First drive: 2022 Lexus NX goes greener, techier

Driving the redesigned 2022 Lexus NX 450h+ F Sport on a 40-mile loop into the Arizona desert quickly reveals what’s new about the brand’s compact crossover. For starters, I’m in the new NX 450h+ plug-in hybrid model—the brand’s first—that shares its powertrain with the Toyota RAV4 Prime. The other major difference sits right in front of me: the new 14.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that finally replaces Lexus’ unloved console-mounted touchpad.

These features bring the 2022 Lexus NX up to date in today’s greener, techier world. The compact crossover also gets sexier styling, additional driver-assist features, and new suspension technology. For the most part, though, it sticks with the comfort, space, and styling that made it the brand’s second-best selling vehicle behind the larger RX crossover, since 2013.

2022 Lexus NX 450h

2022 Lexus NX 450h

2022 Lexus NX 450h

2022 Lexus NX 450h

2022 Lexus NX 450h

2022 Lexus NX 450h

Plug-in power

Toyota has had a hard time keeping RAV4 Primes on the shelf, and the NX 450h+ will give buyers a second way to access its plug-in powertrain, though at quite a markup. The NX 450h+ starts at $56,635 compared to $39,470 for the RAV4 Prime. For that money, buyers get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder aided by two electric motors—one on the rear axle to enable all-wheel drive—to produce 302 hp in total and unlock a 0-60 mph time of 6.0 seconds, according to Lexus. Buyers also get an 18.1-kwh lithium-ion battery that gives the vehicle 37 miles of pure electric driving range (five miles fewer than the RAV4 Prime), according to Lexus. A standard 3.3-kw on-board charger tops up the battery in about 4.5 hours on a 240-volt outlet, and the available 6.6-kw charger cuts that time to 2.5 hours.

The NX 450h+ delivers its best power immediately, even here in the desert heat with temperatures pushing triple digits. The electric motors kick in early to help the NX rush to highway speeds, but the motors do little from then on, which makes highway passing a chore. It all feels far more digital than analog, but the power comes on smoothly and the powertrain fulfills its efficiency mission. EPA ratings aren’t available yet, but they should be slightly lower than the RAV4 Prime’s 94 MPGe and 38 mpg combined EPA ratings.

The NX 450h+ starts in EV mode and I have to hit a button on the center console to choose the hybrid mode. Getting deep into the throttle or driving at highway speeds also starts the engine to aid the motors. Another button activates EV Hold mode that uses the engine to charge the battery for times when electric-only power might be needed, like in emissions-free zones.

A dial on the dash of this F Sport variant triggers Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ settings. Eco makes this hybrid even more efficient by dulling the throttle response and using less power to run the climate control. The Sport modes sharpen the throttle response, add more weight to the steering, and firm up the adaptive dampers that come with the F Sport package.

Even in those Sport settings, however, there’s no sport to this F Sport despite standard front and rear performance dampers, which are effectively a combination of anti-roll bars and cross braces that are damped on one end to reduce noise and harshness. Heavy for a compact SUV at 4,457 lb due to the motors and batteries, the NX 450h+ leans over in corners, and the nose dives during stops. I can even feel the weight shift forward when I simply let off the throttle. The adaptive dampers’ Sport settings control some of these motions better and they don’t ruin a smooth ride, but F Sport feigns sportiness instead of providing it.

Lexus offers three other powertrains for those who want something more affordable or more conventional. The base engine in the NX 250 is a 203-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that’s appropriate for a mainstream crossover and underpowered for a luxury model like the NX. It comes standard with front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive is optional for an additional $1,600. 

From there, buyers can move up to the two models I’d recommend. The 350h hybrid uses the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with an electric motor to make 239 hp. It’s a proven powertrain that we like in the Toyota Venza, Camry, and RAV4 Hybrids for its decent power (0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds with standard all-wheel drive) and excellent fuel economy (39 mpg combined).

I prefer the NX 350, with its 275-hp 2.4-liter turbo-4 and 8-speed automatic transmission. A drive on the same route later in the day shows that it offers more conventional power delivery. The turbo spools up quickly to provide fairly strong power down low that launches this all-wheel-drive crossover from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, according to Lexus. With 400 fewer pounds to carry around, the body lean isn’t as pronounced, creating a feeling of greater control. The powertrain and suspension seem better integrated to me than models with either hybrid powertrain.

