Newly redesigned Lexus NX 350 a larger and nicer luxury SUV
By Jim Bray
I may have a new favourite Lexus and, risking being struck by lightning, it's an SUV!
Last year I was impressed mightily by the new IS 350, which is a really nice sports sedan as long as you don't drive it like a sports sedan. And, being a car guy and not particularly an SUV guy, I really wanted to love it. If Lexus updates it with the new stuff they've crammed into the NX, I might love it again.
But in the meantime, wow, this is one really nice SUV and, unlike some other Lexi I could mention, it's also a relative blast to drive, with an honest to goodness Sport (and, even better, Sport +) modes.
Click on the image to open a slideshow.
And even better: they've dumped that horrible trackpad on the centre console that I've complained about ever since they introduced it several years ago.
There was a lot to like about the first generation of NX, but this new one really ups the ante in a number of ways, most of which make it more interesting, more entertaining, and less frustrating. And how can one complain about that?
It's apparently part of "The Next Chapter for Lexus", which the company says is "centered around four pillars: Design, Lexus Driving Signature, Electrification and Advanced Technology. The all-new NX plays a key role in leading the brand forward on all of these dimensions."
I like the sound of that, mostly: Lexus has always been known for excellence; alas, even its sportiest models (except for the stupendous LF-A supercar) were long on luxury but short on passion – even with the so-called F Sport packages that reminded me somewhat of Toyota (Lexus' parent company) and its TRD trim levels that add a bit of performance enhancement but stops short of being much more than mere trim levels.
Anyway, for 2022, the NX has been redesigned, according to the manufacturer, from the inside out. "Every exterior surface has been reimagined. The signature spindle grille has been refined in the front. And, perhaps the most notable expression of future Lexus design is the elegant new block LEXUS rear badging and full-width tail lamp."
And as you'll see by continuing reading, there's a lot that's new inside as well.
They may have tweaked that spindle grille, but it still reminds me of a cowcatcher and isn't as attractive as the one they put on the current IS.
The new NX is larger in every dimension (except the fourth, I warrant), so it'll give you more hauling room and be just that much more comfortable if you're a larger person. I didn't find it felt particularly large, though it's been a while since I drove the first gen model. It feels right, though, to a guy whose idea of an SUV is a Mazda CX-5 or a Porsche Macan.
Oh, it doesn't approach the fun to drive of either of those competitors, but it's quite the breath of fresh air for Lexus and I had a blast driving it. Naturally, I kept it in "Sport+" nearly all the time – the Eco and standard settings aren't nearly as interesting – and drove it as if it were a CX-5 or Macan. It brought a smile to my face.
NX's are powered by four-cylinder engines, either naturally aspirated, turbocharged, or as part of a hybrid package. A new, eight-speed transmission helps the 275 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. of torque get to the road, and now that oomph gets there via all four wheels on all models.
Well, they don't all get that oomph. The "first-ever" NX 250's naturally aspirated, 2.5-litre four banger produces 203 horsepower and 184 lb. ft. of torque, which is undoubtedly adequate for many drivers.
Lexus' sample was the NX 350, with its 2.4 litre turbo four. There's also the all-new Lexus NX 350h hybrid and the NX 450h plug in hybrid.
The sample's turbo four was a tad buzzy and the turbo lag was noticeable, but overall, I liked it a lot. And I was impressed that the automatic's manual mode (there are paddles) works better than many and was quite acceptable.
And wait'll you get a load of all the new stuff Lexus has added, from new tech doorhandles to a Siri-like interface that lets you say "Hey Lexus" and the vehicle will supposedly leap to your attention. It works okay, and would probably work even better were I to spend more time with it and get used to it. You can say, for example, "hey, Lexus, I'm cold" and it responds by turning up the temperature of the HVAC. I tried a few other commands that often (not always, alas) work with voice recognition systems and it didn't work as well, but maybe that was as much my unfamiliarity with the new system as it was the new system itself. I guess time will tell.
Those door handles are pretty cool. The external ones don't move, and that feels weird at first, but it works well. You just grab it and pull and the door opens. Inside, instead of a handle there's just a button you push and then swing the door open with your elbow. I'm not sure Lexus wasn't fixing a problem that didn't exist here, since door handles really aren't a hill to die on, but it's cool and it works well.
The interior is comfortable, luxurious, and very nice. Efficient, too, especially with the elimination of the damn trackpad (are you listening, Acura?) The new infotainment system and interface is a huge leap forward, though I think it'll take me a couple of more Lexus samples before I get comfortable with it. But rather than demanding you move your eyes off the road to operate something via that trackpad, the touchscreen (though a tad far away for my short arms) is laid out well, easy to read, and works well. The voice recognition is kind of slow, but pretty good overall.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included and you can also stream from some music accounts. And instead of the trackpad, there are cursor control buttons on either horizontal spoke of the steering wheel – and their functions are customizable – and you interface with them via the head's up display. The only downside to this is that the HUD is hard to see when you wear polarized sunglasses.
It also drove me nuts that every time I fired up the NX it wanted to load my profile – a profile I don't have and probably wouldn't have even if I owned the vehicle. There's also an app you can download to your smart device, but when I tried it, it was quite annoying and I bailed quickly. Hopefully, this stuff can be shut off permanently.
Lexus' sample included the optional 14-inch touchscreen, which also comes with a three-year trial for Drive Connect – services such as location guidance with Cloud Navigation, Destination Assist and Intelligent Assistant. Yep, you can let Big Brother track you anywhere!
The sample also came with the optional F Sport Series 3 which, among other things, included lovely Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint. That's hardly F Sporty, of course, but it's very nice. Perhaps more F Sporty are such things in the $10,150 package as:
Yeah, a lot of that stuff is more cosmetic or fluffy than Sporty, but this is typical of such packages on Lexi – and there's some nice stuff in there, too, such as the suspension tweaks, HUD, new interfaces, etc.
Put it all together and you have a really nice new version of a vehicle that was pretty good to start with. Alas, Lexus Canada's tally for this vehicle, with F Sport package, is $65,550. That's a tad dear in this niche - the Acura RDX, loaded, retails for about $58,500, for example, while the Audi Q3, quite loaded, sells for $ 55,010). That may not be exactly apples-to-apples, but it's as close as I could come using the various companies' websites, which seem to have been designed by people who never actually surf websites.
The NX' base price is $47,400, but you lose a lot of the nice stuff at that price.
Regardless of the price you pay, you'll also be limiting yourself to buying premium fuel, which (as someone who owns a premium-burning car) right now isn't the happiest of experiences. I filled up the NX at Costco before taking it back, and the $1.70 per litre I paid really hurt – though it would have been a lot worse if I hadn't exploited our Costco membership.
Here's a cheaper alternative, if you want great performance and decent luxury but don't care about all the extra bells, whistles, and gewgaws: Mazda's CX-5, whose top-line Signature model features a lovely four-cylinder turbo engine and is even nicer to drive than the Lexus. You can get it, all in, for $45,426, which is even better than the NX' base price. Sure, it's no Lexus, but it's a heckuva Mazda and an even better driving experience. And you can burn regular gas in it.
But if your heart is set on a Lexus, and there are many good reasons for that to be true, you just might find the new, second generation NX to be right up your alley. I know I liked it a lot (though I'd probably still buy the Mazda…).
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray