Lexus sold around 60 000 NX derivatives in the United States in 2017. In Europe, the NX range was slightly less successful, but still managed about 20 000 units. South African customers have not quite shared the enthusiasm for the NX, with steady but limited sales numbers. However, late in 2017, the NX was expanded to include a broader range of models, and it could be a turning point for the cool NX’s fortunes here in Africa.
With a starting price of R630 000, the outgoing Lexus NX range faced an uphill sales battle in a tough South African market.
Besides the obviously tough economic times, local buyers are a bit obsessed with double cab bakkies. Considering that you can pick up a high-end double cab bakkie for less than R600 000… well, a cool and compact SUV has a bit of a tough gig. So the Lexus NX has been selling in relatively low numbers, at around 30 units per month.
At the end of 2017, Toyota Motors South Africa updated the NX range. Most significant though, was the introduction of an entry-level, front-wheel-drive derivative. Badged the 300e, this model sells for R600 000.
We spent a week with the Lexus NX300e entry-level model.
Firstly, there are some small styling updates across the range, with new headlights, a bolder new grille, and new bumper details. All models get new LED combination lamps for the tail, and there are also minor styling updates for the rear bumper and licence plate holder.
On the inside, there are detailed specification changes across the range. Door handle trim has been updated and there’s a new 10.3-inch display audio screen with enhanced graphics and clarity. The centre cluster has been updated with the climate control panel refreshed and there are now fewer switches, for more straightforward usage.
The suspension has also been refined. Updates on the ‘e’ model include a new calibration for the rear stabiliser bar and stabiliser-bar bushing, and new front dampers with reduced friction. While the performance-oriented F-Sport derivative is equipped with a trick adaptive variable suspension for enhanced handling prowess, along with low profile tyres, the 300e gets the traditional springs and damper set-up and smaller 17-inch rims, shod with higher profile tyres.
Lastly, the previous NX range’s engine reference to 200t – describing the two-litre engine and turbocharger – has been changed to a ‘300’ moniker. This, says Lexus, was done to bring the NX range in line with the naming convention used in the rest of the model line-up. The 300 refers to the fact that this two-litre produces the same power as a conventional three-litre powerplant.
So is it any good behind the wheel?
It’s the same 175kW and 350Nm four-pot turbopetrol engine that powers the updated NX range. It is coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox (no manual option available) that sends the juice to the front wheels.
Pressing the ‘start’ button and hearing the four-cylinder engine springing to life won’t exactly send shivers down your spine. In fact, it’s all very muted, refined and civilised. Hook Drive and hit the street… and that muted, refined and civilised picture remains very much intact.
It’s not that the engine minds revving, it’s just a bit pointless to chase it all the way to the red line. Besides the fact that the 350 Newtons of torque are available between 1 650 and 4 000r/min, revving the engine past 4 000r/min provides very little aural or visceral delight. It works well and the NX certainly is brisk, but there is no particular excitement or thrill in the process.
The six-speed automatic gearbox needs a special mention. It’s really smooth and reacts very well to driver input. If you have a sporty kind of day, you can use a dial on the centre stack to select between Eco, Normal or Sport… the different settings change the gearbox and other electronics accordingly. There are also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel to gear up and down manually.
The ride is comfortable and compliant. If you start pressing on in the corners, it’s pretty sporty, too, providing good feedback and just feeling composed. Powering hard out of slow corners can cause a front wheel to briefly lose traction, but the electronics quickly jump in and sort out the errant wheel, regaining traction in a jiffy.
For the record, the NX300e should complete the run from 0–100km/h in less than eight seconds, and top speed is limited to 200km/h.
And off the beaten track?
Clearly the front-wheel-driven NX300e can’t venture too far off the beaten track. It has a claimed 190mm ground clearance, but especially the front overhang may be prone to damage if you try and drive this Lexus through a donga.
Where it really is good though, is on a gravel road. We drove both the F-Sport and this entry-level ‘E’ model on the same gravel road, and the ride in the ‘E’ with its higher profile tyres was more comfortable and composed.
The cabin remains well insulated, even on badly corrugated and rough dirt tracks. You have to try pretty hard to get the tail to step out, even just a few millimetres. The traction and stability control are on guard, of course, and the systems intervene in a discreet but effective manner.
And the cabin?
The cabin is a really plush, comfortable and modern place. The centre stack features a contemporary, futuristic design that is both easy on the eye as well as – unlike its predecessor – quite user-friendly.
Just because this is the entry-level model in the range, it doesn’t mean this NX is as sparsely equipped as a Toyota Tazz. It gets synthetic leather trim, dual-zone climate control, a wireless smartphone charger, an eight-speaker sound system with good sound reproduction, rain-sensing wipers, electrically adjustable front seats, and a reverse camera.
The NX also has a mouse pad-like interface to operate the infotainment and other features via that centrally mounted 13.7-inch screen. It works, but we are bigger fans of modern touchscreen systems.
Interestingly, there is a small removable vanity mirror located between the front seats. You just can’t imagine ‘the boys’ heading over to the rugby at Ellis Park and one lad piping up from the backseat: “Buddy, hand me that mirror quickly… just want to make sure the hair is lekker.” We’ll leave that there.
The boot is spacious, and a space saver spare wheel lives under the cargo floor.
R600 000 is still a lot of money. And this is the two-wheel-drive entry-level derivative.
Some pundits will quickly point out the fact that you can buy a pukka 4×4 like the capable new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.4D 4×4 Auto for the same price and that the Mitsubishi has seven seats, instead of the NX’s five.
But then, the Lexus is a Lexus… and that’s a status symbol and a drawing card for many potential buyers. The quality, the comfort and the smooth ride are plus points. Truth be told, we’d rather have this entry-level 300e ahead of the high-end NX F Sport, which sells for R789 700 – nearly R200 000 more than the ‘E’.
Engine Four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Displacement 1 998cc
Power 175kW @ 4 800-5 600r/min
Torque 350Nm @ 1 650-4 000r/min
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Ground clearance (claimed) 190mm
Consumption 10.5 litres/100km (combined cycle)
Fuel tank capacity 60 litres
Maintenance plan (limited) Four year/100 000km
Warranty Four year/100 000km
Price (standard) R599 900