Ever catch up with that scrawny kid from high school, perhaps at a reunion a few years later, and they’ve transformed into a buffer, more outgoing person? Lining up the 2022 Lexus NX and its predecessor, which came out in 2015, is a bit like that. The newer NX is more powerful, more user-friendly, and more luxurious than the small luxury SUV it replaces.
The NX is once again based heavily on the contemporary Toyota RAV4 and is roughly the same size, but it presents as altogether more substantial. As before, the NX has a distinctive domed roof that peaks over the second-row seats and wears the signature Lexus spindle grille and squinty headlights.
The body appears wider, especially in the back, where new full-width taillights exaggerate the visual girth. The tailgate features widely spaced “L E X U S” lettering (instead of the usual Lexus “L” logo, which remains on the NX’s nose) in a font different from the one the company has used since 1990. Apparently, the older font will stick around, but the newer one simply filled the wide space on the tailgate better. OK.
New UX for the NX
The NX’s cabin is completely overhauled and now features a huge horizontal slab that holds either the standard 9.8-inch touchscreen or an optional 14.0-inch unit. The displays run an all-new infotainment system with simplified menus, Google-driven maps and search functions, and native Apple Music and Amazon Music apps that owners are able to sign into without their phones, since streaming is handled by an onboard data connection. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and the displays—particularly the 14.0-inch unit—are stunning; the entire system worked quickly and seamlessly during a brief demo. The user experience (UX) also benefits from physical climate-control knobs, as well as a real volume knob. The old NX suffered from the Japanese luxury brand’s annoying touchpad-controlled infotainment system, which demanded users swipe and poke at a laptop-style pad to move a cursor on the dashboard screen—not exactly easy to do while, you know, driving.
Practicality is also improved, with a more accommodating center console bin and a handy spot/charging pad area ahead of the shifter for stowing a smartphone. The central tunnel feels less bulky and tall than before, enhancing the sensation of greater spaciousness up front. Eagle-eyed Lexus NX fans will notice the previous-generation SUV’s weird little removable vanity mirror is gone. Why was it there in the first place? So you could pass it to a rear-seat passenger, or perhaps snort illicit drugs off it? Either way, the mirror is no more, having been sacrificed along with the touchpad controller on the altar of increased center console space.
And Now, Three Paragraphs on the NX’s Door Handles—Really
At the intersection of the NX’s exterior and interior lives a novel new electronic door release system. The exterior handles don’t move; you simply clasp your hand around one, press a switch on the inside of the handle, and the door releases in one fluid pull. To exit the NX, press a thin metal button on the door armrest near the pull handle, and the door releases—again, in the direction your hand is already moving. Smooth.
There are ways to get in or out if, say, the battery dies, and this is where Lexus is really clever. Unlike on other cars with electronic door latches (such as Chevrolet’s Corvette), the NX’s manual door releases are right on the exterior and interior door handles, rather than located away from the primary switches. From inside, just pull the end of the metal door release switch twice—the two pulls are a failsafe against accidental openings—and the door pops open. Ditto the exterior handles, which each integrate small, flush-mounted metal wands that can be pulled toward you to manually open the door.
Lexus even ties the electronic release to the onboard active safety features. For example, the doors on a given side of the vehicle won’t open if a car or bicyclist is approaching; the blind-spot monitor will flash on the door mirror of the side in harm’s way, and an aural warning sounds. Occupants can override the safety feature by pressing and holding on the door switch for a few seconds or by manually releasing the door.
All Ate Up With Powertrain Choice
Where the first-generation NX was offered only with a turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine or a hybrid with a four-cylinder gas engine supported by two electric motors (one per axle) and a starter/generator, the 2022 Lexus NX boasts two additional options. Oh, and all four powertrains are new. This generates a shift in the NX’s naming structure; the old NX300 and NX300h hybrid monikers are dead. The 2022 NX lineup consists of the NX250, NX350, NX350h hybrid, and NX450h+ plug-in hybrid.
The NX250 uses the same 2.5-liter I-4 as the Toyota RAV4, making 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque; front- and all-wheel drive are available. Next up the chain is the NX350, which gets a turbocharged 2.4-liter I-4 that isn’t shared with any Toyota product. This turbo engine pumps out 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque—marked improvements over last year’s turbo 2.0-liter, which put out 235 hp and 258 lb-ft. Every NX350 comes standard with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
With the two hybrid models, the NX hews closely to its RAV4 cousin. The NX350h is, essentially, a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid with a more powerful electric motor borrowed from the larger Lexus RX450h and its 2.5-liter gas engine tuned to run on premium fuel. Those two differences explain why the NX350h delivers a stout 239 hp; that’s 20 more hp than you get in the RAV4 Hybrid. Lexus claims the newfound oomph in the NX350h should shave 1.5 seconds off the old 194-hp NX300h’s poky 0-60-mph acceleration time, dropping it to 7.2 seconds. The NX350h also is expected to deliver 36 mpg on the highway, bettering the NX300h by 6 mpg.
In an NX first, the 2022 model offers a plug-in hybrid option. This model, dubbed NX450h+, is mechanically similar to the RAV4 Prime. It is therefore quite powerful—302 hp!—and expected to deliver the spiciest performance in the range (accelerating to 60 mph in an estimated 6.0 seconds). Like the regular NX hybrid, the PHEV NX450h+ uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine assisted by an electric motor (and a starter/generator) to power the front wheels and another motor to spin the rear axle. With its lithium-ion battery charged up, the NX450h+ is estimated to travel up to 36 miles on electricity alone; the NX’s wider tires and extra weight account for its lower electric-only driving range compared to the RAV4 Prime. A 3.3-kW onboard charger is included, but opting for the available 6.6-kW unit drops charging times from 4.5 hours to 2.5.
F Is for Sport, 3.0 Is for Safety
As before, NX buyers can opt for the F Sport treatment, albeit only on the NX350 and NX450h+. This trim sprinkles some sporty appearance bits over the NX, plus an adaptive suspension with sportier tuning, 20-inch gloss-black wheels, and exclusive Ultra White and Ultrasonic Blue 2.0 paint options.
Whereas previous NX models with the F Sport kit were separated from their less sporty brethren by way of a jutting lower front bumper, all 2022 NX models more or less share the same underbite. This is because Lexus raised the NX’s ground clearance, enabling the SUV to pass European Light Duty Truck classification.
Also consistent across the NX board? Safety tech. Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 is standard on every NX and includes blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, oncoming and left-turn vehicle detection, oncoming pedestrian detection and braking, evasive steering assist, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam control, road sign detection, and collision warning. The 2022 Lexus NX goes on sale this fall, and pricing and final dimension details are forthcoming.