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If cars were people, Lexus would be that reserved, introverted librarian that you can’t help but sneak a glance at every time you return a book late. You know that if she made the effort to put on a little make-up, don something slightly more revealing than a sweater and perhaps let her auburn bun down, she’d be a knockout.

Instead, she has chosen to maintain that prim and proper image, portraying a masterclass in professional behaviour, never attempting to make eye contact with you. Which is exactly what Lexus has been doing. The Japanese automaker has insisted on making cars that appeal more to the head instead of the heart.

Unluckily, all that effort appears to have backfired in twisted fashion. By producing cars that are relatively bulletproof, Lexus has inadvertently shot itself in the foot. Enthusiasts and critics around the world have proclaimed its products as “competent,” if they were feeling generous, “soulless” and “boring,” if they weren’t.

Despite the existence of the Lexus LFA and IS-F, no one really gave the Japanese brand a break at that point. As good as those two were, a number of reviews from various publications were still adamant about ramming home the lack of badge kudos Lexus provided against the more establish German players. One only needs to have a look at Top Gear’s take on the LFA to understand that conundrum faced by Lexus.

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Which, to a certain extent, was true. Was. See, Lexus knows this. It knew that in order to stay relevant and keep up with the competition, it needed to dig deep into the fountain of youth and drown its models in that evergreen concoction. The next wave of Lexus models were required to excel aesthetically just as much as they did in performance.

The biggest transformation began with the introduction of the fourth-generation L10 Lexus GS at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The car that was unveiled bore no immediate resemblance to its predecessor – whether or not that was a good thing depended on where you stood on the styling spectrum.

Gone was the conservative styling from days of yore, with the newer cars sporting design cues that were probably closer to what the art department had in mind when they were working on the latest Alien reboot – this was due in no small part to the inclusion of the opinion-dividing ‘spindle grille’.

Having rejuvenated its design language, Lexus then turned its attention to the premium compact SUV segment. Understandable when you look at the sales figures – SUVs and crossovers are fast outselling their sedan/coupe counterparts. Regrettably, all Lexus had in its arsenal at that time was the ageing RX and the one-size-too-big LX and GX.

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Which brings us to the Lexus NX – the latest crossover in the range and more importantly, the one that’s supposed to chalk up the highest figure in terms of SUV sales. So, what exactly does it bring to the table?

For starters, potential clients who value eye-catching aesthetics over anything else will be pleased to know that the NX is, to this writer, the most interesting looking car in its segment. Sure, styling will always remain a subjective field but if you find the likes of the Volvo XC60, BMW X3 and Audi Q5 more attention-grabbing, you’re wrong. Go get your eyes checked.

The only competitor that comes close to it in terms of styling is probably the Range Rover Evoque – which begins at a lofty RM399,888. NX ownership, on the other hand, begins at RM292,000.

Good looks and a (relatively) low entry price may be enough to close the deal for some. However, potential owners who insist on delving deeper into the NX’s talent pool will be confronted with a car where radical appearances are bolstered by a raft of technological and technical advances.

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A case in point of this is an all-new 2.0 litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that features a world’s first combination of a twin-scroll turbocharger, an integrated four-into-two exhaust manifold and liquid-cooled cylinder heads. The result? A healthy 235 hp at 5,600 rpm and 350 Nm of torque from 1,650 to 4,000 rpm.

Putting all that power to all four wheels via an on-demand Dynamic Torque Control AWD system is a six-speed automatic gearbox. On all four variants of the NX sporting the same engine, the 0-100 km/h sprint gets dispatched in 7.1 seconds as it romps on to a 200 km/h top speed.

Impressive numbers, no doubt, but the NX, as I so pleasantly discovered, turned out to be more than the sum of its parts (and numbers). With that said, however, I can only report my findings based on a short drive conducted in a controlled, closed environment.

First up on the itinerary was a spin in the Lexus NX 300h around a course littered with plastic cones – to demonstrate the Panoramic View Monitor System. Right car for the right job, as the maximum speed achieved throughout this exercise exceeded no more than 10 km/h.

