Luxury fashion

New Plug-In Hybrid Lexus NX 450h 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 vacation in the Lake District, driving and hiking this glorious part of the country where the English Romantics wrote their most delicate prose and where Beatrix Potter imagined the imaginative characters for her timeless children’s novels, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.

Two and a half years on, and as the world begins to find a certain balance, I’ve been loaned the latest iteration of the NX — the Japanese marque’s medium-sized lux SUV. The model sent to me is the 450h+ PHEV Takumi, the latter being something Lexus is keen to expand on, but more on this later.

The NX is now in its second generation, having been re-engineered and restyled to meet today’s needs. Much like our drive in the Lakes, this plug-in hybrid electric hasn’t needed much refueling. In fact, despite using the car daily for our commutes, shopping and family visits outside the city, we have only refueled once.

Lexus says as much as 95% of the vehicle’s parts are new, including the electrified powertrain. And the figures are impressive: 305bhp, combined CO2 emissions between 20 and 26g/km and 43 to 47 miles EV combined driving range — rising to 55 to 61 miles in the urban cycle.

The spindle 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 receive a new mesh pattern with U-shaped blocks that create a more robust three-dimensional look. On my model, the same U-motif can be seen in the design of the Takumi grade alloy wheel.

The higher grade NX cars, like this Takumi model, receive four-projector LED headlights with adaptive high-beam tech, a superior technology for driving in the dark, especially in country lanes. Meanwhile, at the rear, a new L-shaped light cluster and the marque’s signature blade lighting spanning the vehicle’s width help distinguish the NX from behind. A final touch sees the emblem on the tailgate be replaced with the name Lexus in capital letters. It’s meant to strengthen brand identity, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary to spell things out so literally.

There are lots of lovely little touches as you step inside the car. The cabin sees the most notable design revisions to be a much calmer and less cluttered space. I’m particularly drawn to the smooth, simple door handles inspired by the Japanese home’s traditional shoji sliding room dividers. 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 significantly help navigate London’s chaotic roads.

The first NX was introduced in 2014 with a design based on the edgy LF-NX concept, which had been shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show the previous year. It was a bold move for a brand that had been considered a touch conservative and thus marked a new beginning for Lexus as a design-led carmaker.

Founded in 1989 as Toyota’s premium arm, Lexus was still a relatively young brand competing in a sector that includes heritage companies BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The distinctive spindle grille and brave body language made the brand visible. And the NX proved popular, accounting for 30% of overall European sales.

Around that time, Lexus began reviewing its cars, which in terms of design, were conservative and lacking in self-expression. The mastermind behind the strategy was the parent company Toyota Motor’s president Akio Toyoda, who comes from the creative world and understands the power of design to push a brand forward. He introduced L-finesse as the overarching design theme — a term coined to roughly mean applying intelligent design and technology with a touch of grace.

All of today’s Lexus cars follow this concept. Toyoda also opened the brand to different segments to attract a wider audience, giving the green light to daring vehicles such as the high-performance LC500. And it’s worked, with Lexus now seen as a viable alternative to the more established rival German brands.

An astute leader, Toyoda introduced the concepts of omotenashi and takumi from old Japan to Lexus interior design. The former 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 dealing with the press. At the same time, the takumi is an elite group of craftspeople who inspect every car that comes off the production line to detect the kind of blemishes that are only visible to the trained eye.

Admittedly, these qualities are more pronounced in the top-end models like the LS 500 luxury sedan. Nevertheless, you sense the attention to detail and serenity inside the NX on loan.

This hybrid NX works on many levels. It is compact and sporty, with its contrasting curved surfaces, sharp angles and unique spindle grille, a touch non-conformist. It is also effortless to inhabit; the seats are comfortable even on long drives, the tech easy to use, and the driving and handling as smooth as you’d expect from an SUV.

It may not get your heart racing — it’s an SUV, after all — but it does what a regular car should: take away the stress of everyday commutes. February 2020 and the pandemic chaos may seem like a distant fog, but seeing a car that spells stability with gentle forward movement is still comforting.

Read about the Lexus design contest at the Royal College of Art, and see some of my latest drives: the new Rolls-Royce Phantom and all-electric Volvo C40.

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