The NX300h offers the familiar Lexus hybrid technology in an exciting new body
A hipper hybrid The designers of the NX300h came up with a body (above) that is shaped like a diamond when viewed from above, with edgy sculpted surfaces that hint at future Lexus styling; inside, the interior gets design cues from the Lexus LFA supercar, such as leather

THE big news about the Lexus NX may be its uncharacteristic 2.0-litre turbocharged engine but, as expected, the familiar petrol-electric hybrid version of this new compact crossover remains the silken choice.

The turbocharged NX200t will cost less than the NX300h hybrid, so the Japanese luxury carmaker expects an 80:20 split in worldwide sales of the stylish sport-utility vehicle.

But with more than 16 years' expertise in petrol-electric hybrid technology behind it, the NX300h offers a clear attraction.

While the NX200t has a 2.0-litre turbo engine, the NX300h uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine. Petrol engines mostly run on the standard Otto cycle but the Atkinson cycle offers higher fuel economy although power density is lower. But in the NX300h, the strong pair of electric motors compensates for the latter.

Working together seamlessly, the petrol engine and electric motors drive all four wheels of the NX via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There is one motor for the front axle and another for the rear axle. With the front motor's maximum torque of 270 Nm and the rear motor's 139 Nm, the NX300h has excellent low-end torque.

Never mind that it takes 9.2 seconds to sprint from zero to 100 kmh, or almost two seconds slower than the NX200t's 7.3 seconds. The NX hybrid is punchier at normal driving speeds than the NX turbo.

More than that, the instantaneous torque is delivered as smoothly as tofu for swift acceleration. There are three driving modes - Normal, Sport or Sport+ - with Adaptive Variable Suspension to vary the damping force depending on which is chosen.

The quiet hybrid's noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels have also improved, making the level of refinement in the NX300h impressive for this class of car.

The NX is the first compact crossover from Lexus, which already has bigger SUVs like the mid-sized RX, the bigger GX, and the full-sized LX. But Toyota's luxury division decided to create the NX because of the strong potential growth of this SUV segment.

So it took the basic floorpan of the Toyota RAV4 but completely modified it so that 90 per cent of the NX is new. An important focus was body rigidity, with laser screw welding and adhesive bonding to achieve high driving enjoyment.

As for the designers, they wanted distinctive styling for what they described as "a cool exterior and fascinating interior with top-class utility".

So they came up with a body that is shaped like a diamond when viewed from above, with edgy sculpted surfaces that hint at future Lexus styling.

In front, there is a bolder version of the spindle grille, with LED headlamps that have a total of 78 LEDs and intricately detailed two-piece tail lamps.

Inside, the interior gets design cues from the Lexus LFA supercar, such as leather-wrapped metal and cosmetic screw bolts.

As for the "top-class utility" mentioned, most features are useful, like the more intuitive fingertip operation of the touchpad, which replaces the occasionally fiddly mouse; and the high friction cup holder that allows a cover to be removed using just one hand.

Also interesting is the wireless phone charger in the centre armrest. But the vanity mirror-cum-storage-lid in the lower centre console may not mean much to others.

For the longest time, Lexus hybrid models were cherished for their efficiency but less for their excitement. When it is launched here in the next couple of months, the new Lexus NX300h with its performance and visual impact could overhaul that image.