane-keep and steering assist, that works between 50-200km/h, as well as blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop/go functionality, auto high beams, road sign recognition, front as well as rear cross-traffic alert, reverse parking cameras, all-round parking sensors, tyre pressure monitors and Safe Exit Assist – which won’t allow doors to open if passing cyclists or pedestrians are in danger of being struck.
There’s also Intersection Turn Assist, providing early brake activation if required, Emergency Steering Assist (extra steering assistance to help keep the vehicle in its lane) and Emergency Driving Stop System.
As with most new vehicles nowadays, anti-lock brakes with brake-assist and electronic brake-force distribution is also standard, along with stability and traction control systems. Lexus provides three rear-seat child-seat tether anchorages and two ISOFIX latches, fitted to the outboard positions of the back bench.
The RAV4 scored a five-star rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program during its launch year in 2019.
Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee), Lane Departure Alert, Lane Trace Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, speed signs recognition, automatic high beam, adaptive cruise control, Trailer Sway Control, front and rear parking sensors, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist, electronic stability control, traction control, hill-start control and seatbelt warning.
Note that the RAV4’s AEB can detect and brake for cars between 10km/h and 180km/h, and for pedestrians and cyclists between 10km/h and 80km/h, while the lane-departure alert with steering control system is operational between 50km/h and 180km/h.
A pair of ISOFIX points as well as a trio of top tethers for straps are fitted to the rear seats.
Service intervals are at 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The NX also includes three years and 45,000km of capped-price servicing, with each one costing $495 – and as we’ve noticed in the recent past, that is very highly competitive pricing for a luxury brand.
Plus, there’s also Lexus’ ‘Encore’ aftersales subscription program offering myriad offers and services.
Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty – with the option of extending that to seven years – as well as roadside assistance. Service intervals are at 12 months or 15,000km.
The engine and transmission are under a seven-year warranty, while the hybrid battery pack is up to 10 years as long as the owner undertakes an annual inspection “… as part of routine maintenance according to the vehicle logbook.”
And why wouldn't you? The first five annual scheduled services are capped at just $230 each, with the work carried out detailed online at Toyota's website. This is one of the brand's biggest advantages over the competition.