2022 Lexus NX First Drive Review: One Rock Solid Little SUV
The new NX brings with it Lexus’ first plug-in hybrid powertrain and an all-new infotainment system.
In case you need any more proof of exactly which side the car industry's bread is buttered these days, compare and contrast Lexus' work on the recently redesigned IS sport sedan with the resources it's pumped into the all-new 2022 Lexus NX crossover. While the sedan got an admittedly cool-looking new skin, it still uses the same chassis as its predecessor, maintains mostly the same interior, and—awesome new V8 version aside—its powertrains have been pretty much been all carried over. Don't get me wrong, the 2021 IS is an alright car but the "new" one isn't actually as new as Lexus might want you to believe. This is not, however, a criticism that can be leveled at the truly all-new 2022 NX.
Not only has it been thoroughly redesigned inside and out, but its bones are also updated to now ride on parent company Toyota's modular Global Architecture; specifically, the K version that underpins the ES sedan and Toyota's RAV4, Camry, and Highlander. Right out of the gate, the 2022 NX will be available with four different engine choices, all of which are either new or have been significantly improved over last year's, including the brand's first plug-in hybrid powertrain in the 450h+ model. The new NX also debuts the brand's massively overhauled, North America-designed infotainment system that finally aims to right Lexus' questionable infotainment choices of the past.
The gulf of effort here over the IS sedan shouldn't come as a surprise when you realize that, in the first half of 2021, Lexus sold 4.4 NXes for every one IS. Was all of that money and effort spent creating the new NX worth it? After a brief first stint behind the wheel, the answer is yes. Tentatively yes.
2022 Lexus NX: By the Numbers
- Base 250 price (350 and 450h+ as tested): $39,025 ($51,615 and $59,615)
- 250: 2.5-liter inline-four | 8-speed automatic | front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
- 350: 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- 350h: 2.5-liter inline-four hybrid | eCVT | all-wheel drive
- 450h+: 2.5-liter inline-four plug-in hybrid | eCVT | all-wheel drive
- 250: 203 hp @ 6,600 rpm | 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
- 350: 275 hp @ 6,000 rpm | 317 lb-ft @ 1,700 to 3,600 rpm
- 350h: 239 hp combined @ 6,000 rpm | torque not specified
- 450h+: 302 hp combined @ 6,000 rpm | torque not specified
EPA fuel economy
- 250 (AWD): 25 mpg city | 32 highway | 28 combined
- 350: 22 mpg city | 29 highway | 25 combined
- 350h: 41 mpg city | 37 highway | 39 combined
- 450h+: 84 mpge | 36 miles electric only range
- Curb weight: 3,660 to 4,475 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 22.7 cubic feet
- Quick take: A new chassis, new screens, and new engines make the NX a better, more modern machine than before.
What Is It?
The NX is Lexus' compact, two-row crossover that slots underneath the RX and above the UX in both size and price. It competes against stuff like the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX50, and, as of this year, the impressively comfy Genesis GV70.
As mentioned above, four engines are available and here they are, in ascending power and price:
The base, $39,025 NX 250 that uses a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 203 horsepower. This is the only NX to come standard with front-wheel drive and locks all-wheel drive away as an option. All of the NXes that follow get AWD as standard. For $42,125, the hybrid NX 350h pairs three electric motors with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder to make 239 total hp. Running on gas only, the $42,625 NX 350 uses a new, turbocharged 2.4-liter, making a healthy 275 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque.
And finally, the plug-in hybrid NX 450h+ boasts 302 total hp, thanks in part to a 2.5-liter gas engine. It can produce an estimated 37 miles of electric-only range and a claimed zero to 60 mph time of just six seconds. This flagship NX starts at $56,635.
Dimensionally, the NX has grown about an inch longer, half an inch taller, and features front and rear tracks that are one and 1.8 inches wider, respectively, over the outgoing model.
Even though it competes directly against the Genesis and Mercedes, to my eye, the previous-gen Lexus NX was a taller, more upright, and less squat-looking vehicle somehow and those proportions have mostly carried over to this new version. Key exterior updates include a full-length taillight bar as well as Range Rover-style "LEXUS" badges on the rear hatch in an all-new font. A company spokesperson confirmed to The Drive that this motif will indeed come to other, future Lexus products.
Because of time and logistical constraints at the initial drive event, I was only able to drive the turbo 350 and plug-in 450h+ for about an hour each. But that was enough for me to be able to tell you that, just like every other Toyota product it's been applied to thus far, the new NX's lower and more rigid Global Architecture platform has made it a better handler than the old NX.
It's not hardcore enough to illicit comparisons to a lower-riding sedan behind the wheel like perhaps a competing Alfa or Porsche would, but for a high-riding and reasonably priced crossover like this, the 2022 NX feels decently responsive and light-footed. Its brakes are solid but appropriately soft-feeling and the car steers with an eagerness that is very modern-Toyota. In hand, the steering wheel is fairly light and insulated while being reasonably quick-ratioed and direct.
