Shopping for a premium compact SUV? The decision has never been tougher, as the segment now welcomes yet another contender. Arriving fashionably late to the party, newcomer Lexus NX is all set to nudge on its European rivals, and in this shootout, takes on one of the segment favourites, the BMW X3.
Pricing for the Lexus NX starts at $59,500 excluding on roads for AWD version, while the BMW X3 kicks off at $60,765. We put both the NX 300h and X3 xDrive20i to the test to find out which of these midsize SUVs is worthy of your money.
From all angles, Lexus’ first compact SUV looks undeniably bold and unconventional. Not constraint by tradition, Lexus designers have gone nuts with the NX styling.
Carved with an intrepid mix of sharp creases and curves, combined with the brand’s trademark spindle grille flanked by ‘slash’ LED daytime running lights, it is undoubtedly one of the most daring designs to have come out of the once conservative Japanese premium brand. Despite the outrageous styling, the NX is still classy looking and very well proportioned.
While the Lexus embraces divisive styling which was once BMW’s forte, the X3 looks inherently conservative when parked next to the NX. Mildly refreshed for 2015, the new X3 features a bolder and more contemporary interpretation of Bee M’s iconic kidney grille. Like an amoeba, it stretches out at the top corners of the grille to meet the newly design headlights.
Both front and rear bumpers have also been redesigned with updated contour lines and features, while the LED side indicators are now housed in the new exterior mirrors.
Lexus NX – 8.0
BMW X3 – 7.5
Like the exterior, the Lexus NX’s cabin is futuristically techno-Japanese, infused with the typical Lexus clarity and attention to detail. There are sweet touches like the removable mirror on the centre tunnel and touch-sensitive overhead lighting system that turns the cabin lights on with just a light tap or swipe of your finger.
The raised climate control panel is surprisingly ergonomic but its tilted position makes the buttons and LCD displays hard to decipher under direct sunlight.
At 4.63m long, 1.85m wide and 1.63m high, the Lexus NX is only a few millimetre shorter in all directions compared to the BMW X3. Its wheelbase, however, is not an insignificant 150mm less than the Bavarian.
No surprise, then, that the NX feels a little cosier compared to its rival, with slightly inferior legroom front and back compared to the X3. But, the Lexus counters with a great driving position and superbly comfortable seats.
Lexus’ new touchpad-style Remote Touch interface replaces the old fiddly “mouse” controller, but it still isn’t quite as intuitive to use as the rotary control in the BMW, which we think is the best in the segment.
There’s also a bit of ‘Toyota-ness’ in the Lexus’ 6.2-inch infotainment screen graphics, lacking the sophistication and crispness of the BMW.
Nevertheless, the Lexus’s Bluetooth connected our phones much quicker than that in the BMW, and the 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system (standard in F Sport and Sport Luxury) is decent.
All NX variants, bar the entry-level Luxury, also come with a segment-first wireless induction smartphone charger housed beneath the front centre.
The X3’s updated interior is typically modern and has more usable storage compartment compared to the NX. Behind the electric tailgate is 550-litre of luggage space, expandable to 1,600 litres with the rear seats tumbled.
In comparison, the NX is down on both figures – yielding only 475 and 1,520 litres respectively. Not surprising as the space is robbed by the batteries nestled underneath the rear bench. However, the NX’s world-first power folding 60/40 split rear seats should raise a few eye brows.
The X3 boasts smarter designs when it comes to cargo management. There are two rails that run along the outer edge of the luggage floor that comes with four removable and adjustable cargo hooks for the cargo net. Alternatively, they can just be used to tie-down loose items in the boot.
Lexus NX – 7.5
BMW X3 – 8.0
The Lexus NX’s hybrid powertrain is the brand’s proven E-Four system, which debuted on RX hybrid models in 2006. The front axle can be propelled by a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine or electric motor, or a mixture of both.
For AWD variants, an additional electric motor at the rear of the NX enables the rear wheels to be driven purely by electric power.
The unique AWD system removes the need for a mechanical link to the rear of the vehicle, reducing fuel consumption by preventing friction losses and only driving the rear wheels when required.
Combined, the hybrid setup produces 147kW and 221Nm.
The drive is what you’d expect from a Lexus – smooth, serene and refined. But the experience can be an acquired taste, as the unresponsive feel of the Hybrid-CVT drivetrain can take away some of the driving engagement.
But if fuel economy is your bigger concern, then you will be pleased to know that the NX averaged a respectable 7.3L/100km over our weeklong test.
The BMW X3 we tested is motivated by a 2.0-litre turbocharge four-cylinder petrol engine rated at 135kW and 270Nm.
