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Car reviews - Lexus - NX - 450h+ PHEV

Our Opinion

We like
Lavish features, great build quality, renown Lexus aftercare, quiet operation, performance, comfort
Room for improvement
Light steering feel, daily plug-in obligation, not cheap, standard hybrid model may be better value

Lexus unveils its green socket Oz-first plug-in hybrid SUV

3 Oct 2022



WANTING the best of both worlds either makes you very greedy or simply unsure of your priorities. Either way, fellow citizens are likely to be less than impressed.


Odd that when we want a product, we simply must have it all, seeking out the device with the multi-function flexibility of Inspector Gadget’s Swiss army knife body. Oh, and we want cheap.


The Lexus NX450h+AWD (for its proper name) isn’t any of these things. But it comes close.


Lexus puts its next-level hybrid at the top of its Australian range, asking almost $90k for its first plug-in hybrid that promises almost 90km of electric-only range in combination with a sprightly petrol engine for out-of-town cruising or when the battery runs dry.


So, it’s got flexibility. Plug-in hybrids – technically, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles of PHEVs – aren’t new and well known thanks to Mitsubishi’s effortless efficiency and practicality of its Outlander SUV.


For Lexus, its NX450h PHEV is its first tortoise, capable of carrying its energy needs on its back and giving owners total flexibility without being tied to a chain of rural charging points. Other markets get Toyota/Lexus PHEVs – RAV4, Kluger, Prius – but this is our first.


It has two electric motors, one at the front and one at the back so it’s four-wheel drive, and a petrol engine for long range.


So, it ticks the boxes for technology and low emissions. Impressive though that is on the PHEV concept, in Lexus’ case it’s highlight isn’t just the accommodating power plant but a wagon that almost instinctively makes occupants feel secure and even pampered.


The top-shelf NX450h F-Sport (the only variant available for Australia) – at $88,323 plus on-road costs – smothers its occupants with luxury and has a surprise box beneath virtually every touch button. 


It will talk to you, engage in conversation and is tasked to do pretty much anything you want – audio, mapping, cabin temperature and even wind down your window at the prompting of your command. Which window? It knows that, too, monitoring the location of your voice to determine if it’s a left or right-side front window.


Above all, it’s a delightful drive that is spookily quiet (EV mode) and just plain quiet (petrol mode) while having good levels of roadholding and an irresistible audio system.


The downside? Will well-heeled owners of the Lexus fraternity get the fact that to reduce emissions, they have to religiously plug it into a wall socket?


The arrival of the PHEV in the Lexus line-up coincided with the new-gen NX SUV range that is physically bigger and sensually more lavishly equipped than the first stab.


To me, the NX failed the Cinderella test but being a tad too small inside while the RX was a bit too big. Call me fussy but as I have earlier indicated, I want it all.


Now it meets its fairy-tale image with good cabin room front and back, a well-compromised seat hip point for easy entry and egress, a big(ish) boot with a high and flat floor, and the most important bit, a cuddly size that fits city car bays and allows confident manoeuvring through traffic.


Looks are subjective and I’ll stay away from that one other to note that the grille (oh, you noticed?) becomes easier to stomach when it’s finished in a dark colour. I’ll add that I never lost the car in a busy car park.


Much of the appeal of the car comes from the entry statement with an arresting cabin design and splurge of high-end materials. The idea of creating a small driver space that hints at sports-car intimacy works well and shows no conflict that this is set in a family-sized and family-focused SUV.


Lexus calls this new dash and driver interface “Tazuna” that comes from a Japanese expression of linking the rider with the horse through the reins.


It’s comfortable, the view is sweeping and it feels homely. But it’s a space that demands familiarity because – even though it’s a lot cleaner and neater than the previous model – there’s a lot going on here in layers within the infotainment system and via the two digital screens. 


Thankfully, the super-light toggle of the infotainment controller used in previous models has gone, replaced by a more tactile control on the steering wheel. 


So, there’s a lot going on with the steering wheel but it’s actually very workable because the functions pop up on the head-up display (HUD). 


For example, slide your finger over the small panel on the wheel’s spoke and images appear on the HUD, then press to confirm.


