Lexus has at last brought us a plug-in hybrid, in the form of this NX 450h+. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The NX 450+ may be the first plug-in hybrid Lexus, but it's been created with a greater wealth of engineering experience than has been devoted to any other mid-sized premium brand SUV segment rival. There's up to 47 miles of all-electric driving range, sharp looks and a sumptuous cabin. It's a strong contender.
It's rather confusing that Lexus has never bought us a plug-in hybrid before the NX 450+ plug-in model we look at here. After all, the brand has championed hybrid engines for the last decade and in 2020, even bought us a full-EV, the UX 300e. But never a petrol plug-in, until this car, despite all the relevant tech being on offer to the company through parent conglomerate Toyota.
Given that kind of build-up, you'd hope for something pretty special from this petrol/electric plug-in NX and, on paper, the signs seem quite promising. This is the second generation NX design, it's 95% completely new and there's a completely different level of interior quality on offer. The Germans need to take this one seriously.
As with any other NX (including the previous one), there's a 2.5-litre four cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine under the bonnet paired up to an electric motor on the front axle, while another separate motor powers the rear. What's different here is that there's a much bigger battery powering those motors - it's 18.1 kWh in size - which Lexus claims can give you up to 47 miles of all-electric range. Top speed in EV mode is 83mph. Total output is 305bhp. And there's the usual Lexus Shiftmatic auto gearbox. You can expect refinement to be exemplary. And performance to be more than ample - 62mph takes 6.3s, providing you avoid the drive mode system's 'Normal' and 'Eco' modes and select 'Sport'.
This MK2 NX will handle the turns better thanks to a stiffer body shell, a 20mm lower centre of gravity, better weight balance and increased track width at each end. All of this, along with this MK2 NX model's 30% stuffer GA-K chassis, has enabled the engineers here to deliver what the brand calls its 'Lexus Driving Signature', a supposedly ideal combination of comfort and handling dynamics apparently honed by professional racing drivers.
With so much power on tap, you don't need to work the four-cylinder engine as hard as you would in the lesser NX 350h self charging hybrid version of this car, so there's less 'moo-ing' from the CVT auto gearbox when you flex your right foot. Don't expect a whole of the steering feedback but there's exemplary refinement - just as you'd expect from a Lexus.
Design and Build
Unless you spot the different badging or the extra charging flap of this NX 450h+, there's very little to clue your neighbours into the fact that you've bought a plug-in Lexus hybrid. This second generation NX has taken the styling themes established with the brand's smaller UX crossover and interpreted them into a slightly larger size, with various cues from the first generation NX model. Owners of the original car might notice and find familiarity with the complex side surfacing and the 'kick up' around the rear C-pillar. And might also notice that this MK2 NX is quite a lot larger than its predecessor. The overall length is 4,660mm, making this car only about 2cm shorter than an Audi Q5.
The front looks suitably prestigious, the hallmark Lexus Spindle grille offering an intricate mesh pattern made up of three-dimensional U-shaped blocks. It's flanked on higher grade variants by these 4-projector LED headlights, each unit incorporating 11 LED chips with light output controlled by a forward camera. At the rear, there's a neat tailgate arrangement that sees the rear lamps adopt a slim wraparound signature over the rear bodywork. As in all second generation NX models, under the skin is the same GA-K chassis used in the Toyota RAV4.
Inside, the cabin of the 450h+ is of course pretty much the same as that of the self-charging 350h version, save for the addition of some extra Hybrid drive buttons. The interior is much improved over the first generation NX, with bigger screens which no longer operate using the much-criticised previous touchpad system. The standard centre screen offering - 'Lexus Link Connect' - is 9.8-inches in size. Alternatively, there's the top 14-inch 'Lexus Link Pro' set-up. Around the cabin, there's the brand latest 'Tazona' cockpit design with its high-quality materials and a dashboard that curves towards the driver's seat. Lexus has also introduced touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel.
