Lexus is Toyota's high-end sub-brand, catering to buyers with sophisticated tastes. This also includes hybrids.

They've been doing this for years. History tells us that the first hybrid system at Toyota was introduced in the spring of 1997, and the first Prius drove onto the roads just before the end of that year. In the early days, people were rather wary of cars with this type of drive but, nevertheless, over 50,000 buyers opted for Prius over its first two years on the market. It was only logical, then, for Toyota to begin installing hybrid systems in other vehicles, as well. Some were intended only for the Japanese market, others for the whole world. In 2005, they added the first Lexus model, RX 400h, to the world market. The demand for hybrid vehicles grew, so Toyota launched production on American soil. In slightly under ten years, Toyota sold over a million hybrid vehicles, including hybrids in the Lexus line. But that was just the start. Now more than 17 years on, over seven million of Toyota's hybrids (a significant share of which are Lexus cars) are driven worldwide.

Now we see the arrival of the new NX model. Unlike most in-house models, which bet on looks of prestige and elegance, the NX prides itself on a sharper designer style. Literally! The lines are very sharp indeed, as are the edges on all sides of the bodywork. The front is characterized by a large grille, and the headlights and an extensive and aggressively-designed bumper also correspond to this design. As befits a premium brand, the daytime LED lights are standard equipment, while an improved equipment package also has LEDs in the dimmed and high beam headlights. When turning, the bend in the road is additionally lit by fog lights installed on the edge of the front fender.

The side of the NX is also interesting. The side windows are small (although this is not noticeable from within), and perhaps only the oversized wheel arches stand out. While the front door is quite smooth, the lower and the upper sides of the rear door is cut in shaped lines, which are then transferred to the rear of the car. The latter features large convex lights, a window that is rather too inclined (and relatively small) for a hybrid and, contrary to the design of the whole car, a rather simple rear bumper.

The Lexus NX also convinces with its interior. It is by no means the plastic playground of some Japanese cars, although perhaps there are too many buttons and switches on the central console, and around the steering wheel. Fortunately, those buttons and switches that driver needs most frequently are quite logically installed. The new NX no longer has a version of a computer mouse to handle the main display, and to manage most of its functions and systems. More expensive versions, with better equipment, offer drivers a trackpad where they "write" with their fingers, while in entry-level models the unfortunate mouse has been replaced by a handy rotating button. By rotating it to the left or right, user can move across menus, confirm by pressing it, and push the whole button to the left or right to skip the menu. A traditional and excellent solution.

The main display stands out (in a negative way, for some), looking like it was placed on the dashboard as an afterthought. It is not installed directly into the central console, but on the top, so that it gives the impression of an additionally-installed plate — such a solution, whether it suits your aesthetic or not, is increasingly popular with a growing number of manufacturers. However, the main monitor is clearly visible, and the letters on it are large and easy to read.

At first sight, it seems that the seats are small, but they proved sufficient, and the side grip is adequate. The back seat is spacious enough, and the well-made trunk has a volume of 555 liters which, with the automatic (electrically-controlled) folding of the back seat backrests to a completely flat position, can be easily increased to 1600 liters, when things need hauling.

The drivetrain of the NX is composed of a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine (114 kilowatts) and an electric motor (105 kilowatts), which are directly connected by the automatic single-speed transmission. If the car is equipped with fourwheel drive, two additional electric motors, with a power of 50 kilowatts, are installed above the rear axle. However, these motors do not affect the system power which, regardless of the number of electric motors, is always 147 kilowatts, or 197 hp. There is sufficient power, but the NX is no race car, a fact also emphasized by its (factory-installed) highest speed which is, for such a large car, a modest 180 kilometers per hour. The motors, and especially the gearbox, like a comfortable and calm ride which is, of course, not necessarily slow.

When necessary, the electric motors instantly come to your aid, so the NX runs well, even when the base is not the most ideal. It is true that security systems are sometimes too quick to react, thus preventing a more normal dynamic ride. In addition to the systems which supervise driving, the NX is also equipped with numerous systems that contribute to safety and comfort. Particularly worthy of mention: the Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS), the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which can stop behind the car in front and, by pressing the accelerator pedal, then drive off automatically; the Lane Keep Assist (LKA); the Blind Spot Monitor (BSM); and, together with a camera at the rear of the car, drivers are also assisted by 360-degree picture of the space around the car which, naturally, is most helpful when reversing.

The Lexus NX is not the perfect successor of the larger hybrid RX, but it sure has a bright future. Especially since more and more buyers have lately been looking to smaller cars, which they still expect to offer a lot, and to be well-equipped. The NX meets these requirements with style.

Oct. 26, 2015 Driving photo: Lexus

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