The door handles are not mechanical, but electronic. So, if you’re inside, gently press (don’t pull) the “lever” and the door opens. It’s simple and effective and has the benefit of linking door opening with the NX450h’s side monitors that prevent opening in front of an approaching car, bike or person.


Much of the control functions are within the 14.0-inch rectangular and dash-dominating touchscreen. Acute sensors pick up the looming fingertip with ease and the display is clear and bright, particularly for the reverse camera and sat-nav. 


The contents of the monitor are as deep as an Olympic diving pool which is great for customising the car but occasionally can be a handful, such as turning on the heated seats that require some finger work. I guess it’s a familiarisation thing coupled with Lexus’ desire to minimise the number of dashboard controls.


But overriding that is the “Hey Lexus” voice command that will get pretty much everything open or shut, turned on or down, in the car.


Lexus offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but its inbuilt system is just as good and has the benefit of integrating with the HUD (the others don’t). Audio quality is great with a 10-speaker system from Mark Levinson.


Run though some of the standard features – remembering that the F-Sport is the top-shelf of the Lexus model grades – shows a comprehensive feature list that also includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats with eight-way adjustment, heated mirrors that automatically dim, sunroof, electric sunroof and heated steering wheel.


On top of everything, Lexus really looks after its customers. Aside from the five-year/unlimited-distance warranty, owners get a free 7kW AC home charger including installation and three years of complimentary membership of the Lexus Encore Platinum owner benefits program that offers valet, tickets to events and the ability to swap into another vehicle.


Driving Impressions


Lexus owners will be used to much of the high-end feature and equipment offerings of the NX450h, but perhaps less so with the driving experience.


The brand has a long history with hybrids and basically nailed the concept, so now the next step to mass battery electric vehicles is this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version, the first for Lexus – and parent Toyota – in Australia.


Like the hybrid models, the NX450h+AWD is a no brainer to drive. It seamlessly combines and occasionally splits the motive tasks between two electric motors and the 2.5-litre petrol engine (think Camry).


Drive is concentrated to the front wheels (the petrol engine and one of the motors) with the motor on the rear axle there for additional mumbo and to increase traction when needed.


The driving position, seat comfort and level of adjustment for the driver is excellent, helping inspire confidence in the car.


Performance is also brisk and quiet. The engine will engage and cease automatically and mostly it’s hard to pick the transition. For the owner, it’s just a prestige car that goes and stops as it should and without any fuss.


The fuss starts with the plug-in procedure. Where hybrid owners have basically nothing to do with the operation of the car, it’s an obligation that if you own a PHEV, you have to plug it into the powerpoint as often as possible.


Failure to do this means the car loses most of its green credentials and the owner has forked out $10,338 (the price difference between the NX350h AWD hybrid and the car featured here) for nothing.


The guts of the NX450h+AWD is that Camry Hybrid-based engine that has a low-compression cycle with altered valve timing to produce a lean burn, hence at 136kW/239Nm the engine is a bit shy of the Camry petrol’s 152kW/243Nm.


It’s backed by two electric motors – 134kW at the front and attached to the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and the other a 40kW unit to drive the rear wheels. The battery is a lithium-ion unit with a rated capacity of 18.1kWh.


Lexus claims 1.3 litres per 100km but that assumes the car is fully charged and the driving route tending to urban. This test recorded anything from 1.5L/100km (charged up) and around 6.0L/100km (city and some country) when the battery was dry.


The charge times will vary but as it’s a 7kW system, it’s slow when plugged in at home (about eight hours) and better with a wall charger or proprietary charger at a public station, which is about two to three hours.


The range on electric only is up to about 70km, with the best on this test of 68km. That’s probably sufficient to get to work and back at zero petrol cost and, more importantly, zero exhaust emissions.


The NX450h+AWD sits on a 2690mm wheelbase, up 40mm on its predecessor, with a chassis sprung conventionally on McPherson struts and wishbones with coils, but with an adaptive variable damper setup with two drive modes.


The 20-inch wheels have run-flat tyres and that means no spare, so country trips may be something to reconsider.


As a prestige family SUV, it’s hard to beat. It’s not cheap but most rivals are more expensive. I love the way it drives, the way it cossets its occupants, and the feature and safety list. Best, I love the way Lexus looks after its owners and everyone wants to belong to a club and get spoiled.

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