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Lexus admits it is late to the premium crossover party and that the new NX isn't looking to crush the German competition, but the Japanese brand is hoping a petrol-electric hybrid alternative can steal some sales from diesel rivals.
Lexus's ambitions are modest for the NX - it hopes to steal a 4% slice of the premium SUV market. Sales will be split 50/50 between fleet and retail and the brand has had 750 orders ahead of launch, with a full year of sales expected to be 3700 units. Those sales will be mainly incremental, with 80% predicted to be conquest from other brands.
The NX is available in five trim levels: S, SE, Luxury, Sport and Premier. The majority of fleet sales are expected to come from user choosers and SMEs, with the Luxury trim taking the largest share of sales at 40%, followed by SE.
Lexus is clearly aiming this car at a younger audience. The NX is bold and distinctive, but it's hard to imagine drivers switching from their Audi Q5, BMW X3 or Range Rover Evoque, which are all much more suited to European design tastes.
The firm is, however, hoping to tempt buyers with an impressive level of standard kit that will appeal to corporate drivers. All NX models come with adaptive cruise control, pre-crash safety system, LED lights, reversing camera, DAB and space-saver spare wheel as standard, while the leather-clad interior and modern design do match German rivals to an extent.
There are still some cheaper-looking plastics throughout the dash, and some of the plastic touches on the gear lever and dash buttons don't hold up, but the seats are comfortable and supportive and the leather steering wheel is chunky and feels premium.
There is a front-wheel drive version of the NX on S trims only and this one is best for emissions and economy at 116g/km and 56.5mpg. There were only Luxury all-wheel drive models to test at the launch event, but the S is powered by the same 2.5-litre petrol mated to a generator, electric motor and hybrid battery. The extra weight of the AWD version isn't massively damaging, though, taking the emissions and economy to 121g/km and 54.3mpg respectively.
While the Lexus badge might not be as desirable as rivals, the costs make a lot of sense at £195 a month BIK for the 40% tax band compared with the X3's £274. At 67.2p, it's also the cheapest per mile compared with rivals.
The NX comes with a drive mode select that can be shifted to Normal, Eco and Sport. Eco adjusts the throttle response to favour economic driving. It's also possible to drive the NX in pure-electric mode at low speeds around town, with the petrol engine kicking in at over 30mph.
The NX is quiet, refined and comfortable. The 197hp engine doesn't provide a blistering amount of power and the CVT auto transmission doesn't sound particularly pleasing when pushed hard, but motorway cruising is relaxing and refined. Lexus has configured the power steering nicely too, with the NX providing some firm feedback, while there's minimal body roll when pushing into corners.
|Model price range||£24,495-£42,995|
|Service, maintenance and repair||£2555|
|Vehicle Excise Duty||£200|
|Cost per mile||67.3p|
|CO2 (tax)||121g/km (17%)|
|BIK 20/40% per month||£98/£195|
|Insurance (1-50)||group 12|
|Boot space (min/max)||475/1520 litres|
|On sale||9 October 2014|
Bold design, generous spec and tax efficient, but a niche choice