Driven: new plug-in hybrid Lexus NX 450h compact SUV

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The last time I experienced the Lexus NX was in February 2020, just before the pandemic changed our world. We were on a family holiday in the Lake District, driving and walking through 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 going on. was going to happen. to happen.

Two and a half years later, and as the world begins to strike a balance, I’ve got the latest version of the NX on loan – the Japanese brand’s mid-sized luxury SUV. The model sent to me is the 450h+ PHEV Takumi, which Lexus would like to expand on, but more on that later.

Now in its second generation, the NX has been redesigned and restyled to meet today’s needs. Like our ride in the lakes, this plug-in hybrid electric car hasn’t needed a lot of fuel. Even though we use the car daily for commuting, shopping and family visits outside the city, we even filled up once.

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

The pivoting grille is central to the design theme, a distinguishing feature to identify the NX as a Lexus in what is otherwise a cookie-cutter SUV market. On this car, the grille gets 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.

Higher quality NX cars, such as this Takumi model, will feature LED headlights with four projectors and adaptive high beam technology, a superior technology for driving in the dark, especially on country roads. At the rear, a new L-shaped lighting group and the brand’s signature blade lights across the width of the car help to distinguish the NX from behind. On the final touches, the decal on the tailgate is replaced with the Lexus name in capital letters. It’s meant to reinforce brand identity, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary to spell things so literally.

There are lots of nice little touches when you get in the car. The cabin sees the most notable design revisions as a much quieter and less cluttered space. I am particularly drawn to the smooth, simple door handles which are inspired by the traditional shoji sliding walls of the Japanese home. This NX also introduces a new, easy-to-navigate multimedia platform – an aspect that was somewhat flawed in previous Lexus cars. And it benefits from the company’s latest active safety features, which significantly aid in navigating London’s chaotic roads.

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

Founded in 1989 as the premium arm of Toyota, Lexus was still a relatively young brand competing in an industry that includes landmark companies BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The signature spindle grille and bold body language made the brand visible. And the NX proved popular, accounting for 30% of total European sales.

Around this time, Lexus began to revise its cars, which were conservative in design and lacking in self-expression. The mastermind behind the strategy was Akio Toyoda, president of parent company Toyota Motor, who comes from the creative world and understands the power of design to move a brand forward. He introduced L-fineness as the overarching design theme – a term coined to roughly 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 attract a wider audience, giving the green light to bold vehicles like the high-performance LC500. And it has worked, with Lexus now seen as a viable alternative to the more established rival German brands.

Toyoda, an astute leader, introduced the concepts ofmotenashi and takumi from old Japan to Lexus interior design. The first is the spirit of hospitality, which underpins 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 craftsmen who inspect every car that comes off the production line to detect the kind of imperfections that are only visible to the trained eye.

Admittedly, these qualities are more pronounced in the top models such as the LS 500 luxury sedan. Yet you feel the attention to detail and the tranquility in the loaned NX.

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 of non-conformist. It is also effortless to inhabit; the seats are comfortable, even on long journeys, the technology is easy to use, and the handling and handling are as smooth as you’d expect from an SUV.

It might not make your heart beat faster – 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 chaos may seem like a distant mist, but it’s still comforting to see a car that exudes stability with a gentle forward motion.

Read about the Lexus design competition at the Royal College of Art, and check out some of my latest drives: the new Rolls Royce Phantom and fully electric Volvo C40.

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