The NX 350 I got to pilot happened to have the optional F Sport package, which includes adaptive suspension, additional front and rear performance dampers, and a Sport+ driving mode. Scoff all you want, but compared to the non-F Sport 450h+ I subsequently sampled, the F-branded add-ons really do seem to make a noticeable, albeit mild, difference when it comes to handling. The 350 F Sport just felt a half-degree more buttoned-down, whereas the F Sport-less 450h+ steered more vaguely, rode more floatily, and braked with a more apparent forward pitch. The Sport+ driving mode digitally swaps out the traditional-look tach with a no-nonsense linear one, just like any high-brow modern performance car would.
As for the 450h+'s claimed six-second zero-to-60 time, it's definitely believable as the numbers displayed on the digital speedo did build quite briskly but, because it's a Lexus, the nature of that acceleration appears to have been tuned for smoothness rather than aggression. Of course, the plug-in NX's ability to do low-speed driving on just volts makes it smoother and quieter than the gas version. In terms of how elegantly the electric motors did their thing and eventually incorporated combustion, I did find Lexus' PHEV powertrain here to be less clunky and just overall better conceived than BMW's plug-in setup but not as pleasantly wafty as, say, Volvo's.
The gas-only NX 250 and 350 use traditional eight-speed automatic gearboxes, while the 350h and 450h+ hybrids use CVTs. My memory of the two transmissions is that they were unremarkable; like good stagehands, they stayed out of the way and never did anything to draw attention to themselves, quietly shuffling power from the engine to the wheels reliably and discreetly. Frankly, it's what you want in these applications.
Both NXes sampled also rode comfortably in both seat and suspension and moved down the road with a decent smoothness expected of a Lexus crossover. This being a modern crossover with a high waistline and a chunky C-pillar, visibility is never going to be stellar, although it isn't terrible either. Thankfully, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard.
Rear seat space felt about the same as the last NX (and, not to mention, just about every other compact crossover I've been in) but, if you'd like to get mathematical about it, rear passenger headroom is up by 0.4 inches over the last year while legroom remains identical. Seats-up cargo capacity has grown by 14 percent over the last NX.
Doors and Screens
The doors, by the way, are open-by-wire now, with big buttons behind the exterior door handles and a silver, pressable switch on the side of the armrest where your thumb would naturally go replacing traditional pull-able door handles. It's a bit of a lateral usability move if you ask me, but does slightly reduce the physical effort it takes to get in and out of the NX. Lexus was quick to point out the existence of mechanical releases that open the doors in the event of a dead battery or power failure.
One suspected byproduct of digitizing the door latches is that the doors now lock and unlock completely silently, at least from the inside. There's no longer a satisfying clunk to indicate you are safe from the outside world. In theory, this could be seen (and was probably internally sold upstairs) as an NVH win but, in practice, it's a little disconcerting.
Speaking of inside, the NX's interior is much more upscale and simple-looking than its predecessor and debuts a bunch of new parts such as the new steering wheel, new shifter, a new, seven-inch digital gauge cluster, the NX's first head-up display, and, most notably and noticeably, that overhauled, 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system featuring "Hey Lexus" voice controls.
I'm actually going to go more in-depth about this system in a separate, infotainment-focused writeup coming soon, but the Coles Notes version [Ed. note: That's SparkNotes for us south of the Canadian border. -- KL] is that it's a huge leap forward compared to the old Lexus system, but still leaves a decent amount of room for improvement.
All in all, the 2022 Lexus NX is just about what you'd expect out of Lexus Compact Crossover 2.0: an easy-to-drive, pleasant-to-live-in luxury runabout that's been improved over LCC 1.0 in pretty much every way. Four distinct powertrain choices make it adaptable to a wide range of budgets, priorities, and tastes, while the F Sport package on the NX 350 does just enough to even make it kinda fun to toss around on a windy road.
Is it better looking or more interesting than the GV70? I don't think so and, having sampled what Genesis is capable of with the GV80, I'm skeptical that the NX is a better driver than what the Hyundai-backed competitor is offering. Drivability aside, this new NX also doesn't do anything to move the genre forward or provide something meaningfully better than the competition.
Sure, the new infotainment system is a huge improvement over what it replaced but, then again, so would strapping an iPhone 6 to the dash with duct tape. And I still don't think this new screen is better than BMW's iDrive or the current Genesis system. But all of that may not matter, especially when you realize that the NX does a bit of a rare thing in this industry: undercut the Koreans. While the NX starts at around $39,025 and tops out at $57,975 for the full 450h+ F Sport, the least expensive GV70 begins at $42,045 and commands $63,545 for a 3.5T Sport Prestige. For the thrifty luxury buyer that only sees price tags, this could be a pretty big draw.
Going over everything that was done to create it, you can tell Lexus really tried with this one. Building a new infotainment system from the ground up isn't a small feat. Neither is implementing four different powertrains, one of which is a brand-first plug-in. And given the magnitude and quantity of improvements Lexus set out to give the NX, it was probably unreasonable to expect the end result to leapfrog over its (mostly more expensive) competitors in terms of sheer quality within the first model year anyway.
There's good reason for Lexus to keep the NX's broad appeal. In 2019 (the last year when car sales were normal and not impacted by the pandemic), the NX was the brand's second-best seller behind the RX SUV. That's not insignificant. A new NX that deviates from the formula risks alienating buyers.
So while the NX—despite its inherent newness—still may not be the absolute best, top-dog, Numba 1 crossover in its class, it's an extremely solid value choice. Now, if only we can get Lexus to try this hard with the next IS...
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