Lexus NX 350h : Hybrid performance, pure luxury

S Muralidhar | Updated on: Mar 25, 2022

The Japanese luxury brand’s compact crossover undergoes a generation change, amps up performance and premiumness

Lexus shares the parent’s brand of conservatism, one which even downplays Toyota climbing into the numero uno spot in the global automotive industry. But Toyota and Lexus are still very different in terms of their products and target audience. Lexus’s conservatism shows up in its patience with a market like India and the seemingly faltering baby steps it is willing to take while attempting further inroads here. That conservative approach doesn’t extend into its products or the experience it extends to its customers. Attention to detail and a highly personalised, professional sales experience awaits the Indian customer at the handful of Lexus centres around the country.

Lexus India’s portfolio is dominated by imports, the only model that is assembled at the exclusive line within Toyota’s India plant in Bidadi near Bengaluru, is the ES 300h. So, its portfolio simulataneously benefits from the ‘Made in Japan’ tag and also takes a hit from the inevitably higher prices for CBUs (completely built units). Globally, the company may have been less enthusiastic (compared to competitors in the luxury auto space) about its transition to electrics, but Lexus India swears by the power of hybrids and its portfolio is dominated by them. The ES 300h continues to be its best selling model, but the range of vehicles on offer is quite diverse. The NX, the Japanese luxury car brand’s affordable, compact crossover SUV, has been a hit with customers too. Only the locally assembled ES 300h is priced lower than the NX. The good news for fans is that the 2022 NX 350h has just landed on our shores.

Design

The NX was Lexus’s first entry crossover. In its eighth year since launch, the NX changes over to a second generation and is entirely new. In fact, it is now based on a Lexus exclusive Global Architecture-K platform. The new NX has much of the previous generation’s exterior design signatures. That’s one of the reasons why it seems so familiar, but getting closer reveals that it is all new. The panel surfaces are more subtly curved with an even higher level of sportiness and athleticism in its stance. The sharp angles that lend each exterior design element its character continue and their Lexus trademark triangular orientation gives the NX its strong brand connection. The oversized spindle-grille at the front dominates the fascia. This might have been a bit of a dividing feature in the past, but by now most of us have gotten around to liking it. The honey-comb pattern within the spindle grille is different, and the headlamps and the fog lamps are new. The headlamp still delivers a similar LED DRL light signature. The subtle power dome style creases on the bonnet and the large intakes in the fender add to that impression of the NX being larger than its footprint. That is even though the new-gen NX has had small increases in dimensions. It is longer, wider, taller and has a higher wheelbase (+30mm) than the predecessor.

From the side, the NX’s coupe-like, crossover profile is best captured by the roofline which rises gradually at the front and tapers off just before the C-pillar. The blacked out B-pillar and the chrome frame for the upper arc of the window-line highlights the profile even more. The play of light and shadow is also even better thanks to the character lines that create angular surfaces. In keeping with Lexus’s characteristic focus on design purity and aerodynamics, all the lines merge into or point towards other elements that carry the design theme onward. The NX is being offered in three trim variants - Exquisite, Luxury and F-Sport. All three get 20-inch alloy rims, with the F-Sport getting a special all-black finish. At the rear, the NX’s squat, solid stance is accentuated by the prominent wheel arch bulge and haunches. The split tail-lamps are set high and they now feature a connecting LED strip. The loading lip for the automatic tailgate is set quite high, but the boot is more voluminous now offering 520litres of storage space (475litres before) with an additional 30litres under the floor.

Cabin

The new NX 350h’s interior reflects the flavour of the exterior design in its simplicity, and yet delivers that key perceived luxury quality. It is quite different from the predecessor’s cabin. The driver-focused cockpit and the placement of all drive controls on one visual line from the top of the dashboard are typically Lexus. The brand’s obsession with Takumi hand-craftsmanship and ergonomics is legendary, and is amply evident even in the NX. The smaller details matter and one of them is the 10-inch colour head-up display (HUD) which in addition to the usual suite of information also changes to display the touch-sensitive control pads on the steering wheel if you tap on them. The touchpad can be customised to display frequently used controls. The idea, of course, is to ensure that the driver can keep his or her eyes on the road.

In addition to the digital cockpit and the HUD, the 14-inch infotainment screen at the top of the centre stack adds to the digital displays in the cabin. The huge screen is tilted towards the driver and delivers a large combination of controls and info, including a live display of the hybrid system and a detailed breakdown of the driving performance after every outing. A panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, wireless phone charger and perforated leather seats are some of the other cabin features that gives the NX’s cabin more character and usability. Space in the cabin is more than the predecessor’s, but similar to the competitors in the segment like the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. The NX 350h F-Sport variant gets a few cosmetic design bits in the cabin and in the exterior. It also gets the addition of a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. One interesting addition to the new NX is the e-latch system that allows the doors to be opened by just gripping and pulling (outside handle) or pressing the lever (inside cabin). The electrically operated system also eliminates static shock.

Performance

The NX 350h gets one hybrid petrol engine with an e-CVT gearbox. The 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine and hybrid powertrain deliver a combined peak output of about 240hp, which is a 20 per cent jump over the predecessor. The HEV’s hybrid system, involving a 259-volt, 70-cell lithium-ion battery pack combination, is the fourth generation of Lexus hybrid tech, and is said to be the most powerful hybrid transaxle developed.

The battery power is fed to two electric motors - a 182hp unit at the front and a 54hp motor that sits on the rear axle. Obviously, the combined ICE+Hybrid power has been limited to about 240hp. The NX is essentially a front-wheel drive vehicle and to a large extent, the job of the hybrid system remains parallel-assistance. But the system does allow a solely electric mode for about five kilometres, surprisingly even up to a top speed of 125kmph. Should be enough for a quick dash to the nearest grocery!

The NX is sold in ICE only and plug-in hybrid forms in other markets, but the Indian garage will only get the self-charging hybrid version. Regen braking during coasting and deceleration feeds power back to the battery pack. But the new NX gets electronic all-wheel drive and the 0-100kmph sprint is said to be 16 per cent quicker at 7.7 seconds. The NX 350h’s cabin is quiet both in pure electric mode and while on ICE power at low rpm levels. Within a few kilometres of driving, it becomes amply clear that the new NX is not tuned to be a blistering performer.

Instead, it is designed to be fast, though not quick and it is still focused on delivering a plush ride quality. The on-road performance can still be engaging with the sound of the 4-pot engine seeping into the cabin at high revs and with steering-mounted paddles giving me the option to drive more sportily. There is a sport mode too, though the difference at the wheel is only a small increment.

What the NX really scores on is the ride quality and handling. The ride is firm, but comfortable with a sense of solidity that is unique. There is no body-roll and the steering is perfectly weighted and precise. The Exquisite and Luxury variants don’t get any other suspension additions, but the F-Sport variant gets variable dampers. The middle Luxury variant that I was driving also had ADAS features like lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning, in addition to rear cross traffic alert.

Bottom Line

The new NX 350h is built to be a luxurious and calm space for drivers who would like to pilot a vehicle that offers agile handling, but a relaxed ride, whether they are at the wheel or at the rear seat. It may not be as sporty as some of the competitors in the segment. But the NX 350h will still score on the other key metric that Indian buyers are sensitive about - mileage. With its hybrid system and increments from the EV mode, the NX 350h has a rated mileage of nearly 17kmpl.

Compared to the competition, the NX 350h could also rank higher on the reliability score. However, since it is a CBU, the Lexus NX 350h does get a higher price tag. Prices range from ₹64.9 lakh to ₹71.6 lakh.

Published on March 25, 2022
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