Accounting for one third of all its sales in Europe, the Lexus NX is an important model for the premium Japanese brand. The arrival of this second-generation SUV sees the product offering expand to include a plug-in hybrid, to be sold alongside the conventional hybrid, and Lexus Ireland expects 75 per cent of buyers to opt for the PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) version.
In the metal
This time around the Lexus NX gets an exterior design that is softened slightly from the sharp origami-like sheet metal of the first generation. It's built on the GA-K (Global Architecture - K) platform that also brings a host of structural improvements. Overall length increases by 20mm while the wheelbase (the space between the front and rear wheels) grows by 30mm. However, the increase in size comes without a weight penalty. The car's centre of gravity has been lowered by 20mm which, combined with an increase to front and rear track widths by 35- and 55mm, respectively, should positively impact the handling.
Lexus calls this new chapter in its exterior design language 'functional beauty'. That may be in the eye of the beholder, but this NX hasn't as polarising a design as its predecessor did. It is still unmistakably a Lexus, the huge grille sees to that, yet the company thinks it still has a job to do to gain more public awareness and to that end the badge logo has been dropped from the rear and replaced with the Lexus name spelled out across the tailgate - a trend that has become increasingly common from the car makers.
On a more practical level, the use of that new chassis and its design to accommodate a plug-in hybrid setup from the outset means that, unlike many other PHEV models, there is no reduction in boot capacity between the regular NX 350h hybrid and this 450h+ plug-in model. The 500-litre boot has a usefully wide aperture, and the electrically operated tailgate now takes only four seconds to open - half the time its predecessor took.
Comfort and space come in generous amounts for those sitting in the rear seat and even the middle position has little compromise in terms of legroom or foot space. It's better again in the front where a vast 14-inch touchscreen display dominates the centre console. Aside from the impressive size, it's quick to use and responds in the same way a tablet computer would. An improved infotainment system is a step forward from the older Lexus system, though it's still not as slick looking or in-depth as other rival systems such as BMW's iDrive or Mercedes-Benz MBUX. However, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, many won't rely on the Lexus menu.
The rest of the interior upholds the strong reputation Lexus enjoys for building high quality cabins into its cars. It has a more ergonomic layout than before and is intuitive to use from the outset. Electrically adjustable heated and ventilated front seats provide an ample amount of comfort, too.
The sense that the Lexus NX 450h+ is a little bit different comes from the moment you pull the door open to get in. Despite what appear to be conventional handles, these are electrically actuated, meaning that, as soon as your hand wraps around the handle and presses the button on the inner side, they pop open. It catches out your muscle memory the first time, but is instantly pleasing.
With a full battery charge Lexus claims that the NX 450h+ can travel up to 76 kilometres on the combined cycle and as much as 98 kilometres in city driving conditions. While our varying test route didn't take in much city driving, we did find that the battery lasted just beyond 70 kilometres without any attempts to prolong it. That bodes well for urban commuters who, providing they keep plugging it in, should be able to cover the majority of their daily driving without resorting to the 2.5-litre petrol engine. Recharging the battery can be done is as little as two and a half hours.
The degree at which the Lexus will waft along in near silence is almost worth the price of admission alone and, save for some road noise from the run-flat tyres and a bit more wind noise above 100km/h, the NX is comfortably one of the more refined cars in its class. Unlike so many of its rivals, Lexus hasn't made any attempt to add a more dynamic feel to the chassis and suspension setup either. It will pitch a bit under heavy acceleration, though lateral body control in the bends is kept in check.
Given its 1,990kg weight the Lexus does seem brisk enough and its 0-100km/h acceleration time of 6.3 seconds makes the plug-in hybrid 450h+ the fastest of the NX range. It can also drive in its pure electric mode at speeds of up to 135km/h without the combustion engine kicking in. When it eventually does it is smooth and sedate, providing you don't try to hurry it with any great urgency. To get the best from the hybrid system a light touch of the accelerator is all that's required.
What you get for your money
Irish pricing for the Lexus NX range won't be confirmed until after the budget announcements ahead of 2022, but the plug-in hybrid model range will span three equipment grades starting with Executive. This will include the smaller 9.8-inch touchscreen display and 7.0-inch instrument display, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, smart entry and a powered tailgate.
The Premium spec adds 20-inch alloy wheels with a dark finish, built-in navigation and the 14-inch touchscreen display. The F Sport model also gets 20-inch alloy wheels, along with adaptive suspension, triple LED headlights, leather upholstery with heated and ventilated front seats, a 10-inch head-up display and 64-colour ambient lighting.
An ability to stretch out a very useful electric-only driving range from its plug-in hybrid powertrain makes the Lexus NX 450h+ the more appealing choice over its purely hybrid sibling. With a more attractive design, superb levels of quality inside and some refreshing modern touches, the new NX migrates from an outlier to a serious segment contender.