How does the Lexus NX stack up against the Audi Q5? Both are comfortable and practical family SUVs that promise a premium driving experience. But which is most deserving of your hard-earned cash? Audi doesn't offer the Q5 as a self-charging hybrid but the 2.0-litre 45 TFSI petrol does get mild-hybrid tech that uses a 12V battery and small electric motor to boost performance and fuel economy. It can't run on pure electricity at low speeds, like the Lexus, but it will produce 265PS and return up to 33.6mpg.
The first notable difference between the Q5 and NX is the way the two cars drive. The handling of the Audi is sharper and the steering wheel provides a lot more feedback than the Lexus. The NX 350 isn't a bad car to drive, in any sense, but its comfort focussed set-up means the handling can occasionally feel a little woolly when tackling a series of challenging curves on the road. The Audi's sportier set-up does produce a hard ride quality, which ranges from the firm side of comfortable 18/19-inch wheels to very hard on the 20s and 21s. This means even the smallest road imperfections produce a small thump as the suspension transfers the impact to the Q5's occupants. Hit some potholes and that thump is amplified into a series of loud thuds that will make your passengers question your driving and wonder if you’ve flattened some small animals along the way.
Thumps, thuds and things that go bump in the night are all alien to the NX 350h. The deep profile tyres on 18-inch wheels will smooth out pretty much everything that comes their way, which means it'll take all of these things in its stride. The fact the Lexus runs on pure electricity at low speeds adds to the feeling of serenity, which means it's a much more relaxing thing to drive below 30mph. The interior of the Lexus is better, too. The seats are more comfortable, the cabin feels more spacious and you get a 545-litre boot that is more practical than the 510 in the Q5. The NX's comfort really shines through on a long journey - I regularly drive from my home in Devon to London and the seats in the Lexus provide excellent support, which means you don't get those aches or pains in your upper legs or lower back after an hour or two (which isn't something I could say for the S Line Q5 on test here with its sport seats).
Things fall further in the NX 350h's favour when you compare running costs. Yes, the Q5 is quicker with its 265PS engine performance producing crisp acceleration. And yes, I admit the NX's 2.5-litre petrol hybrid system will emit a loud groan as you load the throttle to join a fast-moving motorway. But the NX 350h will return 44.1 - 47.9mpg - that's 10+ more than the Q5. And in a world where petrol costs the earth, that’s a huge feather in its cap.
Perhaps, being over 40, I'm showing my age when I favour the soft and efficient NX 350h over the Q5 45 TFSI. But in my view, it's a much better car. It's more comfortable, cheaper to run and more practical. Sorry Audi, Lexus wins this round.