Producing much of the grunt low down in the rev range, the X3 instantly feels more eager than the NX in day to day city driving. We also prefer the driving feel and crispness of the BMW’s excellent 8-speed auto.
However, the X3 xDrive20i trails the NX 300h in fuel efficiency, averaging only 11.3L/100km in our test.
Lexus NX – 7.5
BMW X3 – 8.5
Ride and Handling
Lexus has done a commendable job with the NX chassis, which threads a fine balance between well-regulated body control and supple ride comfort.
The NX feels composed and planted around the bend. It also feels less nose heavy compared to the X3, and isn’t as eager to push wide like its rival.
Like most other Lexus models however, the NX is plagued by an overly sensitive traction/stability control system that keeps a rather tight leash on proceedings, even in Sport mode, regularly intervening unnecessarily.
Like the Lexus, the BMW is supremely quiet and comfortable around town. On rough roads, the Beemer is surprisingly even plusher than the Lexus, despite rolling on run-flat tyres.
While it rolls a tad more than the NX around tight corners, the X3 still handles relatively well for a heavy high-riding SUV. It’s steering is also more responsive and the brakes have better progression and consistency than those in the Lexus.
Lexus NX – 8.0
BMW X3 – 7.5
In typical Lexus fashion, the NX is loaded with standard equipment.
Both two- and all-wheel drive Luxury models come with satellite navigation, reverse camera, powered tailgate, heated front seats with eight-way power adjustment, LED low beam headlights and fog lights, powered steering column adjustment and 10-speaker audio with DAB radio.
The F Sport model builds on the Luxury foundation and adds all-wheel drive, adaptive suspension, wireless induction charger, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, paddle shifters, front seat ventilation and performance dampers.
The top-spec Sports Luxury model is decked out with leather-accented interior, full-colour head-up display, Mark Levinson 14-speaker premium audio, auto high beam and moonroof. There are also a host of safety features including pre-collision warning, active cruise control and lane departure warning.
Standard wheel size is 18-inch across the NX range, which we think should be upgraded to 19-inch for the upper-spec F Sport and Sport Luxury variants.
Not to lose out to its Japanese rival, the updated BMW X3 has received substantial increase in standard features across the 2015 range.
For both the xDrive20i and xDrive20d, this has resulted in bi-xenon headlights, gearshift paddles, extended smartphone connectivity including audio streaming (which is patchy and doesn’t work very well) and freshly styled 18-inch wheels.
The xDrive28i and xDrive30d further add 360 degree surround view reversing camera, a punchy 205-watt 12 speaker HiFi sound system, Nevada leather upholstered seats and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Despite BMW’s effort to stuff the X3 with more goodies, the entry-level X3 models still miss out on DAB radio, heated front seats and LED headlights, all of which offered as standard in the Lexus NX.
Typical of a BMW, the options list for the X3 is still too extensive (it’s 4 pages long!) and expensive.
Lexus NX – 8.5
BMW X3 – 8.0
The Lexus NX might have arrived late to the premium compact SUV party but its refreshingly new-age and flamboyant styling has not.
Packaged together with a stylish interior, smooth drivetrain, decent dynamics and bucketload of standard gear, the NX is a worthy alternative that is hard to look past.
The BMW X3 may look conservatively innocuous beside the Lexus NX, but it counters with a delightfully more engaging driving feel, plusher ride and a larger and smarter cabin.
And with these, the BMW has managed to creep ahead in this comparison against the Lexus, but only by a fraction.
2015 Lexus NX 300h
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||Luxury – $55,000|
|F sport – $66,000|
|Sports Luxury – $75,000|
|Service Interval:||15,000km/12 months|
|Engine:||2.5-litre Atkinson four-cylinder petrol + electric motors: 147kW, 221Nm, front and all-wheel drive|
|Transmission:||Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT)|
|0 – 100km/h (seconds):||Claimed: 9.2/Tested 9.3|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||2WD||AWD|
|Claimed: 5.6||Claimed: 5.7/Tested: 7.3|
|Body:||5-door, 5-seat, SUV|
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||4,630/1,845/1,630/2,660|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1740 – 1895|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Unbraked: 750/Braked: 1,00kg (AWD models only)|
2015 BMW X3 xDrive20i
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||X3 xDrive20i – $60,765|
|Engine:||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo-petrol: 135kW @ 5,000-6,250rpm, 270Nm @ 1,250-4,500rpm, constant all-wheel drive (xDrive20i)|
|0 – 100km/h (seconds):||Claimed: 8.2/Tested: 8.7|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 7.2/Tested: 11.3|
|Body:||5-door, 5-seat, SUV|
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||4,648/1,881/1,675/2,810|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,720|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 2,000/Unbraked: 750|