2022 Lexus NX

2022 Lexus NX

2022 Lexus NX

2022 Lexus NX

2022 Lexus NX

2022 Lexus NX

Infotainment improvement

Every NX sports the brand’s new infotainment touchscreen designed in-house in the U.S. A welcome change from the hard-to-control touchpad that Lexus has used for the past decade, this system combines elements of today’s best systems. The base screen measures 9.8 inches on the diagonal, which is larger than most premium systems from other automakers, and the upgraded screen increases that to an impressive 14.0 inches. The climate and seat heating/cooling controls take up the lower portion of the screen, effectively making the usable area 12.4 inches for all functions but navigation, which allows drivers to access the full viewing area by hiding the climate controls.

Like most modern systems, a line of icons sits along the left side of the screen to dig deeper into navigation, phone, music, vehicle, and settings functions. Connecting to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both available wirelessly, adds another icon to this column. Voice controls can be initiated by saying “Hey Lexus” or by tapping an icon that sits on the top layer of the touchscreen. They enable a cloud-based virtual assistant, and the system also uses cloud-based support for navigation. Owners can also create user profiles that they can move from one Lexus vehicle to another, access streaming music from Apple and Amazon, and update the system over the air. My only complaint is the design. While the screen sits within easy reach, its housing looks like a tacked on growth that sprouted from the instrument cluster.

On the inside, the dash places more focus on the driver, leaving a plain surface in front of the front passenger. The change removes the touchpad from the center console, which leaves more room for the shifter and cupholders. A variety of upholstery colors—including red, maroon, cream, and tan—combine with 64-color ambient lighting to add visual interest. 

The rest of the changes for the 2022 Lexus NX are incremental. The signature Lexus spindle grille still stretches too high, but its new shape looks better integrated into the front end. Origami-like cutlines along the sides remain, but the wheel flares have more interesting shapes.  

To better accommodate passengers and their stuff, the NX grows in most dimensions. It’s a half-inch taller and 0.8 inch longer on a wheelbase that grows 1.2 inches. The front track increases by an inch and the rear track is up 1.8 inches, mostly for better handling. The changes give front seat occupants an extra 1.8 inches of leg room and an additional 0.9 inch of headroom (with the sunroof) to make it more comfortable for taller folks. Rear leg room is unchanged at 36.1 inches, which provides good space for 6-footers on seats that offer good thigh support.

Practically, the NX’s interior space makes it great at carrying four occupants or five for short distances due to a slim rear middle seat. Cargo room behind the rear seats increases 14% from the outgoing model to 22.6 cubic feet. Fold the rear seats down, though, and cargo room falls from 54.6 cubic feet in the last model to 46.9 cubes this time around, and that’s fairly small for the class. The cargo space isn’t affected by the batteries for the hybrid models.

The NX 250 starts at $39,025 with front-wheel drive and $40,625 with all-wheel drive and tops out at $56,635 for the NX 450h+. Every NX comes with interior and exterior door latches controlled by buttons instead of handles. They work quite well. From the outside, you simply grab the door handle and activate the button on the inside of the handle. It works like any other door handle, but without the pull. Inside, press the button with your thumb and climb out.

Other standard features include synthetic leather upholstery, the 9.8-inch touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-speaker audio system with 296 watts of power, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Buyers also get a good set of safety features that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and steering assist, intersection assist, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams.

Premium and Luxury trims add more luxury and tech features, and the F Sport trim gets the aforementioned performance equipment, plus sportier styling. Spend-up items include additional safety equipment (a safe exit warning system and a surround-view monitor among them), a 10.0-inch head-up display, a rear camera mirror, automatic parking, a panoramic sunroof, and a 17-speaker, 1,800-watt Mark Levinson sound system.

Despite the new plug-in hybrid model, the $41,625 NX 350 and $42,125 NX 350h make up the sweet spot of the 2022 Lexus NX lineup. Every NX benefits from a much better infotainment system, more appealing styling, and excellent sets of standard and optional safety features. F Sport models are no competition for sporty rivals like the BMW X3 or Jaguar F-Pace, but the NX remains the comfortable and spacious crossover that has appealed to buyers since 2013, but now with a plug-in hybrid option and more modern technology.

Lexus paid for airfare and hotel for The Car Connection to bring you this firsthand report.

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