Lexus has shown off its new NX mid-size SUV, but while the Japanese luxury rival for the likes of the Audi Q5 might look a bit familiar on the outside, underneath it's much changed.
63km range in electric mode
When the new Lexus NX goes on sale later this year in Ireland, it will be available as a familiar NX 350h hybrid model, but will also be joined by a new, more powerful, NX 450h+ plug-in hybrid. It's Lexus' first plug-in hybrid vehicle, and alongside the existing UX 300e electric crossover, marks a major expansion of Lexus' all-electric capabilities.
The four-wheel drive NX 450h+ combines a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cyle petrol engine with an 18.1kWh lithium-ion battery. That's an unusually large battery for the class, and it gives the NX a claimed 63km electric-only range when fully charged. On the WLTP cycle, Lexus claims CO2 emissions of 'less than 40g/km' and fuel economy of 3.0 litres per 100km (99mpg). Lexus claims that, thanks to its long experience of designing hybrid cars, the NX 450h+ is far more efficient than rivals when running in hybrid mode on longer journeys - as much as 20 per cent more economical, claims the Japanese luxury brand.
It won't be slow, though - thanks to a combined 306hp output from the engine and the electric motor, it'll hit 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.
For those who don't fancy plugging in just yet, there's the more conventional NX 350h, which boasts 242hp (22 per cent more power than that of the outgoing Lexus NX 300h) and an improvement in CO2 emissions of around ten per cent (which would work out at around 150g/km according to our back-of-an-envelope maths). As well as being more powerful, the NX 350h will also have a useful maximum towing weight of 1,500kg, and be available in both front- and four-wheel drive variants. 0-100km/h comes up in 7.7 seconds.
In both four-wheel drive models, the rear motor is now permanently switched on, providing a more rear-driven feel to the driver.
New platform, better handling
Underneath, the new NX sits on Lexus' GA-K platform, which is broadly similar to the Toyota TNGA platform used by the likes of the RAV4 and Camry. Lexus claims that the new NX has been set up to deliver: "The Lexus Driving Signature - an ideal combination of ride comfort with steering, throttle and braking performance that is faithful to the driver's intentions at every moment, generating confidence and a rewarding sense of connection with the car." To do that, it has a lower centre of gravity (-20mm compared with the old NX), a more rigid body, and what Lexus says is an industry-first use of light-but-strong 1180 MPa steel for the sill reinforcement and 1470 MPa steel for the roof reinforcement. The front wings and bonnet are made of aluminium, and Lexus has used high-tech 'laser screw welding' to stitch all the panels together.
The styling hasn't changed an awful lot from that of the outgoing NX, bar the larger grille, simpler lights, and a sense that some of the excess of lines and creases has been cleaned up a little. Lexus says that the goal was to create a 'functional beauty' with 'simplicity rooted in technology'. Physically, the new NX is longer and wider by 20mm, taller by 5mm, and has a 30mm longer wheelbase.
Inside, again the architecture is much the same as before, but while the main instruments and much of the cabin layout look pretty familiar, you won't miss the 14-inch Lexus Link Pro infotainment system. Up till now, Lexus (and Toyota) has generally been seen as lagging behind its competition from BMW, Mercedes and Audi in its infotainment design, and the Link Pro system is being touted as not only catching up, but leapfrogging.
Taking on Apple and Google
Indeed, Lexus isn't just taking on the German luxury brands with Link Pro, it also wants to take on the likes of Apple and Google, saying that the system has been designed so that it's just as slick, simple, and feature-packed as Android Auto, or Apple CarPlay. There are such niceties as cloud-based navigation, a 'hey Lexus' digital voice assistant, Google map overlays, and built-in Amazon Music and Apple Music apps (with Spotify set to follow if there's customer demand). There's also a new steering wheel design, with haptic touchpads instead of physical buttons, whose functions flash up on in the heads-up display so you won't have to look down to use them.
Elsewhere, there are some typical touches of Lexus thoroughness, including an effort to: "research the shoulder-to-fingertip distance of people around the world to define a layout that provides excellent control without disturbing the driver's posture." There's a 64-colour ambient lighting system, upgraded seats, and an e-latch electronic door release system. This electronic system replaces the familiar internal door handle with a push-button switch positioned next to the armrest in the door panel.
The e-latch also means that the car can keep the doors locked if it detects you're about to open one into the path of an oncoming car or cyclist in your blind spot. That's just one of a wealth of safety features which includes an expansion of the Pre-Collision System's capability so that motorcycles and some solid objects in the car's path, such as trees, walls and utility poles, can be detected. There's also emergency steering assist, adaptive cruise control, road-sign detection, automatic lane change assistance, and a front cross traffic alert system that uses radar monitoring to detect and warn the driver of traffic approaching from either side when emerging from a junction at low speed.
We'll have more details on the NX's Irish pricing and arrival dates later in the summer.