Don’t want a Toyota RAV4? There’s always the Lexus NX if you don’t mind paying extra. The luxury brand’s compact crossover even has its own plug-in hybrid model now, in case you’re tired of waiting for your RAV4 Prime.
As you know, developing vehicle platforms is extremely costly these days, with increasingly stringent collision standards to comply with and the growing number of technologies to include. The RAV4’s fancy cousin was completely redesigned for 2022 and is available in several different flavours.
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The cream of the crop, of course, is the new NX 450h+. The letter “h” is self-explanatory, while the plus sign denotes that the vehicle can be plugged in and later operated in pure electric mode.
City-Friendly EV Range
With the current onslaught of EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids are not as attractive as they once were, but they continue to appeal to many environmentally friendly drivers who don’t want to depend on the grid to get to places.
The 2023 Lexus NX 450h+ is particularly at ease around town, from school zones to medium-speed boulevards. With 61 km of zero-emission range according to Natural Resources Canada, city dwellers can easily run their errands without burning a single drop of gas—as we found out during our mid-spring test drive with warm temperatures ensuring maximum battery efficiency.
It’s a bit more complicated on highways. Putting more pressure on the throttle drains the battery faster, directly affecting range. And cruising at more than 100 km/h in the left lane is not how you can take advantage of the regenerative braking system to charge the battery on the go.
Still, most NX 450h+ users will have no trouble driving from home to work and back on weekdays with the combustion engine turned off. They can always count on the latter whenever they need to travel longer distances, say to drop off their kids at a soccer match at the other end of the city.
Lexus is known for exceptionally well finished albeit conservatively styled interiors. In case you don’t know or maybe just forgot, the first-generation NX had that awful touchpad on the centre console for controlling the infotainment system.
Mercifully, those days are over. Thanks to the new Lexus Interface, as it’s called, front-seat occupants have a bright and large 14-inch touchscreen to play with. Sure, the system is not perfect and the menus require some getting used to, but it proves so much more intuitive to use. Some will say the volume knob is too small and a bit too out of reach, but if you moved it closer to the driver then the front passenger would start to complain.
The drive mode selector is a dial located next to the wireless smartphone charger. Since there are only three modes to choose from (ECO, SPORT, NORMAL), you don’t need to take your eyes away from the road when switching from one to another. We like the stubby shifter, too, while the steering wheel feels rather slippery. A neat feature inside the NX 450h+, one that separates Lexus products from Toyotas, is the e-Latch door release system. Just push a button and the door will pop open.
The seats provide ample comfort, so while this luxury crossover is definitely not the most exciting to drive, it knows how to cosset occupants. We’d rather have a flashier interior like some of the higher-grade models offer (one of which commands a premium of more than $16,000, incredibly), but the standard black and grey upholstery is admittedly easier to clean.
Where’s the Fun?
For sure, a number of potential NX 450h+ customers will be turned off by the way it drives. Despite the 304 horsepower on tap and lively acceleration that results, the vehicle feels disconnected from the road. Could it be because of the “small” 18-inch wheels? Possibly. If you want to have fun behind the wheel, there are plenty of excellent alternatives to consider.
Steering is vague, the EV mode isn’t as electrifying as a real EV, the suspension could very well have been developed inside a marshmallow factory, and the continuously variable transmission serves constant reminders that the NX 450h+ prefers to sip fuel one drop at a time. ECO mode simply kills all hopes of a good time on the road.
Even SPORT mode, which slightly sharpens the powertrain, doesn’t help much. It does, however, allow you to humiliate other compact SUV drivers in a straight line.
The purpose of the 2023 Lexus NX 450h+ is similar to that of the Toyota RAV4 Prime: offering small families a practical crossover with good zero-emission range and remarkable fuel economy. At the end of the week, our tester achieved a combined 5.2 L/100 km.
Comfort is also a big part of the NX 450h+ experience, especially if you stick with the base 18-inch alloys, but handling suffers accordingly. In other words, passengers will love the little Lexus, but it’s no match for a Porsche Macan when the going gets twisty.