First Drive: 2017 Lexus NX

First Drive: 2017 Lexus NX
 

A cold, wet towel and iced tea never looked so enticing. With the outside temperature nudging a sweaty 36°C, the only activity appeared to be coming from month-old warthogs that playfully scurried about under the watchful eye of their mother.

“Welcome to Karkloof,” said staff member Avante as he handed out the welcome juice and towel.

Recognised as one of the world’s leading safari and spa resorts and situated just outside Pietermaritzburg, Karkloof proved the ideal setting last week for the launch of the upgraded Lexus NX range.

When it was launched in February 2015, the NX was the brand’s first foray in to the premium compact SUV segment, and it made quite a statement at the time, thanks to its futuristic design and striking body lines.

Sharp angles, deep contours and of course the trademark Lexus spindle grille combined to present a vehicle of high visual appeal that spoke just as much about the brand itself as the people who buy it.

The NX lineup will now consist of four derivatives: the E, EX, F-Sport and Hybrid.

While the changes may have been kept to a minimum, there are noticeable enhancements.

All models receive front styling refinements, with new headlamps, a modified front grille using a chrome frame, and altered side grille, bumper and lower bumper elements.

At the rear are new LED combination lamps and the bumper has been slightly modified.

It’s also good to see the technology used in the superlative LC 500 trickling down to the NX. One such feature is the adaptive variable suspension that can now be found on F-Sport models, and which helps to provide a smoother ride.

The naming convention employed by the NX range has also changed.

Previously it was badged with the “200t” moniker (indicating a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine); now we see a “300” badge.

While you still have the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, Lexus’s reasoning for the change is that the power output of 175kW and 350Nm is equivalent to that of a 3.0-litre engine.

The hybrid-powered NX 300h keeps its 2.5-litre engine, paired with an electric motor to provide total output of 150kW.

There is an extremely smooth delivery of power in the turbocharged NX. It’s less whiplash-inducing brute force and more steady flow (0-100km/h in 7.1seconds), fed through the six-speed automatic transmission (continuously variable transmission in the Hybrid).

For the first time in the NX range, the E-grade model adopts a two-wheel-drive drivetrain compared to all-wheel drive in the other models. The result — and obvious intention — was to drop the price, reduce fuel consumption and, ultimately, attract a new kind of buyer.

Lexus is one of those brands that equips its vehicles with a high level of both safety and convenience features. Yes, your outlay may initially appear higher, but do the maths and you will discover how quickly the price can balloon when you buy a “basic” car and start adding features.

Of course the counterargument is that you may end up paying for features you don’t want or need.

That said, the entry-level E model is equipped with cruise control, daytime running lights, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable leather seats and a new 10.3-inch display incorporating reverse-view camera. When it comes to safety, most boxes are ticked, with ABS, EBD, brake assist and trailer sway control.

Step into the F-Sport model and you also get a blind-spot monitor and the extremely useful rear cross-traffic alert.

One thing that I’ve learnt over the years is that Lexus matches — if not beats — certain German manufacturers when it comes to interior quality, and the NX is a good example.

There are various trim colours to choose from and the overall finish is top-notch.

The ride quality, as we discovered in a variety of driving conditions, has improved. Whether in town, on the highway or gunning it down some gravel road, you feel assured about the capability of the vehicle.

There has been a fair amount of activity in the premium compact SUV segment recently. Audi launched an all-new Q5 in August and BMW recently showcased its new-generation X3 to much acclaim.

But last week was a timely reminder that the NX stacks up well compared to its competitors.

Admittedly, it is a left-field choice, but it remains an extremely good one.

Pricing:

NX 300 E: R599 900

NX 300 EX: R677 300

NX 300 F-Sport: R789 700

NX 300h EX: R746 700