Is this the new direction for Lexus?
If it is, they have to start somewhere. Might as well start with the once-best-seller-in-its-class – the NX.
The NX has always been a fun vehicle to drive compared to most of its competition. It might not match on certain metrics and measurements, but their owners love them just the same.
Where the new 2022 NX picks up from the outgoing first-generation model is a complete overhaul from tire to roof rack. Which made me think of some of the words from its press release as how it will represent something greater for the future direction of the brand.
Would it be brand identity? Evolutions of the spindle grille? Introducing new technology and propulsion options?
The answer is simple: All of the above.
The 2022 NX does give us a mix of the familiar with the evolved. You can see right off the bat in its design. The spindle grille is reshaped with an emphasis on more mass below the beltline. It seems that the front end was flattened and somewhat blunter. Not that it’s a bad thing, but something of a change from past NX models.
The profile takes a familiar turn with its glasshouse and roofline. It looks taller, but it is not. My tester was an F Sport model, which adds the requisite mesh grille texture and a set of sporty 20-inch alloy wheels in black. All set against an Ultrasonic Blue paint job. I swore that the hue was a bit brighter and sharper! Must be my eyes…
Then, we get to the rear, where the changes truly come into play. New taillights with a strip between them. Notably, the absence of the Lexus badge. Instead, the brand is spelled out across the liftgate. We’ll have to get used to it, I suppose.
If you want something revolutionary, step inside of the new NX. The emphasis is now on making things easier for the driver. Controls and switches are now accessible and visible, while they went with a haptic touch approach to the steering wheel controls. The instrumentation screen is now fully digital and customizable.
The biggest change is just to the right of the driver’s seat – the Lexus Interface. By taking away the fiddly mouse-like controller and the trackpad, you now get a large touchscreen that is literally in your face. In my NX 450h+ F Sport tester, that screen measured out to be 14 inches. That’s huge!
With the new touchscreen comes new controls. Luckily, Lexus left us with a volume knob and a few tactile controls. However, some controls appear to be haptic touch, especially for the climate control. It is also enabled for wireless smartphone integration, along with wireless device charging. We did not get a Mark Levinson audio upgrade in our tester, but the standard speaker system is quite good.
Seating for five was achieved by a nice two-tone NuLuxe upholstery. Front seats offer plenty of bolstering for the cushion and backrest, along with multiple adjustments to find the right position behind the wheel. Rear seat room is quite decent, too. There is a larger cargo space than before, measuring out at 22.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That space is expandable to 46.9 cubic feet.
Let’s talk about that model nomenclature that was mentioned above – NX 450h+. Don’t get it twisted, let me break it down for you. After the NX is usually the “power” number. The new generation comes in four performance flavors – the 450 being the top of the food chain. Obviously, “h” stands for Hybrid, but what about that “+” sign?
That “+” sign makes there is something extra to this hybrid system. Translation: This is the first plug-in model in Lexus history. The system enables the battery to run the vehicle first for up to 37 miles, before bringing in the 2.5-liter gasoline engine. In all, this gives the entire driveline a rating of 304 total system horsepower. The driveline is complete with a continuously variable transmission and an all-wheel drive system.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, if you drove without the battery intervening, you may be disappointed with the results. Yet, 31.4 MPG was what I observed. I was expecting a bit more.
As with all F Sport models, you do get a set of drive modes that fit your mood. Sport S+ firms up everything from steering weight to shift points. However, I kept the NX 450h+ in “normal” mode, due to post-snow conditions. That result is a compliant ride that offers both firmness and comfort. The NX also exhibited good handling and control overall.
The steering system is much better than I recalled from the previous generation model. It was definitely solid with a good turning radius and great on-center feel. No need to flip to Sport S+ for more control. The brakes are also solid, exhibiting good stops in normal and panic situations.
You can get all of this for the sticker price of $60,665. The catch is that the NX 450h+ will be initially available in states that follow the California Air Resources Board emission standards. However, there are three other drivelines to choose from, including a normal hybrid version. The 2022 NX starts off with a base price of $37,950.
So, this is the new direction for Lexus. This is the start of a push towards full electrification for the brand. Is this a good start for both?
That’s a tough question to answer. I love what Lexus represents – accessible luxury that is easy to operate and to enjoy. If you include the F Performance models, it has been a brand that I love with working with and indulge in.
With that said, the 2022 NX is pointing Lexus into a new direction that will satisfy customers who are staying put with the brand or are looking to switch from their usual luxury ride. Perhaps the switch to the Interface infotainment system will help tremendously. Yet, there is still a lot of Lexus that remains – and, to me, that’s a good thing.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by George Torline