Lexus' first-ever plug-in hybrid model comes in the form of the NX 450h+ which delivers big on fuel economy and luxury, but also brings with it a mountain of quirks.

Lexus, like its parent company Toyota, might be known for its hybrids, but the 2022 NX and its new platform brings with it something that’s a first for the brand – a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. PHEVs have been rather unpopular in Australia, accounting for a mere 0.6 percent of all cars sold so far this year, but with Lexus having the all-electric UX 300e and upcoming RZ 450e in its stable, the NX 450h+ (the ‘plus’ represents its plug-in hybrid status) could just be the stepping stone some buyers need to get them accustomed to an electrified Lexus.

While the entry-level NX 250 Luxury starts at just $60,800 before on-road costs, the NX 450h+ sits right at the top of the range priced at $89,900 before on-road costs in its sole F Sport specification. That puts it on the right side of its chief plug-in hybrid rivals, the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300e, Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge, and BMW X3 xDrive30e.

So, what exactly does that $89,900 get you? An awful lot, actually. Not only is it the most powerful version of the NX yet, it’s also the most efficient given it claims it cover 87km without burning a drop of fuel thanks to its battery pack, while only using 1.3L/100km on the combined cycle. It’s also particularly well specified given it even includes all of the options from the NX 350h’s $6000 ‘Enhancement Pack 2’ as standard, the only omission being the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system which isn’t available on the PHEV at all.

Thanks to Toyota and Lexus’ new TNGA-K platform that the NX rides on, it’s now bigger than before which certainly pays dividends inside the cabin. Getting into that cabin is something that’s more odd than you’d expect it to be, however, as you’ll immediately be greeted by the most puzzling door handles you’ve ever encountered. Although they look like normal handles, they don’t actually move – instead, there’s a button inside the handle where you’d normally grab it which electronically releases the latch. Getting out is just as tricky as the tiny interior door handles need to be pulled twice (as it thankfully reminds you on top of them) before the door is finally released. Safe to say, it’s unnecessarily tedious.

Regardless, once you have gotten of the puzzlement of the door handles, you’ll be sitting yourself down inside what is a spacious and expectedly plush cabin. The two-tone white and black leather of my tester looks stunning, feels top notch, and adds some vibrance to the cabin, while the Hadori aluminium trim on the doors is a modern and fittingly Japanese touch.

Not only does it feel roomy for both front and rear occupants, but the boot is also bigger at an impressive 520 litres, up to a massive 1411 litres with the rear seats folded down – and no, there’s no boot size penalty in the PHEV. You do lose out on even a space-saver spare tyre, however, although there is at least an extra storage cubby under the boot floor for stowing your charging cables.

Immediately, you’ll be struck by the immensity of the new infotainment system which in F Sport models uses a 14-inch touchscreen that’s on par with that of some laptops for size. The new infotainment system is pretty slick, too – much better than the old version controlled using a hopeless trackpad – although I do feel the screen is big for nothing as you’re unable to display multiple functions side-by-side, such as the navigation and music, although in fairness, the bottom third of the screen is used for the climate controls.

Fortunately, it also has wireless Apple CarPlay which you’ll likely use more regularly than the native system. There’s also a wireless phone charger to keep your iPhone’s battery topped up (for Android Auto, you’ll need to plug it in) and it can also slide away to reveal a hidden storage compartment.

If you were thinking at this point that the quirks stopped at the door handles, think again. The shifter, for instance, is a stubby little thing that you pull down and to the right to select drive, or up and to the right for reverse. The centre console storage cubby is double hinged so it can be accessed from either side. Even the buttons on the steering wheel for the audio and cruise control settings aren’t actually buttons – they’re touch-sensitive pads which you use to swipe between functions as seen on the head-up display.

Quite frankly, it’s a bit of a mad cabin design in these respects, but despite its utter quirkiness, it is easy enough to get used to. Additionally, it does inject some real character into the NX which is something that certainly helps it stand out these days.

Under the bonnet is where the real unique part of the Lexus NX 450h+ is to be found, however. The brand’s first ever plug-in hybrid pairs a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with an electric motor that’s powered by an 18.1kWh battery pack.

Working together, the two combine to deliver peak power of 227kW; when working alone, the petrol engine delivers 136kW and 227Nm while the electric motor produces 134kW and 270Nm meaning similar performance if you’re simply relying on just one or the other. All-wheel drive is standard on the NX 450h+, with the power sent to the wheels through a CVT automatic.

