Lexus is looking to the future of the compact luxury crossover segment with the second generation of its NX. It’s all-new for 2022 with the model’s first-ever available plug-in hybrid powertrain, which powers the NX 450h+, and a revised conventional hybrid setup for the NX 350h I tested that is both more powerful and efficient than its predecessor.
Those two electrified options are part of a four-model lineup that includes two gas-powered variants (NX 250 and NX 350). This NX is also the first to be built in Ontario at parent company Toyota’s Cambridge North factory (although my tester was built in Japan).
The new 240-hp NX 350h performs perfectly well, with the electric motor’s torque making it feel quicker from a start than the powertrain’s total output suggests.
As in most Toyota and Lexus hybrids, the engine’s drone in hard acceleration gets old. I can deal with it in a relatively low-buck vehicle like a Prius or Corolla Hybrid, but from inside this $65,700 (as tested) Lexus I wished for better isolation from the four-cylinder’s soundtrack. (I’ve got more to say about engine noise later in this review.)
I also expected to hear less wind and road noise in the NX. I’ll call it acceptable for the 350h’s sub-$50,000 base price but, again, for a vehicle going out the door in the mid-$60,000 range, I’d have liked a quieter highway driving experience.
The new NX’s dash is a major improvement over the outgoing design, which had buttons on too many different surfaces, and a frustrating touchpad-based infotainment system.
The NX 350h starts out with a 9.8-inch touchscreen that options to a 14-inch display starting with the $55,850 Ultra Premium version. When taken with the standard digital gauge cluster, along with the head-up driver display and touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons in my tester’s Executive package, the NX feels thoroughly modern from the driver’s seat. Touch any of the steering wheel controls and its function is highlighted in the head-up display.
The NX feature that took me the longest to get used to was the electronic interior door release handles. Push in the leading edge of the lever in the armrest and the door unlatches electrically; I had to look up how to use them in the owner’s manual after I defaulted to pulling on the handle, which opens the door mechanically, but only after two pulls.
But if you have to tackle the learning curve of the NX’s high-tech features, at least you get to do so while ensconced in this crossover’s lovely front seats, which were supportive and comfortable for our two-and-a-half-hour drive to a winter weekend getaway in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains.
The NX offers useful cargo space and rear seats whose accommodations fall somewhere between those of a roomy compact car and a mid-size sedan. Option an NX right and you get electric controls in the cargo area for stowing the rear seats. One thing I missed was a central ski pass-through in the middle of the rear bench, a feature many of the NX’s European competitors include.
As a compact upscale crossover, the NX competes with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Acura RDX, all of which are among the category’s sportier offerings. As much as Toyota talks about how its latest vehicle platforms were designed to provide a more engaging drive, the NX still ends up at the more relaxed end of the handling spectrum along with the Buick Envision, Volvo XC60, and Lincoln Corsair.
Toggle the NX 350h’s drive mode selector to the sport setting for more immediate throttle response. You can also manually shift the CVT through pre-set ratios to mimic the feel of the eight-speed automatic used in gas versions of the NX.
Lexus estimates the NX 350h’s fuel consumption at 5.7 L/100 km in city driving, and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway. I spent almost all of my time behind the wheel in highway driving and saw average fuel consumption of 6.7 L/100 km.
Standard safety features in the NX 350h include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision mitigation, road sign recognition, radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams. My tester’s executive package added lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, reverse collision avoidance braking, 360-degree cameras, and advanced parking assist.
The collision avoidance system proved overly enthusiastic in parking situations, at one point bringing the car to an abrupt halt for nothing at all, thankfully — or annoyingly — when there were no other vehicles around. My tester also had parking sensors at all corners of the car that were very keen to alert me to all the obstacles presented by the narrow driveway at the cabin we were staying at.
Lexus prices the NX 350h to start at $49,900. My test car came equipped with the top option group – the $15,800 Executive Package – which adds items like a 17-speaker stereo, a head-up display, real leather upholstery (replacing the standard NuLuxe seat covering), heated/power-reclining/power-folding rear seats, park assist, and touch-sensitive steering wheel controls. And those are just the features exclusive to this package; it also includes the ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, power tailgate, and panoramic sunroof (among all kinds of other features) that come as part of four lesser packages.
At its base price, the NX 350h nails the luxury crossover brief. It’s comfortable, its performance is strong and smooth, and its styling – especially inside – is a much better fit in the class than that of the old NX 300h.
But despite how strong a value it is even at an as-tested price of $65,700 – before taxes and a $2,145 destination fee – all I could think of was how much nicer the car would be without the gas engine grumbling away under the hood. Were I taking home a new NX, I would give up a few of the goodies in my tester’s executive package for the plug-in hybrid NX 450h+, which starts at $59,950 and promises 61 km of near-silent electric driving on a full charge of its battery. Not for nothing, the NX 450h+ is also the most powerful version of the new NX, with 304 hp.
Which of Lexus’s NX hybrid variants you gravitate towards will depend on your definition of a luxury vehicle. If a long list of high-tech features is what does it for you, then the NX 350h and its optional executive package is a terrific combination of luxury, refinement, and fuel economy.