New Lexus NX combines modern luxury with plug-in hybrid power
The new NX plug-in hybrid is a very easy car to live with, hushed and refined, and comes ahead of the company’s first all-electric vehicle
People often complain about the auto industry’s tendency to imitate, noting that certain styling elements are propagated across brands like Japanese knotweed. However, there’s no mistaking the new Lexus NX for any other brand.
The shock of the new is a hard thing to sustain. Consider Lexus. Once upon a time, the company’s forward-thinking design direction was considered avant-garde by some (and awkward by others). Regardless of your outlook, it was certainly different. Take a look at the manufacturer’s line-up today, and there’s a slight sense of déjà vu.
Broadly speaking, Lexus makes saloon cars (the ES and LS), sports cars (the RC and LC), and SUVs (the UX, NX, and RX). The latter trio are scaled small, medium, and large, but there’s not a huge amount of design diversity going on.
All have the gaping Lexus grille, flanked by jagged slashes of vents and headlights, and body surfaces that are constantly disrupted from nose to tail by creases, folds, and crimps that some have likened to automotive origami.
Whereas origami implies a certain serenity and focus, the current Lexus aesthetic is one of busyness and distraction. It’s very far removed from the studied, sober luxury of the company’s earliest models, way back in the 1990s.
Today, Lexus builds automotive statements, cars that stand out in identikit environments like golf club car parks and proffer more character than the ‘conventional’ choices on offer from Germany’s premium brands. The problem is that everyone is making statements now. ‘Bold design’ is important currency in sectors where traditional signifiers of status – performance, speed, noise – mean less and less and less.
The new version of the NX continues the company’s long tradition of building hybrids. Surprisingly, given its experience, the NX450h+ model is Lexus’s very first plug-in hybrid; the company doesn’t even have an all-electric car just yet (although that will shortly change).
The new NX is a sophisticated machine with a couple of major upgrades from its predecessor. The first is that plug-in hybrid system, which is good for an electric-only range of 40 miles and the ability to self-charge using the combustion engine.
The second is a new infotainment system that does away with the awkward, quasi-mouse-like device that Lexus used to use for driving its screens. The NX has a mix of conventional touch screen and dials, and is all the better for it.
One thing the company has always excelled at is the breadth of standard options – there’s practically nothing extra to specify, even if you wanted to. Compare this with the mercenary practices of competitors, whose option lists run long and dear. As a result, the cabin is an excellent place to be, with extra zip generated by the battery, and a range of sufficiently different driving modes easily accessible from a dedicated dial.
Attention to detail is superb, as is the build quality – the company has a well-deserved reputation for the long-term reliability of every mechanical switch and electronic system.
The NX is a very easy car to live with, hushed and refined, with excellent seats, plenty of space, and relaxed dynamics that don’t hurry you along.
Your own preferences will dictate whether or not it’s an easy car to look at, but while it doesn’t really have a single great angle, the overall form is cohesive and coherently ‘Lexus’.
What next? The upcoming Lexus RZ will be the brand’s first battery electric vehicle. Due in late autumn 2022, the RZ has a lot to live up to, given how well Lexus has managed to associate hybrid with hushed, efficient, and reliable luxury. The RZ shares a platform with Toyota’s forthcoming BZ4X , and a comparison of the two will be a useful insight into the art of creating ‘premium’ experiences from the same raw material.
Further down the line is the stunning Lexus Electrified Sport Concept, a preview of a potential next-generation sports EV, a modern equivalent of the famed LFA model built a decade ago. Electrification will give this experienced company another way to shine.
Lexus NX, from £41,210, Lexus NX 450h+ from £60,950
Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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