Lexus NX

Imagine you were given the option of having two faces. One of them is fairly ordinary, slightly gap-toothed, but attached to an attractive enough body that you could probably make it work and not end up living alone with a bunch of cats just waiting to chew your face off when you finally go down.

The other is handsome, with a good, strong chin, character lines, the whole nine yards, and will make far better use of that body.

This, clearly, is why cars are better than human beings, because you can actually choose the face you want, particularly in the case of the new Lexus NX, which comes with two distinctly different visages.

I’d be willing to bet that the F Sport version of this new, volume-gorging mid-size SUV - which gets the cool-looking spindle grille that now adorns all properly attractive Lexuses - was the one the designers originally drew. Its cool corporate face completes what is an edgy, risky but ultimately successful design.

Sadly, the more basic models that will make up the lion’s share of sales are stuck with a horizontal bar grille that looks like a face that’s been forced to wear braces.

We’re yet to know what the price difference between F Sport variants and the basic NX 250h hybrid or all-new engined 200t will be, because the numbers aren’t set yet, but Lexus has strongly hinted the range will start in the $55,000-$60,000 range. And that the hybrid, which is more exciting than a mobility scooter to drive, but not by much, thanks to its whiney CVT gearbox and less than exhilarating acceleration (0 to 100km/h in 9.1 seconds, although you do get a claimed economy figure of 5.6 litres per 100km to compensate for your boredom), will be the entry-level model.

This is an inexplicable move in itself, given we are always told that hybrid tech is more expensive than old-school petrol engines, and the fact that Lexus knows damn well it will sell more of the 200t model, powered by a new and fiendishly clever 2.0-litre turbo engine, with 175kW and 350Nm and a 0 to 100km/h time of a respectable 7.2 seconds.

What will set this Lexus apart, int the world’s fastest growing segment - SUVs, including part-time all-wheel drive like this - is its design, which is truly eye-catching and impressively forward looking compared to its natural competitors from Germany.

The NX also falls in what Lexus likes to call the “sweet spot” between Q3 and Q5, X3 and X5, and won’t soon be joined by an X1 competitor, apparently. Its unique size and brought to you by Gillette style may well allow it to stand apart from the herd.

Lexus Australia is certainly hoping it will be a big volume seller, and they’re probably right, and the good news is that the NX will hold its own on the road.

There’s some tyre roar, but otherwise this is an extremely solid, beautifully built premium SUV, packed with technology and blessed with a nice ride/handling balance and hefty, direct steering.

It’s somewhat hamstrung by an old-tech six-speed auto, but otherwise it’s a mighty fine drive that shows few signs of its Toyota RAV4 origins - Lexus insists 90 per cent of parts are newly engineered, and the whole thing is 20 per cent stiffer than the donor Toyota.

That solidity gives the NX the bank-vault feel, and sporty handling, that premium buyers are looking for.

Throw in a high spec level and loads of trick gadgets and you’ve got a very attractive new player in the mums’ SUV market. If they can get the pricing right, it could change the face of Lexus in Australia entirely.