All-new Lexus NX: Seven things you need to know

Lexus is officially revealing an all-new NX today, with three versions of its crossover set to hit Singapore this year — including a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle

– 4th Quarter launch for all-new Lexus NX planned for Singapore
– First plug-in hybrid for Lexus, with approx 75km of EV range
– Three variants coming — 2.4L turbo, 2.5L hybrid and 2.5L plug-in
– Major change to interior controls

SINGAPORE — This is the all-new Lexus NX, and it’s bigger, meaner but greener. Three versions are headed for Singapore, and the range-topping NX 450h+ gives Lexus its first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), and offers 287 horsepower with the ability to cover around 75km with a full charge of its lithium-ion battery.

The plug-in NX is part of an electrification push by Lexus. Like other legacy carmakers (though it feels strange to include 32 year-old Lexus among them), Japan’s leading premium car brand is scrambling to put battery-powered cars in showrooms.

That might sound incongruous because Lexus has already put two million hybrid cars (the brand calls them “self-charging” hybrids because they don’t need plugging in) on the road, but tightening emissions regulations and a global shift from fossil fuels is forcing its hand. Last year overall car sales fell around the world, but deliveries of full electric and PHEV cars grew fast, and roughly doubled their share of the market to just over six percent, meaning there is plenty more growth to come.

For its part, Lexus announced in March that it is rolling out 20 new and replacement models by 2025, and that “more than half” will be hybrids, PHEVs, full electric cars and “other electric vehicles”, which implies that hydrogen fuel cells will join the line-up.

That’s in the future, Meanwhile Lexus is revealing the new NX today. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s bigger — slightly

At 4,660mm long, 1,865mm wide and 1,640mm tall, the new NX is 20mm longer and wider than before, and 5mm taller. Lexus gave its wheelbase a 30mm stretch to 2,690mm to increase cabin space, but overall the NX is roughly half a size down from, say, BMW’s X3.

It’s built on Toyota’s TNGA-K platform, which underpins the current Lexus ES (and therefore, the Toyota Camry).

Two other significant cars built on TNGA-K: the Toyota Harrier (it has an identical wheelbase so it’s likely a good proxy for how spacious the NX will feel inside) and the Toyota RAV4, which has a hybrid plug-in option in other countries.

Three engine choices are headed here — and maybe a pure electric one

Lexus has announced seven drivetrain variants for the NX. Not all are coming here, but if you’re curious, the lineup is:

  • Naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre in-line four — a member of Toyota’s current Dynamic Force engine family, probably good for around 200 horsepower, powering the NX 200 (or possibly the NX 250), and an all wheel-drive version on some markets.
  • 2.4-litre turbo — a new engine probably with around 300hp, and paired with an eight-speed auto and all wheel-drive, likely for an NX 350.
  • 2.5-litre hybrid — front drive, and good for 215hp (as in the Toyota Harrier Hybrid), powering the NX 300h 
  • 2.5-litre hybrid — the above, but with an extra motor to power the rear wheels, bringing system power to 250hp or so in the NX 350h
  • 2.5-litre plug-in hybrid — badged NX 450h+, with more powerful motors than above, plus an 18.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack for operating as a pure EV, with a guesstimated 309 horsepower. China gets a front-drive plug-in.

Except for the NX 450h+, we’ve had to guess the model names because Lexus hasn’t revealed them. And despite taking the trouble to hold a virtual press conference for the new NX, Lexus wasn’t able to share performance figures — the cars haven’t been homologated (meaning approved for sale), so formal numbers can’t be published.

But in any case, the variants headed for Singapore are the 2.4-litre turbo, a 2.5-litre hybrid and the NX 450h+, meaning we won’t be missing out on Lexus’ first PHEV.

Borneo Motors is coy about which hybrid model is headed here, but the all wheel-drive is unlikely, so our money is on the hybrid NX 300h kicking off the range, the NX 350 catering to sporty drivers and the NX 450h+ for people who want PHEV motoring.

The pure electric range of 75km is more than enough for a typical day’s motoring here (it would be enough even if you knocked off one-third of that range to be conservative), so if an NX 450h+ owner has access to daily charging, he might have to tearfully break up with his favourite petrol pump attendant.

In any case, the PHEV system can charge the battery using the engine’s power, but that’s going to be expensive in terms of energy.

Wondering if plug-in tech really does work? We tested two BMW X3s side-by-side to find out… so you don’t have to!

As for performance, we figure the NX 300h will do 0 to 100km/h in 8.1 seconds, the NX 350 could do it in the mid-7s and the NX 450h+, maybe in the mid 6 seconds.

One more thing: Lexus hasn’t announced it yet, but looking at the smaller UX range, a pure electric NX is almost certainly going to show up sometime. It’ll be the flagship, so maybe it’ll be badged NX 500e and come with 400hp if we’re lucky (200hp per axle is a common EV configuration). Watch this space. 

It’s sharper to drive

Lexus has become increasingly fastidious about the way its cars feel and handle, and the NX has undergone endless tweaking on a test track that Toyota built to mimic the famed Nurburgring. “The engineers and the car were repeatedly tested and developed at the Shimoyama test course,” the car’s chief engineer Kato Takeaki said, somewhat cryptically, in a recorded speech.

