If you need to know how tough it is to fight the near German ‘duopoly’ in Malaysia’s premium segment, ask Lexus Malaysia. Japan’s most successful luxury automotive brand has been operating in this country since 2007, it has the tidiest showrooms envied for their high level of customer service, the cars possess build quality others admire and they rarely ever break down. So why doesn’t Lexus’ market share reflect this?
How important is ‘Made in Japan’?
While the pursuit of manufacturing excellence makes for cars that top satisfaction and quality surveys around the world, Lexus’ ethos is uncompromising when it comes to where its vehicles are produced. Apart from North America (and then only selected models), the production base has steadfastly remained in Japan.
The ‘Made in Japan’ label is a cherished commodity no doubt, but Malaysian car buyers aren’t necessarily agreeable to paying a premium over locally assembled alternatives. And if that isn’t enough, you have parallel importers rejuvenated by more approved permits (APs) issued by the government. So, what can you do?
You have to admire Lexus Malaysia for persevering even if some models (such as the IS and GS sedans) are probably destined not to flourish unless the duty structure changes or Lexus decides to CKD its cars. No surprises then that the focus is on SUVs; the RX, the forthcoming UX and the recently updated NX300 (formerly known as the NX200t) you see here.
The blistered wheel arches, unusual ‘fishhook’ DRLs and gaping spindle grille made headlines when the NX first appeared some five years ago. It may no longer steal glances these days, but the NX remains stylish and current, particularly with those new anti-dazzling multi-LED headlamps and LED side indicators that illuminate sequentially.
But more importantly, you are getting a lot more car for less money, the value of which eclipses some of its CKD competitors. By equipping all three NX variants (Urban, Premium and F Sport) with the Lexus Safety System+ suite as standard, the NX vaults itself near the top of the class for active safety features (bar Volvo). The acronyms are dizzying (LDA, LTA, DRCC, ACA and PCS) but what it means is that the NX is now capable of semi-autonomous drive within the city and on the highways.
The active cruise works from stationary and does surprisingly well in reading the traffic by picking up the throttle swiftly when the vehicle upfront nudges ahead, and stops smoothly when the traffic stacks up again, all the while keeping the vehicle in lane without human intervention. It isn’t quite as subtle as if you were to do it yourself, but this is as good as it gets given the state of the technology.
The rest of the NX’s mechanicals are largely carried over, but with some tweaks. There’s only one powertrain left – the 235hp and 350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic transferring power to all four wheels. Performance was sprightly on the B-roads to Port Dickson during the media drive, particularly if you toggle the Drive Mode selector to Sport S+ which sharpens the throttle (there’s a Custom mode in case you prefer a lighter steering weight to go with the sporty mapping) and quickens the shift response. The claimed 7.1 seconds from idle to 100km/h is entirely believable, even if the docile Yokohama BluEarth tyres scrabble for traction under acceleration.
While the Urban and Premium variants come without the adaptive dampers of the F-Sport, the passive set up on the Premium variant which we tested actually strikes a good balance between control and comfort. Roll resistance and steering response are on point for an SUV, aided by front and rear suspension braces (Lexus calls them performance rods) that add rigidity to the body. The downside being that the NX doesn’t quite round off sharp creases on the road as well as say a BMW X3 (also passively damped), but it isn’t far off the mark, or you could top up and go for the F Sport at RM349,888.
Quality never goes out of fashion
With prices starting at RM313,888 for the NX Urban, RM333,888 for the comprehensively equipped Premium (probably the pick of the bunch) and just under RM350,000 for the F Sport, the NX has never been this affordable and feature rich. Factor in the depth of interior quality, mechanical refinement and peace-of-mind resilience, the updated NX more than justifies its asking price. Just like how Grand Seiko will probably never out-glamour and outsell Rolex, a Lexus remains an acquired taste, at least in Malaysia. But for those in the know, there isn’t a better time to be shopping for your NX.
Lexus NX300 Premium
Price: RM333,888 Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged, AWD Output: 235hp / 350Nm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds; top speed 200km/h Wheels/tyres: 225/60 R18 Safety: 8 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 5-year/unlimited mileage