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Not much explanation needed for this one, really. The system works just as it was meant to be, providing a clear, concise 360-degree of the vehicle’s surroundings. Yours truly was able to navigate the entire course easily, emerging with only one confirmed cone casualty.

By the way, the entire test was conducted with the windshield of the NX completely covered. Absolutely zero visibility whatsoever. Nada. Zilch.

Within the aforementioned exercise, participants were also required to back the car into a makeshift parking lot while another NX approaching from a perpendicular angle attempted to (slowly) T-bone ours.

Naturally, instincts would dictate that one should jump on the brakes but I was instructed to just allow the car to creep backwards as the oncoming NX loomed closer and closer into view. Just as I was steeling myself for the inevitable sound of something expensive, an audible and visual warning went off, signalling the activation of the Rear Cross Traffic Alert system, which works to prevent drivers from backing out into oncoming traffic.

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Following on from the (blind) drive in the NX 300h, I found myself strapped into the 200t F Sport variant which rested just before the start line to a slalom course. Awesomesauce. For this particular segment, we were advised to try out the F Sport in all of its four available drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+, the final one being offered exclusive only on the F Sport.

Another special feature on this variant is the inclusion of an Adaptive Variable Suspension setup with Performance Rods – which, in one way or another, is aimed at making the car handle that bit crisper than the non-F Sport models.

Beginning in Eco mode, the NX 200t F Sport felt like it was riddled with tranquiliser darts as throttle response and steering feedback felt lethargic at best. Stepping up a notch to Normal gave the impression that just one dart had made it through the NX’s skin.

Throttle response was just as lazy, while steering feedback improved by a degree or two. The drivetrain was slowly but surely digesting its morning caffeine in this mode. Selecting Sport mode finally gave it that much-needed shot of adrenaline.

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In this mode, the steering felt responsive, although a fraction too light for my personal taste. No complaints in terms of throttle response, though. Stomping on the go pedal caused the F Sport to almost break traction as it catapulted towards the other end of the car park.

Finally, engaging Sport+ mode and bringing up the LFA-inspired instrument layout (again, exclusive only to the F Sport) meant that the NX was now ready to portray the additional character in Trainspotting – in other words, a complete hooligan.

Throughout the drive in this mode, the NX was squealing as the all-wheel drive system worked triple shifts to shuffle the power around. Throttle response was no different when compared to Sport mode, but the steering was almost too responsive for its own good. Honestly, I’d stick with Sport mode.

The final event aimed to further demonstrate the two standout qualities of the SUV – its refinement and the effectiveness of its Blind Spot Monitor system. To test the first criteria, all one had to do was drive over a set of wooden planks nailed to the tarmac, which simulated the NX hitting a row of speed-breaking strips.

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And so I did, first at 20 km/h, then at 30 km/h and finally at close to 50 km/h. Though the thump-thump-thump of the tyres hitting the planks were audible, what really surprised me was that none of the unwanted feedback made its way to my fingertips. The entire cabin registered not even an ounce of the sensory shock.

Making a U-turn, drivers were told to line the NX next to an accompanying Lexus GS that would drive just slightly aft of the NX, mimicking a stray car in the driver’s blind spot. As soon as I rolled the car off to a start, the GS was hovering by my side in no time.

Attempting to swerve out in a typical no-indicators-on Malaysian-style manner will light up a visual warning (at the edge of the side mirror), informing the driver of the other vehicle’s presence. Should one activate the indicators, the static warning will blink, further informing the driver that it’s probably best to just stay put.

So, there you have it – a quick rundown on what sets the NX apart from its peers. With its unique looks, competitive pricing and impressive range of standard equipment (bar the base 200t), the Lexus NX should be high up on the list of options for those looking into owning a compact, yet premium urban runabout crossover. For a more comprehensive look at the SUV, check out our on-road review of the Lexus NX in British Columbia, Canada.