• Lexus NX 350h first drive review

The only petrol-hybrid luxury SUV in the country, the NX 350h has its German rivals in its crosshairs

Back in 2005, Lexus was the first car maker to launch a luxury SUV powered by a petrol-hybrid engine. That has become a hallmark of all Lexus products ever since, Indians were introduced to the brand only half a decade ago, when the Japanese luxury car manufacturer set shop in India in 2016. But Lexus has maintained a low profile largely and hasn’t really gone to town announcing its presence or marketing its products aggressively. Instead, the car maker has let its products do the talking, given the engineering prowess and distinctiveness they pack in, besides setting up what it calls ‘Experience Centres’ that offer prospective customers a peek into the Lexus world.

Lexus also tells us it has its own distinct clientele and that while we as journalists may not see the brand harp about its successes, growth has been consistent. The past two years obviously were a bit of a lull, but Lexus has just launched the all-new NX 350h in India, the second generation version of its midsize luxury SUV. The erstwhile NX 300h it replaces was one of its highest selling models we’re told, with over a million units on the road, meaning the new NX 350h has big shoes to fill in. Being a full generation change, the NX 350h packs in a lot more than just new design and in case you were wondering, yes, the only engine option for the NX 350h is a petrol-hybrid engine!

And in true Lexus style, the NX 350h looks very sharp and striking. Lexus tells us that Takumi craftsmanship (Japanese term for someone who boasts unrivalled expertise) has always been a distinctive aspect of its designs and the new NX 350h follows the tradition. The 350h is also the first Lexus product to use its trademark spindle grille in full, infused with dark elements instead of chrome ones, making for a more majestic looking front end. The headlamp units look sharp and incorporate very unique looking DRL strips, along with quad-projector beams. The 350h is also longer, wider and taller than the 300h and has a longer wheelbase and higher ground clearance. The rear end looks particularly arresting thanks to the new design of the tail lamps that are connected by an LED strip. Overall, the muscular stance and fresh design look appealing, while also retaining the SUV’s distinctiveness as a Lexus product.

Inside, the NX 350h here uses a new design language too, with a more driver-centric cabin. The design cues are very unique and help the interiors stand out, but more importantly it’s the finesse and high levels of craftsmanship that impress. Attention to detail is immaculate and won’t take you any time to notice that every bit inside has been designed thoughtfully.

What you see here is the top of the line, F-Sport version that gets this exclusive dark red and grey finish inside, adding a dash of sportiness over the other two trims. What gets your attention first is the massive, 14-inch touchscreen that’s also angled towards the driver. The screen impresses with its touch sensitivity and friendly interface. The steering wheel is nice to hold and integrates touch panels for controls instead of physical switches.

There’s lots of interesting details inside, like the storage compartment under the arm rest that opens from both sides. In fact there’s lot of thoughtful little touches throughout the cabin that really enhance the driving experience. A distinct highlight are the electrically operated door handles inside and out, which Lexus calls the e-latch system and these have you use buttons instead of pulling the handle.

The NX 350h is powered by a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine paired to two electric motors, one connected to the transmission and the second to the rear axle, making the NX an all-wheel drive SUV. Combined outputs are up to 244PS from 197PS earlier, a significant jump. Acceleration is thus strong.

Lexus has also switched to a Lithium-ion battery that sits under the rear seat and helps in making the NX 350h more energy efficient, resulting in higher fuel efficiency. The NX 350h starts in pure electric mode and the engine comes on only when you press harder on the throttle. Power is transmitted via an e-CVT and the powertrain feels more responsive and alert, making for a more engaging feel behind the wheel.

Dynamics have improved vastly as well. Sport mode is where the NX 350h feels most engaging and more rewarding around corners. This is also courtesy the fact that the all-wheel drive system can send up to 80 percent torque to the rear axle, besides which the steering feels very communicative too. The 350h also impresses with its ride, soaking up bump and undulations well, while cabin quietness is excellent. The NX 350h is also the first Lexus in India to feature ADAS or Advanced Driver Assist Systems besides being high on safety features as it is equipped with eight airbags and boasts a 5-star rating in Euro NCAP tests.

In a nutshell, the NX 350h seems ready to take on its well-established European rivals like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and even the Jaguar F-Pace. It looks sharper, packs in a more powerful engine and is a more engaging SUV to drive, while also getting a host of new features and technology. And prices start from Rs 64.90 lakh ex-showroom, which is higher than some of its rivals, but then there’s the fact that it’s the only petrol-hybrid engine powered luxury SUV in the segment. And that’s something that really helps it stand out, besides the sharp design of course!

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