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Lexus NX


Volvo XC40

Summary

Lexus NX

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. 

I’ve tested the hybrid version of the NX – the 300h - in the F Sport grade. It’s unique because mid-sized petrol-electric prestige SUVs in Australia are rare on the ground. 

So, are the benefits of a hybrid just fuel-saving ones and, are there disadvantages to one? Also why would you buy an NX over a rival from BMW, Audi, Volvo or Benz which cost about the same price?

Read on to find out what I found out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeHybrid with Regular Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency5.7L/100km
Seating5 seats

Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 - the Chinese-owned Swedish car company's debut in the compact SUV segment - was a hit from the get-go. Stylish, refined, ever-so-cool, and yet not pricey enough to have to go up against the other Euro competition, it kept Volvo's contemporary image intact.

A couple of years later, the XC40 T5 PHEV arrived, before the name was changed to the rather more friendly XC40 Recharge. That's all part of the company's commitment to electrification, which means that by the end of the year, no Volvo will be without some form of electrification, whether it's the subtle mild-hybrid approach or a full-on EV.

The Recharge, then, occupies the middle ground, being a plug-in hybrid, where an electric motor is combined with a petrol engine to deliver a modest but useful electric-only range, but also a (theoretical) total range of almost 1000km between a fill and charge.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency2.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Lexus NX7.4/10

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.


Volvo XC407.6/10

The Volvo XC40 Recharge packages up the kinds of things I reckon Volvo buyers want - style, safety and advanced technology. The XC40's thrifty fuel use coupled with a useful if not astonishing EV range means you can run this car almost literally on the smell of an oily rag if you're a suburban or urban dweller.

It also offers the flexibility to deliver a drive between our capitals without any of the nail-biting range anxiety so many Australians claim to have, and that is preventing them from buying an EV.

While it's isn't cheap, neither is progress. But at least you're getting a well-equipped, awesome-looking and fun-to-drive SUV with buckets of space and an attractive badge.

Design

Lexus NX

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).


Volvo XC40

The XC40 backed up the XC90's design direction, and, like its big brother, it's a belter. The segment has plenty of outstanding designs (that's what happens when everyone gets in on the same game), but the XC40 is a proper looker. From the Hammer of Thor headlights through to the cool concave grille, the upright stance, blacked-out roof and C-pillar, and those signature stacked taillights it's...well, the whole thing is much cooler than it probably should be.

That's not a backhander about Volvo styling - the company has been doing cool for almost 20 years - but the vaguely Minecraft aesthetic shouldn't work, but it does.

The cabin is very nice, too, but in a more conventional way. It's not as bang-up-to-date as a newer German cabin, but then you're not paying another twenty grand for the privilege. The vertical screen works in its environment, the digital dashboard has a high-tech feel and the materials are very pleasant to look at and touch.

 

Practicality

Lexus NX

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.

Boot space is 475 litres, which is small compared to the 550L luggage capacities of the GLC, X3 and Q5.


Volvo XC40

Rear seat passengers enjoy uncommonly comfortable seats with a pretty serious set of headrests, part of the safety package. The optional "electric folding" mechanism means that if you're on your own in the car, you can press a button and they fall forward out of your vision. It's really quite handy, and for a couple of hundred bucks, and it saves a bit of hassle.

There is tons of head and legroom, too, and rear seat passengers score their own air vents.

The boot starts at a handy-if-not-spectacular 460 litres, rising to 1336 litres with the seats folded down. Some of the boot space is nibbled away by the bag holding the charger you use in a standard 240V domestic point, but not hugely so. 

There are two pairs of cupholders, one in the front next to the dainty little shifter and two in the rear armrest, which is unusually sturdy. Each door will hold a bottle, too, for a maximum of four.

 

Price and features

Lexus NX

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.

That said, buying the hybrid version comes at a $2500 premium over the regular F Sport two-wheel drive (which has a 2.0-litre turbo engine - more on that below). 

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.


Volvo XC40

While you can a have an XC40 for just under $47,000 (before on-roads), the Recharge asks $64,990 before options and on-roads.

You get 20-inch alloy wheels, a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, sat nav, leather seats, power front seats, R-Design bits and pieces (like the steering wheel), dual-zone climate control with air cleaning system, panoramic sunroof, auto LED headlights, auto high beam, wireless phone charging, headlight washers, auto wipers, keyless entry and start and a space-saver spare.

The 9.0-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen runs a beefy Harmon Kardon 14-speaker stereo and has DAB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It's a slightly confusing system - if you want to change something about the car, it can be a bit laborious getting from the main system back to CarPlay. I'm sure you'd get used to it, but apart from that, the hardware is quick, the menus comprehensible (for the most part) and the side-swiping action quite familiar.