Certainly, when the two forces combine, the NX 450h’s performance is quite impressive with Lexus claiming it’ll complete the 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.3 seconds. With the electric motor’s punchy instantaneous torque, that hot hatch-like figure is believable even if the NX weighs 2050kg in this guise. When either is working alone, progress is a bit more relaxed and stately, but it never feels too underpowered.

As you’d expect with one of Lexus’ hybrid systems, it’s faultlessly smooth when switching between petrol and electric power. This is something you can control yourself by using the buttons on the centre console, or you can simply leave it in its ‘Auto EV/HV’ mode and let it do the thinking for you. In the city, you’ll want to stick it in EV mode, however, to get the best benefit of its impressive electric-only range.

Although I wasn’t able to match the 87km claim, I was able to cover 73.7km on a single charge (driving at an even mix of speeds between 40-100km/h) before the petrol engine kicked in. Looking at the battery level display indicated it still had a quarter of a charge remaining, which it likely did to preserve the battery and ensure it could still operate as a standard hybrid before being topped back up again. Consider how much you drive on the average day and if you live in the city or work close to home, I’m guessing it won’t be more than 73.7km, meaning this is a perfectly acceptable amount of range for fuel-free daily driving so long as you charge it overnight at home or while at work during the day.

Even with the petrol engine fired up, it’s still an efficient performer. While the 1.3L/100km fuel consumption claim is unlikely to be met unless you almost exclusively drive on electric power alone, if you charge it daily as I did, you’ll find you can come closer to it than you can the fuel economy claims in some PHEVs. The NX 450h only used a mere 2.3L/100km over the course of my 730km behind the wheel. To give that some added context, the fuel gauge had only dropped to three-quarters after 580km of driving and still sat there when it was time to hand back the keys.

Being a luxury SUV, the cabin is incredibly serene inside – especially so when you’re on electric power alone. The petrol engine can be a touch vocal if you’re flooring it, but even it remains muted when cruising along. The ride quality is pretty good as well, with F Sport models featuring Adaptive Variable Suspension, although it can feel a touch terse over sharper bumps.

Thanks to that suspension, it’s fairly handy in the corners when you pop it into Sport S or Sport S+ mode. However, the steering does take on a rather unpleasant heft in either of its Sport settings, and at all times it has a bit of an artificial feel to it.

But then, the Lexus NX isn’t a car that’s really about corner carving or dynamic performance – it’s all about day-to-day luxury and practicality, and in that regard it hits the nail smack bang on the head. That even extends to considerations beyond the car itself as Lexus offers a complimentary JetCharge home charging station to all NX 450h+ customers. For peace of mind, not only is there a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty on the vehicle itself, but an industry-leading 10-year unlimited kilometre battery warranty as well.

You’ll also get a free three-year membership to the Encore Platinum program which not only affords you $495 capped price servicing each year, but also access to ‘Lexus on Demand’ cars four times for eight days at a time during the course of the membership. That means you can book yourself into an LC for a weekend getaway, or simply avoid the rip-off that is a rental car when travelling as cars can be collected from five Australian airports and two in New Zealand.

It’s safe to say, then, that Lexus has managed to come up with quite a serious contender in the NX 450h+. Undercutting its key rivals on price, offering a battery warranty that means you can consider hanging onto this car for the long haul, throwing in a free home charger, and giving you a bunch of lifestyle perks? That sounds like quite the winning recipe to me.

Sure, there are faster and more dynamic plug-in hybrid SUVs out there, but the NX 450h+ does things a bit differently, and when it’s a brand with as good a reputation as Lexus doing it in as characterful and luxurious a way as this, the savings only look even more tempting.

2022 Lexus NX 450h+ F-Sport EP2 List Price: $89,900 | As Tested: $91,650
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Usable electric range and exceptional fuel economy, quiet and luxurious well-equipped cabin, strong warranty and ownership perks
Cons: Artificial steering feel, door handles are unnecessarily tedious, steering wheel controls take some getting used to

In a nutshell: The Lexus NX 450h+ may be utterly quirky, but it’s also very luxurious, refined, and efficient. Given the massive fuel savings it demonstrates in the real world, a perfectly usable amount of electric-only range, and a 10-year battery warranty that gives real peace of mind, it’s hard to justify spending over five or even ten-grand more (at base price) on a PHEV in this class from the European establishment.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Lexus Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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