The NX had a full-throttle route from show stand to showroom. It was introduced in concept form at the 2013 Frankfurt motor show as the LF-NX, which then reappeared at Tokyo, and the toned-down production version was unveiled at the Geneva show in March 2014.
The NX’s bigger brother, the RX, has been in production since 1998 and is now gracing the streets in its fourth generation, NX-inspired guise, having been launched for the Japanese market as the Toyota Harrier in 1997. Lexus’s SUV line-up is completed in North America by the larger GX and LX.
Lexus may be slightly slow to this market segment, but the demand for mid-size SUVs is showing little sign of letting up. To capitalise, then, the NX follows traditional lines for the most part. It has an aluminium and steel monocoque shell, with a transversely mounted engine. You’ll find MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear.
It’s 4.6m long and 1.85m wide, although Lexus has disguised both dimensions with intelligent chamfering around the car’s corners, making it appear more agile and lithe – smaller – than it truly is.
Nonetheless, for all the neat design touches, what really stands out is the novel nature of the powertrain. It’s Lexus’s Hybrid Drive system – at once fiendishly clever yet brilliantly simple.
Toyota and Lexus are rightly proud of the hybrid system that sits beneath the bonnet. In some markets, the bumf refers to it as a continuously variable transmission, but although it can allow any engine speed at any road speed, Lexus doesn’t call it a CVT over here.
It isn’t a CVT in the conventional cone and belted sense, anyway. It’s easier to think of it as a differential. There’s a petrol engine, a slave motor and a drive motor, all coupled together via a planetary gearset that allows each different component to spin at whatever speed each one wants to match the speed of the road wheels.
For example, the engine could be off, the drive motor at the point of peak torque and the road speed 50mph, and the slave motor spins to take up the difference. Likewise, if the engine and the drive motor are both at peak torque but the road speed is only 20mph, the slave motor drives at a totally different speed to allow that.
It’s an incredibly compact system, and one that’s extraordinarily reliable. The Toyota Prius, which uses this system, has the fewest warranty claims in Toyota’s range, and the Hybrid Drive system is the lowest warranty claimant on that car.