Lexus NX 450h+ F Sport review: a different lane
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British kart champ and Kiwi advanced driving instructor, Tiff Chittenden, and her thoughts on whether Lexus has been able to mix performance and economy into the one NX package.
As a professional driving coach, I have witnessed first-hand how fuel-price increases have put pressure on “performance” in the industry. People still look for performance in a car, but economy is also now a major consideration. Can you have both?
Race car instructors are perhaps the toughest critics of eco-cars; their job is to literally burn fuel and few are positive about the electrification of modern vehicles
But instructors still need to get to the track to work, they still have families, and they still can’t afford to ignore new possibilities. One of our group, who recently raced a V10 at the National Endurance Championship, is actually considering an electric car due to fuel prices, but he’s not sure it will fit into his work life.
The new NX is the first-ever Lexus to come in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) form. It has a conventional petrol engine, but also a battery that you can plug in overnight for shorter-distance pure-electric driving. Petrol and electric power can also work together for optimum acceleration.
Could this be a vehicle that delivers incredible fuel efficiency, yet still appeals to performance-focused drivers? I drove the NX 450h+ F Sport for a week to find out.
The hybrid system of the 450h+ comprises a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine running through an ECVT transmission, two electric motors and an 18.1kWh battery; together they produce 227kW in hybrid mode. From the outside the F Sport looks sharp and the chassis even has adaptive dampers.
Beating Google Maps’ predicted time is my favourite game, so I first tested the performance of the NX when I drove to Hampton Downs for work. I left Auckland (in a rush) with a full battery, driving in Sport+ and Hybrid modes; but when battery was at 50 per cent for the last stretch of motorway, I put it in Charge mode which “refuels” the battery as you drive.
I arrived at the track with 67km EV range showing, ready for the end of the day to get back to Auckland. With more careful driving and less enthusiastic use of Sport+, the car can offer up to 87km electric range.
Auckland | Auckland City
$238.70 p/w $954.79 p/m
I got asked a lot of questions about the NX at the track, from owners of some audacious sports cars, so it really does turn heads.
The trip back to town was just over 65km and I got there using only electric power, bar a couple of km when it kicked automatically back into petrol-electric running. When the battery gets down to a certain level, the car becomes a normal hybrid, but you still have the full 227kW to play with.
I was still impressed with that range for an open-road trip; I was driving pretty enthusiastically. But the likely scenario for most plug-in hybrids would be urban driving in fully electric mode and then any longer trips would utilise hybrid running.
The combination of the petrol and electric motors gave a great punch of acceleration when required and the NX felt nimble for its size – something that’s helped by the weight of the battery being under the floor.
My next trip was a longer one to Hawkes Bay, to another racetrack. I took the back roads and the NX was not only refined and extremely comfortable, but very responsive and a lot of fun.
On this longer trip I found myself focusing, if not slightly obsessing, on adapting my driving to get the best range I could. The regenerative braking, which slows the car down when you come off the throttle and turns the spare energy into battery charge, is fantastic on a long journey once you get used to it.
There is a detailed but very intuitive infotainment system that keeps you informed of how the hybrid system is working. Where previously I may have been focusing on speed or time to the destination, I was now playing the “EV Driving Ratio” game.
A PHEV really can offer the best of both worlds. You can be more carbon-neutral or just save money on fuel, without comprising on performance.
The NX 450h+ F Sport provides eco-friendly driving and one of the largest pure-electric ranges on the PHEV market, but still produces enough power and handling to really impress.
You do learn how to drive differently to adapt and get the most out of the PHEV system, and that’s a good thing. It’s a whole new concept of performance.