John Goreham's picture

2015 Tesla Model X or Lexus LF-NX Hybrid - which is the most exciting?

Customers looking for a green luxury crossover will soon have two new models to choose from. Both are from companies with excellent environmental credentials. Which will be the most exciting to buyers?

This year both Tesla and Toyota’s Lexus brand will add to the green premium crossover choices. The Tesla Model X is due for a 2014 release (likely as a 2015 model) and the new Lexus LF-NX will also be launched this year. These two vehicles will not compete head to head. The Tesla will most likely sell in the range of $75K to $115K. The Lexus will have an MSRP of about $40K. We think both will make a great addition to the green choices buyers of premium crossover have now and we’d like your feedback on which you think is the most exciting.

Currently, Tesla and Toyota collaborate on the greenest crossover in the world, the Toyota RAV 4EV. That car is an award winning green car, but it barely sells and is not offered in all markets. Both the new Tesla and the new Lexus LF-NX will be mass marketed and we predict will initially sell in healthy numbers.

Shoppers who head to a dealership today looking for a green luxury crossover have few choices. The segment is currently defined by the Lexus RX 450h hybrid. The RX 450h delivers 30 MPG combined in AWD and 29 MPG in FWD in a segment that has a reputation for combined fuel economy around 21MPG. Lexus is now in its third generation of green crossovers with the RX. The first ones were available in 2005. Audi has a version of its Q5 that uses a gas electric hybrid drive. If you look at the Audi sales website you will notice an odd thing though. The whole front page which is about 4 screens worth of information does not mention fuel economy. The reason might be that even though the Audi has significantly less horsepower than the Lexus it gets just 26 MPG combined. Sort of ho-hum in terms of a green car. BMW put out a great press release and cool photo of a BMW X5 plug-in hybrid this year, but that was the last we heard of it.

The Tesla Model X will be all electric so we must switch our thinking to MPG equivalent (MPGe). The vehicle is not yet released. It will share much of its DNA with the hugely successful Model S, so we can estimate it will be just a hair shy of that vehicle’s efficiency numbers. That means it will be rated at about 84 MPGe. We have taken 5 MPGe away for AWD and the higher body and ride height. Incidentally, that will top the RAV 4 EV’s 76 MPGe. The Model X will also be quite powerful and perhaps the fastest sport ‘ute on Earth in real-world situations. We expect that Tesla’s only challenge will be build capacity. Initially, we expect that the volume will be about 1,000 per month and will ramp quickly to about 2,000 per month over the course of a year. Nobody can predict the mature sales rate, but Tesla has been “kicking and taking” lately and we would not be surprised if 35,000 per year was the fully matured production rate.

The Lexus LF-NX will be launched as a hybrid and also as a 2.0 liter turbo. Smaller, than the Model X by far, it will be about the same size as a BMW X3. The 2.5 liter engine with electric drive will deliver about 40 MPG combined in our estimation based on other similar Lexus hybrids. All Toyota and Lexus hybrids are also extremely low in emissions. We would peg this vehicle as the world leader in hybrid crossover fuel economy. Since Lexus already serves a huge group that shop it for green luxury models Lexus will also have a strong chance at robust sales. Lexus sells about 100,000 RX 350s each year and it sells more hybrid luxury cars than any other automaker, possibly more than all of the others combined.

If the LF-NX is not a success it will be a surprise. As crazy as it sounds, the Lexus has the design we find the most modern and exciting, and the Model X looks the most mature and classy. It is not often one gets to write that the Lexus is the more exciting design! Both look great and will be appointed with the finest interiors in the world at their price points.

Our readers who are Tesla fans are by far the most vocal in terms of commentary (and we love it). We hope this story will spur their comments. We have not taken any sides here. We like both brands and are very excited to see and drive both of these new environmentally conscious crossovers. Which do you think is the more exciting launch this year?

Tesla and Lexus photos courtesy of the Mfgs' public websites.

