Considering the massive head start Toyota (Lexus' parent) had on electrification, pioneering and popularizing the hybrid more than two decades ago with the Prius, it has been all but invisible in terms of other electrified vehicles. Its aversion to pure EVs (until recently) has been well-documented. It's only this year that the Toyota bZ4X and Lexus RZ 450e are making it to dealers, but the commitment to EVs appears about to accelerate with the decision by CEO Akio Toyoda to trade jobs with Lexus and Gazoo Racing President Koji Sato taking over on April 1.
Lexus has also been absent from a key mid-step in electrification---the plug-in hybrid. Until now.
This is the 2023 Lexus NX 450h+. And while what's under the hood looks the same (2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor) it's more than just a plug-in version of the NX 350h I reviewed last year. The NX 350h has a total system output of 239 horsepower. The NX 450h+ bumps that up to 302---the same as cousin Toyota's hot-rod RAV4 Prime plug-in. That extra oomph from the engine room slashes a second off the 0-60 time of the NX 350h---from seven seconds flat to six. Power goes to all four wheels with electronically controlled AWD.
The NX 450h+ uses a high-capacity lithium-ion battery instead of the NX 350h's nickel metal hydride battery. It provides up to 37 miles of pure electric driving on a charge before switching to gasoline/electric hybrid mode. If you remember to plug it in every night (a tragically high number of PHEV owners either forget sometimes or rarely plug in), and you drive fewer than 37 miles in a day, you're not using any gasoline nor are you putting a single particle of tailpipe emissions into the air. Drive more than those 37 miles and the EPA estimates fuel economy of 84 MPGe. Driven purely in hybrid mode, the estimate is 36 mpg combined city/highway. So there's a major upside to charging. And, the advantage to smaller PHEV batteries compared to the massive ones in pure EVs is quicker charging. Lexus estimates four and a half hours to a full charge on a 240V charger, and two and a half hours when equipped with the optional 6.6 kW Expedited Onboard Charger (an $800 option).
Beyond that, it's the Lexus NX---a luxury SUV with roughly the same exterior dimensions as the RAV4, with 22.7 cubic feet of cargo space, slightly tight quarters for three adults in the rear seat (legroom in the second row is 36.1 inches) and a generally high level of materials and workmanship.
Base price of the 2023 Lexus NX 450h+ is $57,705 including destination. Standard equipment at that price includes 20-inch dark gray metallic wheels, Bi-LED headlamps and daytime running lights, LED taillamps, roof rails, Lexus' comprehensive Safety System+ 3.0 active safety suite, a 14-inch touchscreen, a ten-speaker premium sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a three-month trial of SiriusXM, a Wi-Fi hotspot and navigation.
There's also heated power leather-trimmed front seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control with interior air filter, a power liftgate with kick sensor, rain-sensing wipers, ventilated front seats, power moonroof, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, black open for wood trim, intuitive parking assist, rear cross-traffic automatic braking, thematic ambient illumination and a head-up display.
Our test vehicle also had a pretty healthy list of extra-cost options---advanced parking assist ($250), a digital inner mirror ($200), triple beam headlamps with washers and cornering lamps ($850), the aforementioned 6.6 kw internal charging system ($800), Cadmium Orange paint ($595), a panoramic view monitor with lane change assist and front cross-traffic alert ($1,070), a smartphone convenience package---that's wireless charging bundled with smart key, keyless entry, and memory for the driver's seat and steering wheel ($450), illuminated cargo sill ($300), wheel locks ($95) a carpeted cargo mat ($140) and rear and side puddle lamps ($325). That adds up to $62,780.
At that price, I need to point out that the last Toyota RAV4 Prime I tested cost $12,000 less. The RAV4 Prime also gets to 60 from a standing start two-tenths of a second quicker, gives five more miles of pure electric range, 10 more MPGe, and two more miles per gallon if you forget to charge it and drive it like a regular hybrid---and offers 1.7 additional inches of rear seat legroom and an extra 10 and a half cubic feet of cargo space. And that likely won't matter. If people passed on Lexus vehicles to buy a similar but less expensive, more efficient Toyota, there wouldn't be a Lexus division. There's perceived status in the nameplate---and that will likely be enough to justify the price tag for every buyer Lexus projects for the NX 450h+.