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A Lexus SUV so advanced it had us scratching our heads

A literal fortress on wheels, Lexus’ new NX opens a whole new chapter of design, tech, and dynamics to deliver a more rewarding and connected driving experience. It brings next-generation multimedia and connectivity and applies advanced technology for higher levels of safety and comfort in what is one of the coolest vehicles we’ve tested this year. But is some of it not a bit too much?

95 percent new, the latest next generation NX replaces a most successful Lexus as it embraces the Toyota luxury badge’s human-centred vehicle development approach. A simpler, modern evolution, it brings a balanced look with strong proportions. Lexus blade lighting features splendidly bright and efficient three adaptive bi-high beam projector LEDs with cornering lamps and cleaners. They punctuate a softer-framed, more upright Lexus spindle grille under that long, sleek bonnet. This one’s large black 20-inch F-Sport wheels, short overhangs and a wider track cause an even more agile and powerful look.

Our NX had a panoramic roof finished with rails and a spoiler atop a hands-free power tailgate sporting full width taillights. Electrochromatic power, heated side mirrors have a reversing blind spot monitor and auto-tilt function, and there are rain sensor wipers too. 20 millimetres longer 20 mm wider and 5 mm taller, and riding on a 30 mm longer wheelbase the latest Lexus NX brings better rear passenger space and optimised packaging.


Japanese for taking your horse by its reins

Staying inside, NX is the first Lexus to feature the brand’s new Tazuna cockpit design concept. That’s Japanese for taking your horse by its reins in a ‘hands on the wheel, eyes on the road’ kind of a way. And it has us blowing both hot and cold. Hot because it’s so cool, well organised and features a great balance between form and function. Especially around its infotainment interface. And cold because of some truly astounding aspects that have us scratching our heads in pure disbelief!

Starting with the bits that made us hot inside, Lexus’ crisp and clear, large, fast, and intuitive new high-definition 14-inch display multimedia platform is a refreshingly competent solution in a world of unimaginably complex car infotainment systems. First and foremost, this Carplay and Auto rich system with navigation, a wireless charger and splendid 17-speaker Mark Levison audio, is logical and easy to use. It possesses a smart balance between good old buttons and knobs and touch sensitive controls to keep everyone happy. Faster thanks to a more powerful CPU, it also obeys ‘Hey Lexus’ voice commands.

The driver sits comfortably behind a steering wheel equipped with smart touch-capacitive controls in a heated and ventilated power memory seat in dual-zone auto climate control comfort. A Lexus LFA-inspired movable ring instrument cluster is backed by heads-up display flashed up onto the windscreen. A driver centric space, it is said to require driver minimal eye and head movement. The starter button, shift lever, climate controls and drive mode selector are said to be set on the same plane. So they’re simple and intuitive to use.


Re-learning how to open doors in NX

This is however where we start to blow a bit cold. Not so sure if that gear lever is easy to use, but the owners may eventually get their heads around that one. And then the new NX is the first Lexus model to be fitted with the e-latch electronic door release system.

We are baffled as to why, exactly Lexus has reinvented something that worked perfectly well in the first place. But this latest piece of automotive overkill answers questions nobody seemed to have asked asked in the first place. We quote, “This replaces the familiar internal door handle with a push-button switch next to the arm rest in the door panel, operated in a single, smooth movement” Which is a lie. Get caught in there with the ignition off, for example and you feel like you’re stuck in a sinking submarine.

There are now several new and different ways to open the door. None of which are intuitive or easy to some of us. And all of which require you to be re-schooled on how to open a door. Although some younger operators, who cannot yet afford such a car, quite liked them. There really must be a more logical way to help prevent accidents caused by car doors opening, than this, Lexus! In short, these two particularly peculiar door handles, which now require a PHD to operate, and that weird gear lever pretty much shoot an otherwise brilliant new Tazuna cockpit concept squarely in the foot! Maybe we still need to get our heads around some of it, but we are trying!


NX underpinned by a strong, light, stiff shell

Lexus’ Global Architecture platform uses stronger and lighter materials to deliver a stiffer shell and bring a 20 mm lower centre of gravity, broader front and rear tracks and an improved front to rear weight balance. That with MacPherson strut front and trailing arm double wishbone rear suspension and rear transaxle mounted AWD E-Four all-wheel drive, ensures surefooted drivability and even a modicum of off-road ability. It’s all complimented by five-setting drive mode select with adaptive variable suspension. Adaptive Suspension features performance dampers with firmer bracing, while Drive Mode Select Sport S+ allows myriad customisable driving style options.

That shell also forms the basis of some extreme Lexus safety. Packing innovative intersection turn and emergency steering assistants, pre-collision with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, parking support brake, blind-spot and lane tracing, there’s also adaptive cruise control, and tyre pressure monitoring. Add an intelligent clearance sonar park distance control linked to rear cross traffic alert and those door handles with a blind spot monitor in conjunction with rear cross traffic alert and safe exit assist, connected to an e-latch.

There is of course also ABS and EBD assisted anti-skid braking, and traction, stability, up and downhill and trailer sway control. Add lane keeping with extinguishable steering vibration and lane trace, and an active cornering assistant. And brake synchronised pre-crash and a full suite of airbags including driver knee bags.


NX proved quicker than claimed. Thirstier too

Moving on, the raunchy new NX350 is powered by a new 205 kW 430 Nm turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder petrol lump. It’s reported to rush to 100 km/h in seven seconds. And return an alleged 8.1 litres of premium unleaded per 100 kilometres in the combined cycle. Oh well, let’s get that double-edged samurai out again! We love it when a car delivers better than claimed acceleration. But then we hate it when carmakers somehow report impossible fuel consumption figures.

Our NX was indeed quicker than claimed as you can see below. But on the flipside, we struggled to beat 11 litres per hundred. And never saw under ten l/100 km, which was disappointing. And that tied up to a quite measly 55 litre fuel tank had us suffering EV-like range anxiety. There is of course a far more frugal, if slightly tardier NX350h Hybrid option with all these same bells and whistles. Should fuel consumption be a critical choice for you.

Grasping at straws? Perhaps. But those few posers certainly have us scratching our heads! For the rest however, this fine SUV strikes a fine balance between ride comfort and dynamics. Steering, throttle, and braking is faithful to the driver’s intentions to generate confidence and a deliver a rewarding sense of connection with the car. At the end of the day, we were thoroughly impressed by the new Lexus NX. Even if some of its fresh solutions had us thinking it’s a bit of a double-edged samurai sword! – Michele Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Lexus NX 350 F Sport
Engine: 205 kW 430 Nm 2.4-litre turbo petrol I4
Drive: 8-speed automatic AWD
0-60 km/h:         3.02 sec
0-100 km/h:        6.78 sec
0-120 km/h:        8.98 sec
0-160 km/h:        15.54 sec
400m:              14.8 sec @ 156 km/h
80-120 km/h:       4.26 sec
120-160 km/h:      6.37 sec
VMax:              200 km/h
Fuel:              8.1 l/100 km
CO2:               185 g/km
Range:             675 km
Warranty/Service*: 7y 105K/7s 105K km
LIST PRICE:        R1.211M
RATED:             8
*Maintenance Plan
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