2023 Lexus NX 350 F Sport Review: A Stylish and Comfy Crossover That’s a Bit Too Small
The NX’s lack of a sporty drive belies its F Sport name and stylish looks.
Compact premium crossovers are among the most popular vehicle types in the United States, which makes the segment one of the most hotly contested in the industry. Pretty much every luxury brand has a dog in this race and they all start off with relatively similar bases: a compact-but-not-too-compact chassis, transverse turbocharged four-cylinder engines, and Haldex-based all-wheel-drive systems. So how can the new 2023 Lexus NX 350 F Sport stand out from the crowd? And who is it for?
The Lexus NX is based on the same chassis as the Toyota RAV4 and Venza, so it has decent bones. Lexus then takes that base, gives it sharp, eye-catching styling, a slick-looking interior, all-new technology, and a much more comfortable ride.
During my week with the NX 350 F Sport, I took my family on a couple of long hauls and used it as a daily runabout to see if its style, tech, and comfort could overcome its lack of space and relatively demure driving demeanor.
|2023 Lexus NX 350 F Sport Specs|
|Base price (F Sport Handling as tested)||$40,705 ($56,225)|
|Powertrain||2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel-drive|
|Horsepower||275 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||317 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm|
|Curb Weight||4,035 pounds|
|Towing Capacity||2,000 pounds|
|Cargo Volume||22.7 cubic feet behind second row | 46.9 cubic feet behind first row|
|Ground Clearance||7.7 inches|
|0-60 mph||6.6 seconds|
|EPA Fuel Economy||22 mpg city | 28 highway | 25 combined|
|Quick Take||A stylish and comfortable, albeit boring, daily driver that lacks practicality.|
The NX is the Lexus’ second smallest crossover, larger only than the UX Hybrid. It’s also currently one of Lexus’ newest crossovers and packs the brand’s latest technology and interior design. Lexus is beginning a new interior design language and the NX is the first car to bring it to the forefront.
There's a new touchscreen infotainment system that replaces the old trackpad setup, and it’s a massive leap forward. The old trackpad system was almost painful to use, but this new system is one of the better touchscreens I’ve used. Everything is laid out well, you don’t have to dig through several submenus to find most functions, and the climate bar at the bottom is fixed. Crucially, all of the climate buttons remain easy to use while driving.
As for the rest of its Circuit Red interior, the NX 350 is typical Lexus, which is a good thing. The design is sporty and interesting, every material is top-notch, and the build quality feels sturdy enough to withstand a drone strike. For years, Lexus’ pretty, comfortable interiors were pockmarked by a horrendous infotainment system but, since Lexus fixed that in the NX, the rest of its interior can be better appreciated.
Rolling around the neighborhood in the NX 350 F Sport is bound to turn heads. The NX keeps Lexus’ signature Spindle Grille, but it’s one of the cleaner uses of it yet. Its headlights are simple, with jewel-like LEDs, and its taillights are connected with a lightbar that spans the width of the tailgate. For a car based on the RAV4, the Lexus NX is sharp and expensive looking, especially in my test car’s Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint.
The NX is available with a handful of powertrains: an unassisted 2.5-liter in the base 250, a hybrid version of that in the 350h, or a plug-in hybrid system with the 450h+. For this non-hybrid 350 model, however, Lexus borrowed Toyota’s new 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the refreshed Highlander making 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. The punchy four-pot pairs with an eight-speed automatic and drives all four wheels.
Driving the Lexus NX 350 F Sport
Lexus claims zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is quick enough, but the engine never felt particularly interested in achieving that. It’s coarse and grumbly, as it is in the Highlander, and never wants to work hard. There are no complaints with the eight-speed auto, though, which seamlessly swaps cogs.
My test car also had the Handling Package, which means it rode on adaptive dampers, sat our butts in sport seats, and wore 20-inch gloss black wheels. As far as I can tell though, the “Handling Package” is a bit of a misnomer. The NX 350 F Sport Handling is neither sporty feeling, nor does it handle especially well. Its steering is actually nicely weighted, but that unfortunately doesn’t translate to sharp front-end response, and its suspension is too soft and allows too much roll. I wasn’t able to find the limits of grip because nausea would set in from all the body roll well before the NX got to that point.
The flip side of this lack of sportiness is superior ride comfort. The NX 350 F Sport Handling is more of a comfy daily driver than a sports crossover despite its big wheels, short wheelbase, sporty looks, sporty name, and supposedly sporty suspension. It’s soft enough to handle big bumps with ease but still composed enough to eliminate any secondary vertical motion or nervousness. It’s quiet inside, too, so highway cruising is a breeze.