The NX is still a Sport Utility Vehicle, so it’s unlikely to feel like a sportscar (or even a sporty sedan), but Lexus seems to have worked hard on making it sharp. The body panels are thicker in places for body rigidity’s sake, and for the same reason the length of glue used in building the chassis has gone up by 35 percent. A stiffer bodyshell lets the suspension work better and delivers more precise steering.  

Engineers changed the wheel hub design just to shave 700 grammes off unsprung weight (the weight that isn’t supported by a car’s springs) at each corner, also for the sake of raising precision and improving body control.

More arcane stuff: a new brake pedal design apparently easier to switch between pedals, while a return damping system supposedly offers better feel when you come off the brakes.

Wondering what the current NX is like? Here’s our unflinching review…

The turbo NX 350 ought to be fun, but Mr Kato says the PHEV delivers strong acceleration.  “We are pursuing the unique Lexus driving signature, where the pleasure of deceleration, steering and acceleration seamlessly connect under various driving situations, and linear response is faithfully executed according to the driver’s intentions,” he said in his speech.

The NX has Lexus’ first variable ratio steering rack (it’s geared high beyond a certain angle so the arms don’t have endless twirling to do, but is relatively slow around the straight-ahead so the driver can sneeze at high speed without ending up in the scenery).

The annoying touchpad controller is gone

Say hallelujah, because the NX has gone full touchscreen. The small, clunky and cumbersome fingertip control pad is gone, and a 14-inch touchscreen with an anti-glare coating is the main interface now.

The touchscreen dominates the space, and designers have reorganised the driver controls; the engine start button sits up high while the driving mode selector is now near the gearlever.

Note the fairly large pads on the steering wheel spokes — they’re touch-sensitive controls for the driver to use what Lexus calls “Touch Tracer Operation”. The touchpads put various features at the driver’s thumb, and relevant info pops up onto the head-up display system to guide the driver along when he’s using them.

In the uniquely Japanese way, Lexus has a catchphrase for the main cabin philosophy, and calls it “Tazuna Concept”, which apparently refers to the reins of a horse and how it’s possible for a rider to exert control using just those.

Cabin lighting is something Lexus needed to up its game at, and the new NX offers ambient illumination in 64 colours. 14 of those are pre-set in themes, leaving 50 for the hue-happy owner to play with.

Lexus wanted to “level up” the design

Notice the “L”-shaped logo is gone? Instead there’s a new Lexus logo on the tailgate, spelt out in block letters. That signifies something of a re-set. “With design, we believe that electrification is an opportunity for a major shift in direction, and a chance to level up,” Suga Koichi, the general manager of Lexus’ design division said in a video speech.

That said, the new NX looks more evolutionary than revolutionary in terms of styling. It’s still fronted by an enormous spindle grille, although one that’s altered; it’s more upright, which apparently captures more airflow, while lengthening the bonnet to stretch the proportions of the car. Mr Suga said his team made the grille lighter even though it’s larger, for handling’s sake — the heavier a car’s nose, the harder it is to deflect off course.

One obvious change is that the headlights are no longer split into two. The new single-unit lamps, while more conventional, are neater.

The NX has a shorter rear overhang to create a sense of lightness, and the widened reat track is something Mr Suga wanted to emphasise. The rear doors flare out dramatically towards the rear wheelarches, while the back of the car has a full-width light bar, while the taillights stretch outwards, tucked under a well-defined edge to visually broaden the backside.

Mr Suga said the overall approach to the new NX’s design was to mix sharp character lines with large, curved surfaces to create a “simple yet spectacular” look.

There’s plenty of aerodynamic consideration, too. The bumpers, the area where metal and glass meet on the doors and even the engine splash guard underneath the car are optimised to guide airflow so the car feels more stable at high speed. Sound penetration from the wind is apparently significantly lower, too.

There’ll be an F Sport styling pack (pictured above) that adds 20-inch wheels (up from 18 inches), a chin spoiler, large faux air scoops on the front bumper and so on. Inside, F Sport cars get a steering wheel, front seats and a gearshift lever designed to look more sporty, along with aluminium pedals.

It sees more and thinks more

The digitalisation of daily life hasn’t left the car world untouched, and the new NX ushers in a number of features. Such as, you say? The NX will have remote parking (slot it into a spot or retrieve it while standing outside the car, presumably) and a digital key, both of which are firsts for Lexus.

The Lexus Safety System+ suite of driver aids is present in third-generation form, “to enhance cognitive, judgmental, and operational performance,” Kato said. That means the sensors cover a wider area and can now intervene in new situations, actively preventing head-on collisions and oncoming vehicles.

One interesting safety aid involves the car’s door latches. The new NX has e-latches (instead of mechanical ones), apparently inspired by how Japanese sliding doors shut unobtrusively, and they work with the car’s blind spot monitors to keep you from opening a door into a passing cyclist’s face.

It hits Singapore this year

Lexus’ sole authorised dealer here Borneo Motors says it plans to launch the NX here by the fourth quarter of 2021, which is only three months or so away. Expect to see the three variants listed above in Executive and Luxury trim levels, plus the possibility of an F Sport option, perhaps for the NX 450+ to make it look extra special.

Much is riding on the new car’s shoulders, since it is the first new model in Lexus’ push to reinvent itself for the post fossil-fuel era. Its chief engineer is hoping the result will speak for itself when the car gets here. “We hope you will sense our passion when you drive the car,” Mr Kato said.

If you can’t wait for the new NX, a pre-owned Lexus or Toyota will do more than fine – has a huge range to choose from

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Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 26 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.