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We're not sure what it is, but we like it: Lexus NX300h hybrid SUV

£40,000 of style and substance

Economy drive

Having a Ni-mh battery you can’t resort to electric drive to improve the economy. Yes, it has got an EV button, but the maximum electric-only range is about one mile and the maximum speed is 28mph. But that’s on paper. In reality I never got much above 20mph before the petrol engine chimed in.

That means that the NX300h most certainly does not qualify for the Government's OLEV £5,000 ‘leccy car discount.

Lexus NX300h hybrid SUV

More kit than you can shake a stick at

If economy is a bit so-so, what about performance? Well, flat out you will be doing 112mph and you can dash to 62mph in 9.2 seconds. In-gear acceleration is more impressive thanks to all the on-demand ‘leccy motor torque: a theoretical maximum of 270Nm from the front motor and 140Nm from the rear.

While the Lexus is a four-wheel drive machine don’t expect to be able to follow your neighbour’s Range Rover Evoque over hill or down dale. The Lexus system is there more to keep everything ship-shape on slippery tarmac, rather than to go bog trotting.

Lexus NX300h hybrid SUV

This SUV has haunches

Accelerate hard and the power monitor shows the rear electric motor lending its shoulder to get you moving. If the traction control system detects a loss of grip at the front it will fire up the rear drive motor to keep everything on the straight and narrow.

CVT transmissions are never much of a recipe for driver enjoyment but the gearbox in the Lexus shows promise. As is typical of Lexus/Toyota hybrids, it uses a system of planetary gears to blend power from the petrol and electric motors. And it does so seamlessly.

Lexus NX300h hybrid SUV

Plenty of leather and space in the back

To be a wee bit more precise, the planetary gear set fulfils three roles simultaneously: it operates as a power split device between the generator and front wheels; as a reduction gear for the electric motor, and as an electronically controlled constant velocity transmission.

When you plant your foot there is the usual rise in noise levels as the engine revs and the transmission catches up but it’s a surprisingly pleasant noise – throaty and eager. It reminds me of the only other 2.5L four-pot I’ve ever driven, a Porsche 944. And having two electric motors means there is plenty of instant thrust to get over the CVT lag.

Lexus NX300h hybrid SUV

Energy monitor shows what is powering what – the display sits high which is good

Lexus is making much of the small improvements to its hybrid-drive system, including a new water-to-oil cooler for the front electric drive motor and a new trans-axle assembly that does a lot of rather dull-sounding things better than before. The NX300h also has a unique torque control system to reduce pitching motion when driving on an uneven road surface.

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