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I am a big Tesla fan, and would love to own both the Model S and the Model X. Unfortunately they do not make financial sense, and that's the bottom line. We bought a ES-350, and will most likelyt buy the RX-450h this year. It would take a lot of years to make up the difference in prices.
Thanks Richard. I am big fan of the Tesla as well, but for me the math doesn't work either. That could change with the Gen III car. Many Tesla owners do say there are a lot of hidden savings, but I find those are mostly compared to conventional ICE cars, not more modern green options. I have driven the RX 450h as has our editor. We both like it a lot.
Well, for me the math DOES work out. I drive 200KM per day, which translates into over $7,000 per year in gas alone + countless repairs. If I bought a $80,000 Model S, "fueling" wouldn't cost me a cent as there is a SuperCharger nearby. So, the car would pay for itself in less than 10 years of ownership (compared to a gas car). With those hybrids - you still have to pay for gas and with twice the mechanical complexity I expect the repair bills to be much higher. Also, since the battery in hybrids is much smaller capacity than Tesla's - it has to go through many more charge-discharge cycles and will need to be replaced 4 times earlier.
Michael, that is a great way to look at it. You must be tired driving so much (43,000 miles per year?)One thing I find common to most Tesla cost analysis (of cars driven in the US) is that the Tesla fans always overestimate what it costs to drive other green car choices, even premium sporty green car choices. And they also figure in zero for electricity costs. Not sure where you live, but here is what it would cost to fuel some green car choices for 100,000 miles here in the US (more than twice your yearly distance). Costs are per 2014 Lexus GS 450h = $10,500 2013 Lexus ES300h = $8,000.00 2013 Toyota Prius = $5,700 2015 Lexus LF-NX = $8,000 (at 40MPG) You can guestimate what the actual repair bills of cars might be out of warranty, but Tesla lists the costs to maintain the Model S and they are significant. Smart premium car owners now mainly drive under a new car warranty, or a CPO warranty, and thus there are no unexpected repair costs. All offer free maintenance for a minimum of 2 years (25K miles). In any case, Tesla says that the cost to maintain your car each year (your year is 43,000 miles, right?) is $1,900. If you want Ranger coverage the cost is $2,400 per year. I don't think that includes rubber.
Although one can purchase Tesla service, "$600 annual service now optional with no effect on warranty". So only maintenance I expect to pay are winter tires and windshield wiper blades an fluid. Finally, I think Elon Musk will have another of his chuckle fits if he sees this like he did with the BMW i3.
Thanks Charlotte. It makes me so happy you are a frequent reader of our Tesla stories and offer your thoughts. One thing I love about Elon Musk is he is not shy about sharing his opinion of cars he does not like. His thoughts on the Fisker were classic too.
I find the comparison between these two cars laughable. Most people probably will think that hybrid and electric are the same thing, and the MPGe and MPG can be used interchangeably. We are a talking about a car that runs directly on fossil fuels, and one that doesn't. "At lower speeds, the LF-NX can operate under electric motor power alone." This is salesman talk for "an electric mode that isn't really useful". At the end of the day, the average Lexus owner is going to forget about that mode and be happy that they are getting slightly higher mileage than they used to.... as if that was any better than switching from a V8 to V6. In the end, they will be sacrificing things like power and response for all of the waywardness that comes from a CVT drivetrain, as well as all of the same downsides of gas vehicles with their high center of gravity, noise, and exhaust pipes. The Model X is a real electric car. It will have gobs of torque, instant-on acceleration, and a low center of gravity. It will have all sorts of safety, performance, and value advantages that a hybrid just can't have. Now I am sure the Lexus will be a great car... as far as gas ones go, but any car with a gas engine on board is NOT in the same category as an electric one.
Well said. We'll put your vote in the Tesla box. You'd be surprised how well the Lexus Owners do with their hybrids though. Without hypermiling many CT 200h owners get 45 MPG in a car that handles great and can be fun to drive. Not as green as an EV, but certainly more green than any other car. This new CUV has the potential to sell in place of vehicles that use 25% to 50% more fuel. Hard to call that a bad thing.