During my week with it, I drove from my house in South New Jersey up to Manhattan. The long haul to NYC was comfortable and the NX’s compact size and tall-ish ride height made navigating painful Manhattan traffic easy.
Since I had the NX 350 F Sport during Easter, I also had to make the family rounds in it, which meant packing my family of four, our dog, and all of the Easter baskets we had to deliver to nieces and nephews. This is the part where I’d like to say the Lexus performed well, but it didn’t. My dog was essentially pinned to one side of the cargo area from only a few bags taking up most of its space. [Ed. note: 2023 Lexus NX: No, It Won’t Dog. -CT] My son also had to have bags between his legs in the second row because they wouldn’t fit in the trunk with the dog. And none of us were comfortable. The Lexus NX 350 F Sport is simply too small to be a proper family vehicle.
The Highs and Lows
The Lexus NX 350 is one of the bigger mixed bags I’ve driven in a long time. There’s certainly a lot to like about it. It’s a good-looking little car that stands out from the sea of boringly designed crossovers, its interior is sharp and interesting looking, its new infotainment tech is nice to use, and it’s probably the most comfortable crossover in its class.
However, there are a few dislikes as well. Its size compromises its usefulness as a crossover, its engine isn’t very enjoyable to use, nor is it very efficient, and it lacks the sporty drive that both its looks and F Sport name suggest. As equipped, the NX 350 F Sport Handling is also expensive, nearing $60,000 and it’s not even the most expensive NX you can get.
Lexus NX 350 F Sport Features, Options, and Competition
Per usual with Lexus, the NX comes pretty well equipped as standard. The entry-level NX 250 starts at $40,705 and comes with NuLuxe synthetic leather, a leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, eight-way power front seats, heated seats, 18-inch wheels, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
My Lexus NX 350 F Sport Handling tester had the upgraded 14-inch infotainment screen ($1,105), a killer Mark Levinson 17-speaker surround sound system ($1,020), pano roof ($1,600), and a surround-view camera system ($1,070). A few extra goodies, like the cold weather package, digital rearview camera, and triple-beam headlights with cornering lights—all of which were under $1,000 each—bumped my car’s as-tested price to $56,225.
Competing in the premium compact crossover segment means competing with cars like the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Audi Q3, and Cadillac XT4. Even though the NX is the second-smallest Lexus SUV, its compact footprint and limited cargo space put it more in line with the aforementioned cars, rather than cars like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The NX has 22.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which makes it smaller than the BMW X1 (27.1 cu-ft), Acura RDX (31.1 cu-ft), and Audi Q3 (23.7 cu-ft).
The Lexus is more comfortable than the Germans but, the BMW X1 drives and handles significantly better. All of its competitors are similarly priced but they all come with more potent engines to start, whereas the Lexus NX needs to jump up to the 350 to get its punchier engine.
If I were to spec a Lexus NX, I’d go with the 350 F Sport but skip the Handling package. I like the way this car looks, inside and out, even if its name belies its handling. However, it isn’t sharp enough to drive to justify the Handling package, so I’d just lean into its strength: comfort. The Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint also looks great so I’d keep that, but I’d go with the standard black interior rather than my test car’s Circuit Red. I felt like I was sitting in Eddie Murphy’s Delirious jacket.
According to the EPA, the Lexus NX 350 gets 25 mpg combined, with 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged just over 23 mpg during my week driving the NX 350 in a mix of suburban roads, cramped city streets, and highways. Compared to its rivals, it’s about mid-pack, besting cars like the Acura RDX (23 mpg combined) but fairing worse against the BMW X1 (28 mpg combined).
Value and Verdict
It’s hard to call the Lexus NX 350 F Sport a good value. At its price point, all of its rivals are just as well-equipped, but most of them are more powerful, quicker, and feature more cargo space. Instead, what you’re paying for is Lexus’ style, bank vault build quality, and comfy ride. If you value those above all else, then it’s worth the price.
When I first drove this car, I couldn’t really see who it was for. It’s too small to be a family crossover, it’s too expensive to be an economical one, but not sporty enough to match its style. However, after a week with it, I feel like the NX 350 (F Sport or otherwise) is for someone very specific. Its target customer is someone who can afford to have a stylish but comfortable crossover that gives them a slightly taller ride height than a sedan and a bit more trunk space but either doesn’t have kids or are empty nesters. If that sounds like you, then the NX 350 could be a great daily driver.
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