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In Pursuit of Zen in the Lexus NX 300 F-Sport

In Pursuit of Zen in the Lexus NX 300 F-Sport

Recently I joined a few friends on a trip to the remote mountains of East Griqualand in pursuit of the trophy trout that the area is renowned for.

Words and images by Stephen Smith

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Serendipitously, the trip fell over the same weekend that I had a Lexus NX300 F Sport on test, and this seemed a great opportunity to see if it lived up to its ‘lifestyle’ billing.

As a compact premium SUV, the NX300 competes against vehicles like the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and perhaps even the Range Rover Evoque, which means that it is more a raised all-wheel-drive hatchback than a 4×4. With this in mind, I enquired beforehand about the state of the destinations’ roads. “You’ll get here in a Chevy Spark” was the answer… What a relief.

It’s a curious thing that trout live in the most beautiful parts of the world, which only adds to the allure of pursuing them. Having dealt with the majority of the trip, a long cruise on good tar roads, we turned onto a dirt road heading into the Berg. The crags in front of us at the end of a long dusty road, golden grass stretching out in all directions, and a big blue sky above us – we were living in an SUV advert.

I was expecting the Lexus to be comfortable but for the comfort to be compromised a little by the harder suspension and lower-profile tyres that the F Sport is fitted with. Actually, while it was firm it performed better than expected in terms of ride quality, and the famed Lexus build quality showed in the complete absence of rattles or squeaks.

The suspension is one area that has been modified in the 2018 update, and it has definitely improved over previous models. And while the exterior design of the NX is striking and wins countless admirers, it is the cabin that is most impressive. The standard specification level is appreciably high, even on the entry-level E-grade. Premium quality materials play host to an almost overwhelming amount of high-tech gadgetry, as you’d expect of a Lexus.

For the most part, it is outstandingly implemented, but when it comes to the touch-sensitive pad with which to control the infotainment system, I feel Lexus has failed. Doing things like changing the radio station were difficult enough, but trying to use the sat-nav almost ended a friendship. Luckily I usually just use Google Maps on my phone. For the umpteenth time I ask a vehicle manufacturer the same question: What’s wrong with buttons? If I drove an NX every day it would only be a matter of time before I got distracted while trying to select a particular radio station, and drove off a cliff.

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With the recent refresh of the NX range, the badging nomenclature has been modified. Where the vehicle we were driving was once called a NX200 T, it’s now a NX300, apparently to reflect that the engine output is equal to that of a 3-litre engine. Under the bonnet is a 2-litre turbocharged petrol unit (no diesels are available, unfortunately) that produces 175kW and 350Nm, which  is enough for the car to feel quick and  sporty.

The six-speed automatic gearbox  available across the line is excellent and, specially when paired with the Drive  Mode Select feature on F Sport models, manages to give the car a sporty character. There is also a hybrid model, which pairs an electric motor with a 2.5-litre petrol engine.

I love the exterior styling of the NX300, which is so uniquely Japanese, but the curved rear-end does inhibit the interior space somewhat, most notably in terms of luggage space. Luckily, there were just two of us travelling in the Lexus, as our fishing gear overflowed from the boot and took up most of the rear seats too.

At the end of my first day’s fishing I experienced a moment close to perfection, despite having been on the water for more than ten hours without catching a fish (perhaps it was just exhaustion-induced delirium?). I stopped paddling and drifted along, the water turning bronze around me as the sun slipped towards the horizon. The odd fish swirled quietly, frogs were croaking in the reeds, and the honking of a pair of Crowned Cranes floated across the water as mist began to rise. It is moments such as these that bring to mind the Japanese philosophy of Zen, and why so many of us head to the outdoors to escape the daily grind. It is also the feeling you get when you drive a vehicle such as the NX300 and when everything comes together: a beautifully appointed interior, fantastic engine and gearbox, and a lovely, twisty tar road to exploit.

An interesting tweak to the NX lineup is to be found in the entry-level model, the NX300 E, which now has front-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive, making it more affordable and fuel efficient.

Prices for the NX 300 start at R599 900, and the vehicle we tested costs R789 700. While all Lexus NX models come with a 4-year/
100 000km warranty, the service/maintenance plans vary according to the model, which is strange for vehicles of this price range. E-grade versions receive a Lexus Distance Plan service plan, EX models a Distance Plan Plus (which includes brake components) and F Sport – Distance Plan Complete (a full maintenance plan), all over a 4-year/100 000km period.

PS Yes, I did manage to catch a trout.

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