I think Seth's point is that many companies, not just Lexus, try to fool people by offering hybrids. Many Americans are not aware of the difference between hybrids and EVs. My neighbor asked me if my Tesla was a hybrid when I've had Prius for over 10 years! So companies offer a token electric range, some as little as ~20 miles and then rest with gasoline and mislead them to thinking they have an electric vehicle.
I am very much in the Tesla box, even though I currently drive a big V8 car. I drive a big V8 car because I love the power and response of it, and as that kind of driver I find any sort of downsize or hybrid is just a compromise. John is right that hybrid versions of popular gas guzzlers, sold in high volume, are doing a great thing. A lot of Lexus hybrids on the road will be a bigger improvement than a few Teslas. The big problem is the branding and snobbery that comes with the 'hybrid' moniker, and especially with an undeserved 'electric' one. When regular (although smaller or less powerful) ICE cars can match the economy of your hybrid, you are just paying for a badge. And that is all they want - the badge. I don't think any real deception is going on here, and these mileage improvements are real and good. I just wish the goal was real environmental impact and real car performance, not the title.
John-- thanks for the article. I found it while looking up any info on a plugin RX. The NX is not really comparable to the Model X because it's compact while the Model X is mid-size in shape and, like a TARDIS, even bigger on the inside. Except for the reliance on charging stations when you park or the wait at a supercharger, the Model X is way more vehicle than the NX. If only Tesla had adopted a model of "battery swap" for supercharger stations. Imagine driving in, over some in-ground panel and have a machine detach your spent battery and attach a fully charged one in 2-4 minutes. It's technically crazy expensive and logistically painful to pull off right now but man would that solve a pain point! I'm a Tesla lover but I I don't own one yet. I live in a mountain town and sprint to the ski area via i70 W nearly every weekend during the snowboarding season. I drive a Lexus RX 450h and couldn't be happier (well-- I wish they made a plugin ;-) Right now, the Model S (and the Model X) don't compete with the RX for anyone that does serious mountain driving on a regular basis-- especially during ski season. While the S is a fantastic vehicle on many fronts (and the X will likely be one as well), they can't get me back and forth to the mountains (unless they put a supercharger in somewhere). Why? It's not the AWD-- a rear-wheel Model S with winter tires does extremely well on snowy roads. The issue is climbing and heating. In the winter, driving uphill for 120 miles with the heat blasting in a (current) Tesla's not gonna get you there. Even with a supercharger in place, the 20-30 minute stop (there are a LOT of Tesla's in the area so it'd be crowded) is too much of a time loss over a vehicle that can get you up tonVail from the big city in just over two hours (traffic willing). We want to be first chair! Seth-- power is never a prob on the RX. The RX 450h has a 3.5 V6 w/ a ~116kw motor for something like 265+ horsepower. It's as effective as a V8 in real world terms-- using less hydrocarbons. Instant-on torque is there. The electric motor is what goes first when you put your foot on the pedal and few SUV's can get you over a hill more quickly than this one. It pushes the electric motor when it detects hill climb for max performance. In fact- the 0-60 on the RX hybrid is faster than the regular ICE version of the RX. Charlotte -- most Prius owners are (passionate and) acutely aware of what hybrid means, and are not confused around the "electric" nature of their cars. Given my commute, I look at the Prius Plugin and see 20 miles of electric-only driving is not at all token-- it's pretty impressive for a reasonably priced, mass produced vehicle using NiMh batteries that was developed in '08 and released in 2010. And when it comes to available cars, 50 miles per gallon for a generation 3 Prius is 30mpg less than Tesla's Model S and...$37,000 cheaper than the Model S base, which itself has about 60 miles range. A P85 Model S (300 mile range) is about $107k. I can't see how you can be upset with the Prius given those price differences. The Leaf from Nissan is a great car in that vein. While Tesla's great for performance and fits a bunch of people, the Leaf has reasonable range, highway speed, and price tag. There are quite a few households in the area the leave the SUV in the garage over summer and sport a Leaf or Prius while the weather is nice. The RX is the only car we have so it does double duty. We get 30 mpg in the fair months with the regular tires and bike rather than ski racks. Now if only it plugged in for 40 miles of commuting range!