The Lexus NX premium compact SUV is in its second generation. The first gen came in 2014, and took a position between two segments of rivals – going after the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1, on the one hand, and also giving some heat to the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, and Audi Q5. It has been Lexus’ best-selling model in several markets since. There is now a second generation of the car and the anticipation around it is huge. That’s because it also marks the arrival of the first plug-in hybrid from the Lexus brand – ever. The NX name comes from Nimble Crossover if you please! The new model comes with many variants – from an entry petrol to a sport model, a hybrid and now that PHEV also. All but the entry model have all-wheel-drive capability as standard. I am testing the new NX 350h and 450h+ in Los Angeles, California.
The previous NX was on sale in India too – in only its conventional hybrid avatar. And now Lexus has announced the NX 350h for India too. Yes, getting the new generation makes sense, of course. But given the move towards electrics in India, slow as it may be, Lexus could have played smart and brought us the PHEV – to get its buyers, and more importantly its own network – inducted into the plug-in universe. But it is not just playing it safe by going with the power-split conventional hybrid – but also keeping an eye on sticker prices, since there is a minimum $14,000 difference in the starting prices of the Lexus NX 350h and 450h+. Lexus India has already begun taking bookings for it.
Luckily, as mentioned I have driven both the hybrid variants in the United States. And in terms of cabin and trim the two cars are very similar anyway. In performance terms, the 450h+ outshines the 350h – for obvious reasons. Bigger battery, more power, sharper dynamics and more equipment and luxury as standard. The good news is that we will likely get a loaded version of the 350h with many things that may be optional, being standard on our spec. The NX shares its TNGA GA-K platform and all drivetrains with the 5th generation Toyota RAV-4 – another car we hopelessly keep waiting for in India.
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The NX is a nice ample sized car, and the perception of quality really comes through in terms of the design, the styling, and even the build itself. But it’s the face that’s really attractive, especially true here in the US market. People love how this car looks, and with good reasons – it looks large, looks sharp, is definitely good looking, and appears very grand. The NX carries forward the agile looks and profile of its predecessor, while the designers have consciously made the car appear more luxurious and larger. And it has grown in dimensions over the first gen anyway. The larger face and wider, deeper grille helps that cause, and this is good – since the last car tended to look smaller than its rivals – while appearing sportier. The new NX uses sharp LED lighting front and back, and there is a full red LED strip that goes right across the tailgate to connect the taillights. The look is very sharp, and the finish flawless.
The new Lexus identity of having the name spelt out at the rear also makes an appearance here. The “L” in the oval housing logo still lives on the front grille. The design is more evolutionary than radically different from the previous generation. On the 350h its 18-inch wheels as standard, and 20-inch optional. On the 450h+, the larger wheels are standard.
Inside though, the cabin looks totally new. This is especially true of the higher variants which come across as luxurious and well appointed. There is a tonne of equipment on offer on the top-end too. Call it the Tesla effect, but you get giant screens and virtual clusters these days on all premium offerings. These things have just become par for the course for the luxury segment.
This car’s screen in particular is huge. But what’s nice is that it’s also landscape, and it’s end-to-end so it gives you a whole lot of information. It’s very easy to use when you’re driving. And of course the displays can be customized as well. That massive 14-inch screen is only standard on the 450h+ variants. On the 350h you get a smaller 9.8-inch screen – but I reckon Lexus India will give us the optional larger one as standard. The infotainment also provides voice commands, wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, wireless phone charging, and a 10-speaker sound system.
The NX has multiple drivetrains as I mentioned – and these range from a 199 bhp 2.5-litre petrol on the NX 250, to a 270 bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol on the NX 350 and 350 F Sport. And then the hybrid models which interest us more. The NX 350h and 450h+ use the same 2.5-litre engine with between 180-190 bhp. That is married to a hybrid system in both. On the 350h it is a conventional unit that uses a smaller 259-volt lithium-ion battery. And the combines system output stands at 235 bhp. On the 450h+ it’s a plug-in and so a larger 355-volt battery is in play, with a higher 290 horses on offer. Both have two permanent magnet motors, one at each axle – to provide all-time AWD. On both cars the transmission is an electronically controlled CVT.
Lexus has been playing the hybrid game for several generations of vehicles now. And so it’s really perfected the hybrid system. It’s very smooth transition between electric and gasoline. And overall, just the refinement that comes through. That part’s no surprise, right. What is a surprise for me has been the ride quality and the feel of the steering, a lot more mature a lot heftier and stiffer. It really feels like it’s come of age and that’s the part I wasn’t expecting. The 450h+ does feel more obviously powerful, and allows for nearly 60 kilometres of pure electric driving. On the 350h though you get an immense sense of refinement and that evident maturity of the seamless hybrid system in operation is the car’s hallmark.
The NX also has excellent ride quality. The feeling is one of hushed sophistication, even when the road surface may not be the best. The handling is also good, and it will keep most drivers interested. The top-end F Sport variants do get an adaptive suspension that delivers much nicer handling. But we won’t get that anyway.
The NX comes loaded with safety features, and that includes a host of driver assistant systems. I’m hoping most of that makes it to the India spec. You have dynamic radar cruise control, collision warning, lane keep and departure assist, adaptive lighting, cross traffic and blind-spot alerts, 8 airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, traction and stability control, antilock brakes (ABS) with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), parking assist and 360-degree camera views. Except for the 360 camera, a digital rear view mirror and lane change assist – everything is standard on the 350h too.
On the whole, you will find the NX is not as sporty and dynamic like the Germans in this class, but the comfort and refinement are what will win you over. I expect pricing to stay in the ₹ 60-65 lakh range for the 350h, and if the 450h+ does arrive then expect things to go well north of ₹ 70 lakh. It will still serve as a stylish addition to the Indian luxury car market. And while seemingly pricey (unless Lexus surprises us with better prices thanks to a local assembly), it will still offer a good package as an option to the BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo range.