New Lexus NX 450h plug-in hybrid compact SUV
The last time I experienced the Lexus NX was in February 2020, moments before the pandemic altered our world. We were on a family holiday in the Lake District, driving and hiking in that glorious part of the country where English romantics wrote their most delicate prose and where Beatrix Potter dreamed up the imaginative characters of her timeless children’s novels, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. occur.
Two and a half years later, and as the world begins to find some balance, I was lent the latest version of the NX, the Japanese brand’s mid-size luxury SUV. The model sent to me is the 450h+ PHEV Takumi, the latter being something Lexus is keen to develop, but more on that later.
The NX is now in its second generation, having been redesigned and restyled to meet today’s needs. Much like our trip to the lakes, this plug-in electric hybrid didn’t need much refueling. In fact, despite using the car daily for commuting, shopping, and out-of-town family visits, we only filled up once.
Lexus says 95% of the vehicle’s parts are new, including the electrified powertrain. And the numbers are impressive: 305hp, combined CO2 emissions between 20-26g/km and a combined range of 43-47 EV miles – rising to 55-61 miles in the urban cycle.
The tapered grille is central to the design theme, a distinctive feature to identify the NX as a Lexus in what is otherwise a cookie-cutter SUV market. This car sees the grille given a new mesh pattern with U-shaped blocks that create a more rugged three-dimensional look. On my model, the same U-pattern can be seen in the Takumi-grade alloy rim design.
Premium NX cars, like this Takumi model, get quad-projector LED headlights with adaptive high beam technology, superior technology for driving in the dark, especially on country roads. Meanwhile, at the rear, a new L-shaped headlamp cluster and the brand’s signature blade lighting spanning the entire width of the vehicle help distinguish the NX from the rear. A final touch sees the emblem on the tailgate being replaced with the Lexus name in all caps. It’s meant to reinforce brand identity, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary to state things so literally.
There are lots of adorable little touches when you step into the car. The cabin sees the most notable design revisions as a much calmer and less cluttered space. I’m particularly drawn to the smooth and simple door handles inspired by the traditional Japanese house shoji sliding doors. This NX also debuts a new, easy-to-navigate multimedia platform – an aspect that was slightly flawed in previous Lexus cars. And it benefits from the company’s latest active safety features, which make navigating London’s bumpy roads a whole lot easier.
The first NX was introduced in 2014 with a design based on the avant-garde LF-NX concept, which had been presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show the previous year. It was a bold move for a brand that had been seen as a little conservative and therefore marked a new beginning for Lexus as a design-driven automaker.
Founded in 1989 as a premium arm of Toyota, Lexus was still a relatively young brand competing in an industry that includes heritage companies BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The distinctive tapered grille and brave body language made the brand visible. And the NX proved popular, accounting for 30% of overall European sales.
Around this time, Lexus began revamping its cars, which in terms of design were conservative and lacked self-expression. The mastermind behind the strategy was Toyota Motor’s parent company president Akio Toyoda, who comes from the creative world and understands the power of design to drive a brand forward. He presented L-finesse as the main design theme – a term coined to loosely mean the application of intelligent design and technology with a touch of grace.
All Lexus cars today follow this concept. Toyoda also opened up the brand to different segments to appeal to a wider audience, greenlighting bold vehicles such as the high-performance LC500. And it worked, with Lexus now seen as a viable alternative to more established rival German brands.
An astute leader, Toyoda introduced the concepts of omotenashi and TAkumi from old Japan to Lexus interior design. The first is the spirit of hospitality, which informs the Lexus philosophy of putting the user at the center of everything from design to engineering and sales – even when dealing with the press. At the same time, the takumi is a group of elite artisans who inspect every car that rolls off the production line for the kind of flaws that are only visible to a trained eye.
Admittedly, these qualities are more pronounced in higher-end models like the LS 500 luxury sedan. Nonetheless, you feel the attention to detail and serenity inside the NX on loan.
This hybrid NX works on several levels. It is compact and sporty, with its contrasting curved surfaces, its sharp angles and its unique tapered grille, a bit unconventional. It is also easy to inhabit; the seats are comfortable even on long drives, the technology is easy to use, and the ride and handling is as smooth as you’d expect from an SUV.
It might not get your heart pumping — it’s an SUV, after all — but it does what a regular car should do: take the stress out of the daily commute. February 2020 and the pandemic mayhem may seem like a distant fog, but seeing a car that evokes stability with a slight forward motion is always heartwarming.
Read about Lexus Design Competition at the Royal College of Art, and check out some of my latest drives: the new Rolls Royce Phantom and all electric VolvoC40.