Our test car had metallic paint ($1150), a Versatility Pack (load protection net, power folding headrests - $230), Climate Pack (heated front seats, windscreen washers and steering wheel - $700), around-view camera ($990 - that stings), tinted rear windows ($700), heated rear seats ($350) and auto parking ($650), taking the total to $69,760. Apart from the one that stung, most of these prices are relatively reasonable.

Engine & trans

Lexus NX

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. 


Volvo XC40

As this is a plug-in hybrid, things are a mite more complex than a standard XC40. The internal combustion engine, which both drives the wheels and can charge the batteries, is a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo unit with 132kW and 265Nm, both pretty good figures on their own. 

Plugged into that is a 60kW/160Nm electric motor which can drive the car all on its lonesome or in combination with the engine.

Making sure the power gets to the front wheels is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and the XC40 Recharge will go from rest to 100km/h in a handy 7.4 seconds - about a second slower than the quickest petrol-only model.

The XC40's charge cable plugs into a charging point on the front left of the car between the wheel and the front door. Using the supplied charger, you'll be waiting around six hours for a from-dead charge. If you can find a fast-charger, it will step down to the XC40's throughput and be done in two and a half hours.

Fuel consumption

Lexus NX

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.


Volvo XC40

Volvo's government-approved ADR testing yielded a slightly silly 2.2L/100km (the Euro-focussed WLTP comes in at 2.0L/100km). This sort of figure is common with PHEVs as the testing cycle is short and not really designed for advanced drivetrains.

Having said that, and throwing out my usual 30 per cent rule (I reckon adding 30 per cent to a fuel figure is probably what you'll get in the real world on a "normal" car), the 5.4L/100km I got during a week's driving is pretty reasonable given the point I was intending to use to charge it didn't work. 

The week I spent with it included two separate 30km EV-only runs across the city where the petrol motor kept to itself the whole time, and I still had about six-kilometres of range left. The 10.7kWh battery has a claimed range of 46km so given a good chunk of that running was in 80km/ zones, that's pretty good going.

Driving

Lexus NX

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.


Volvo XC40

The XC40 Recharge is a delight around town. I'm a big fan of PHEVs (try saying that ten times quickly) because they're a good halfway house between a full BEV, both on price and for dealing with range anxiety (quick reminder, there will likely be a full EV version of the XC40 here by year's end). 

It's a well-beaten statistic, but most Australians, all being equal, travel an average of 30-40km per day. Which means that despite me saying 2.2L/100km isn't really accurate, if you're the kind of person who buys this car for the school run or short commute, you'll probably never have to use the petrol engine until you decide to get a bit frisky on the accelerator or, like I did, you take it on a highway run down to the NSW South Coast.

The XC40 Recharge will always use its electric motor, with the software keeping a little bit of charge in hand for stepping off at the lights, which is the biggest contributor to fuel usage. Getting 1700kg-plus of car moving requires a lot of energy.

If you need it, the XC40 can get moving very quickly, and in the urban cut and thrust, the combination of instant electric torque and a very effective turbo three-cylinder means breaking into traffic is a doddle. While the 0-100km/h is quick enough, it's quite lively from 0-60km/h, meaning far fewer of those clench-and-punch-it moments when breaking into moving traffic than some other mid-sized SUVs.

And if you keep it charged - easy enough if you have access to a power point and take the view that each night you charge it the same way you charge your phone - you'll spend the vast amount of your time driving in EV-only mode, which is every relaxing and near silent. Or would be if the 20-inch wheels weren't wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero tyres, but even then they're not too noisy.

It's also very easy to live with, easy to park (especially with the rather expensive 360-degree camera) and the vision out is mostly good, apart from over your left shoulder where the rear quarter window is slashed in twain by a stylish application of the set square. The various safety systems ensure it isn't an issue, however.

Safety

Lexus NX

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.


Volvo XC40

Being a Volvo, it's laden with safety gear - and you even get a list on the dashboard screen every time you start up, which I think is quite cute.

Along with the usual seven airbags, ABS, and stability and traction controls, the XC40 also has forward AEB (with pedestrian, vehicle, large animal and cyclist detection, and which operates at high and low speed), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and reverse cross-traffic alert.

You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors. ANCAP last tested the XC40 in July 2018 and awarded it five stars.

Ownership

Lexus NX

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.


Volvo XC40

Volvo throws in a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is unusual in the Euro segment. You can also pre-pay your servicing with a plan, covering three-years/45,000km for $1595. Volvo expects to see you once every 12 months or 15,000km.