Lexus bristles at some of the criticisms levelled at its hybrid powertrain and insists that the detachment and vapidity frequently highlighted by road testers simply isn’t registered by customers living with the car day to day. To some extent, we sympathise with that difference of opinion.
To drive around town, where the hybrid dividend is already at its most advantageous, the experience is uncannily quiet and smooth. Like its siblings, the NX300h’s step-off is more a cast-off – gently slipping its moorings under the waft of electric propulsion. Above a gentle, congested crawl, the petrol engine chimes in, its contribution seamlessly incorporated by the planetary gearset and its voice barely audible below 25mph.
Driven thusly, in traffic and very modestly, the crossover tends to make even the most refined diesel rival seem gravelly and indelicate. Certainly, the intermittent reverberation of a conventional start-stop system seems impossibly invasive compared with the Lexus’s movable millpond.
However, Toyota’s hybrid system is much easier to respect than enjoy. The connection between power sources requires that the petrol engine – itself no great conveyor of character – too often plays the part of a remote generator, feeding energy into the transmission at the behest of your right foot but not strictly regulated by it in the nuanced way experienced in a conventionally powered rival.
Typically, this effect is most obvious when accelerating hard, a process that hastens the 2.5-litre unit to 6500rpm, where it remains pinned for as long as directed. It’s a shrill and artificial process made all the more irksome by the fact that it’s accompanied by no great advancement in speed. We couldn’t extract better than 9.5sec to 60mph on a dry day – well short of the sub-6.0sec best score that you’d expect from a BMW X3 xDrive30d.
The NX’s 37.5mpg touring figure is also disappointing, although you can expect that to be evened out with superior economy in an urban setting.
If you want an NX with a little more poke, the NX200t petrol exclusively available in four-wheel drive and F-Sport trim – should fit the bill. It's a pleasing enough engine; performance is brisk without having passengers reaching for the grab handles, the claimed 7.1sec 0-62mph figure feeling perfectly believable.
The 50-75mph time of 6.0sec also indicates plenty of mid-range shove, before it trails away at the top end. While it feels brisk in this application, it would feel brisker still if it was hooked up to a better gearbox. The new six-speeder is fine for most situations, but it can hesitate to kickdown when you’re looking for sudden acceleration.