Lexus NX350 F Sport Review: Japanese Origami on Steroids
To most people, a Lexus would usually be described as the subtle ‘Towkay Mobile’ that is reliable, quiet, comfortable and of understated luxury. In recent years, however, we have started to see sportier models (think of the Lexus LFA and LC500) and more F Sport models across most of the Lexus model line-up. The same athletic DNA has trickled down to the all-new 2nd generation Lexus NX mid-size luxury SUV.
The new NX can be identified as a Lexus immediately, but it exudes more dynamism and aggression as compared to the 1st generation NX. In this shade of blue (Heat Blue in Lexus’ terms), the car looks sporty and would attract glances from the younger demographic. The bonnet extends ahead to the edge of the near-vertical spindle grille to create a muscular, threatening look and in F Sport trim, the black front-side garnishes and the bumper spoiler further accentuate that.
I like how Lexus has paid attention to little details such as having blackened headlamps to increase the intensity of the L-shaped DRLs which are now sleekly integrated into the headlamp design. Much better, in my opinion, than the old tick shaped DRLs that were found below the headlamp housing in the 1st generation NX. Cornering and fog lights are also integrated into the front-side garnish housings.
At the rear, the car has a horizontal light bar that follows a similar design language of many modern cars. Flanked by two L-shaped lamps, this light combination draws attention to Lexus’ new brand mark (The Lexus badge can now only be found on the front grille). This light design increases the individuality of the car and it probably explains why the designers created a 3-piece design instead of having a single light bar.
On the inside, the cabin contrasts the blue exterior dramatically with its red and black leather trim. This combination has gotten mixed reviews from my passengers but to each his own. According to the Lexus Configurator, interior colour scheme combinations include full black, black/red and black/white.
F Sport logos can be found in the cabin to remind you that this is the high performance model. The F Sport logo that is embossed into the two front headrests is a nice touch of sporty elegance as well.
Driver ergonomics and comfort takes centre stage. The NX incorporates Lexus’ Tazuna concept that relates to the ‘reins’ used to control horses and can be seen in the driver-focused cockpit. Immediately noticeable is the large 14-inch infotainment touch display that is angled towards the driver. Gone are the days of the old Lexus touchpad system that was difficult to use. The new system is intuitive and is easy to navigate across the different menus (Navigation, Entertainment, Phone, Vehicle & Settings). What Lexus designers have done right was to have larger climate controls icons permanently positioned at the bottom of the large screen. There are even two physical knobs (with HD digital climate readouts) that are inbuilt into the display so that adjustments to the AC temperature can be done easily while driving.
Lexus’ engineers have also managed to reduce reflections and glare from the infotainment system by applying an anti-reflective coating to the windscreen and with a new bonding technology for the LCD screen. This seemed to work as I experienced minimal glare and discomfort driving under the sun and at night. The Japanese have done this right to ensure driver comfort as the industry continues to out-do each other in having the largest displays. There were times when I just wanted to put the infotainment display to sleep mode if I had a choice and to just focus on the driving experience.
Particularly impressive would be the digital E-Latch doors that would make all passengers go ‘How to get out of this car ah?’ The traditional door latch mechanism has been replaced by an electrical switch. To get out, just press the electronic latch by the door handle and push the door outwards in a single sweeping motion. I initially thought it was a gimmick, but it has proven to be highly intuitive, especially in tight parking spaces.
What this car does very well is its ability to have two different personas.
Complementing its sporty design, the NX350 F Sport has a new turbocharged 2.4-litre engine with 275 bhp and 430 Nm that allows the car to get to 100 km/h in just 7 seconds. The NX also uses the new Lexus TNGA-K chassis that is lighter and yet 30% stiffer. Put the car in Sport+ mode and the suspension stiffens alongside improved throttle response. Under hard acceleration, the engine even makes a throaty noise, albeit artificially created by sound engineers, and the car barrels ahead quickly.
Whilst its performance is impressive, this car truly excels as a highway cruiser. In Normal drive mode, ride quality and comfort are impeccable for a car that has 20-inch rims (fitted with run-flats) and sports suspension and would put many Executive salons to shame. This car enables you to get around quickly but in a typical Lexus manner that is comfortable and composed while enjoying the supple air-conditioned leather seats. You could also use the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Lane Tracing Assist on the drive home after a long day at work. It even has the most refined start/stop system I have ever experienced where it is nearly imperceptible. Just remember that the NX350 F Sport is a new generation of Lexus that can put a smile on your face whenever you want it to.
At $321,800, the NX350 F Sport is a unique proposition to its competitors. Its size falls in-between a BMW X1/X3 or a Mercedes GLA/GLC but its price is closer to its larger competitors such as the BMW X3 xDrive30i M Sport or the Mercedes GLC300. However, people who bought Lexus have always wanted something different from the usual offerings and the NX350 F Sport shines in the traditional Lexus element with an additional sporty side to it. I would just buy it in a more subtle colour, both outside and inside.
A very capable mid-size luxury SUV that stands out amongst the crowd – comfortable, fast and practical.
Photos by Horizon Drivers' Club