The back seat offers class competitive space for two adults - and the low centre transmission tunnel might mean you could fit three in at a pinch. Impressively, boot capacity doesn't suffer with the PHEV installation - in fact, the 525-litre total is 4-litres more than you'd get in an NX 350h. With the rear seats folded, there's 1,436-litres.
Market and Model
This 450h+ Plug-in variant meets the needs of those who want a little more power and EV driving range from their NX. For that, you'll need to allow another £9,000 in your budget over the cost of an ordinary NX 350h self-charging model - and think in terms of that outlay starting from at least around £51,000 because for a '450h+', you have to have 'E-FOUR' 4WD system and you can't have the least-expensive version of the NX trim package. That means NX 450h+ customers will be choosing between 'Premium Pack' and 'Premium Plus Pack' versions of NX-spec in the £51,000-£57,000 bracket; or plusher 'F SPORT' and 'Takumi' variants in the £58,000-£61,000 bracket.
You do at least get lots of equipment for that. Including the latest Lexus multimedia platform that meets customer priorities for fast, intuitive on-board connectivity. It introduces smart services, including a cloud-based navigation system, via the car's data connection module (DCM). This provides real-time journey information and traffic updates without using up the customer's data plan. There is also a new "Hey Lexus" assistant, which responds to natural voice commands, as if you are conversing with the car.
This second generation NX was Lexus's first model to feature the third generation of Lexus Safety System+, equipping it as standard with a comprehensive package of active safety and driver assistance features. These include further expansion of the brand's Pre-Collision System capabilities so that motorcycles and some solid objects in the car's path, such as trees, walls and utility poles, can be detected. It also gains a new function that identifies collision risks with oncoming traffic or crossing pedestrians when making a turn at a junction. With these developments, the Pre-Collision System can recognise and help to avoid 36% more accident scenarios than previously.
Cost of Ownership
We mentioned this NX 450h+ model's all-electric driving range earlier - up to 47 miles - and Lexus quotes a combined cycle fuel reading that of course takes this into account - 256.8-313.8mpg. In comparison, an NX 350h AWD self-charging hybrid model manages best of 47.0mpg. As with any PHEV, the three-figure fuel reading for the 450h+ that we just quoted you is rather pie in the sky. In practice, expect to return the kind of fuel economy stats that you'd get from good diesel in this class. The CO2 readings are much better than a diesel though: expect 21 to 26g/km, which will do wonders for your Benefit-in-Kind taxation (BiK 8%). In comparison, an NX 350h AWD model is rated at 130-146g/km (BiK 32-34%).
Battery replenishment from a standard 7.4kW garage wallbox takes two and a half hours. And you can set charging times by using the provided 'Lexus Link' app, which also allows you to set charging schedules according to when the vehicle is next expected to be driven - or when energy prices are low. Via this app, you can also defrost the windows and either pre-heat or pre-cool the cabin before you reach the car, so you won't have to spend climate system energy doing so once you're underway. The LexusLink app additionally allows NX 450h+ owners to check battery charge and driving range - and find public charging stations in the 'Lexus Charging Network' - there are about 160,000 of them across Europe, with around 30,000 of those in the UK.
As for after-sales, there's the usual three year vehicle warranty, which you can extend by a further year with every service at a Lexus dealer - up to a maximum of ten years. There's also five year/100,000 cover on drivetrain defects.
We don't really understand why it's taken Lexus so long to bring us a plug-in hybrid. The window for this technology will close over the next few years as full-EVs with longer ranges become the norm. But right here, right now, a PHEV makes a lot of sense and in this NX 450+, Lexus has bought us one of the very best in its segment.
It's ambitiously priced for an SUV of this size, but most of its class mates are too and inside this NX, you can at least see and feel where the money's been spent. That cabin might well sell you this car - in contrast to the previous generation NX where the opposite was often true. So might the stats that go with the plug-in hybrid tech. There's plenty to like here.