EXPERT REVIEW

2022 Lexus NX Review: A Day Late, Not as Short

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Photo of Joe Wiesenfelder
Former Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a Cars.com launch veteran, led the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe Wiesenfelder

The verdict: A full 2022 redesign for Lexus’ NX compact SUV reintroduces an entry-level powertrain, boosts mileage and acceleration for the available hybrid variant, adds the first Lexus plug-in hybrid (for some markets) and makes the whole NX lineup more competitive in several ways. But none of them are more significant than the eradication of the outgoing generation’s much-hated console touchpad in exchange for a decent touchscreen.

Versus the competition: Much improved over its former self, the 2022 NX is now competitive with luxury SUVs in its class, though it doesn’t leapfrog them.

Lexus can be credited with fielding the first great crossover in the U.S. market, the 1999 RX 300, and faulted for not following it up with a smaller sibling until 2015, even as virtually every brand — luxury and mass-market — benchmarked the RX and filled the roads with competitors of every conceivable size. Unfortunately, when the NX finally did arrive, we thought it had too many faults among too many strong competitors. In our most recent class comparison test, the 2018 NX took last place.

The 2022 redesign is a complete one, with a change of platform and a chance for Lexus to address the model’s shortcomings. Did the brand succeed? After a busy day driving three of the four available powertrains in and around Phoenix at a Lexus launch event, I believe the answer is a qualified yes. (Cars.com pays for its own travel and lodging at such automaker-sponsored drive programs.)

Related: 2022 Lexus NX Is Redesigned to Plug-In ‘N Play

Though the 2022’s launch has been delayed by the microchip crisis, Lexus expects all powertrains, each with its own model suffix, to arrive at dealerships in December. They include the front- or all-wheel-drive NX 250 (2.5-liter four-cylinder) and three variations with standard AWD: the NX 350 (a new turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder), the NX 350h hybrid and the first Lexus plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the NX 450h Plus. Each drivetrain has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds when equipped with an optional towing package, a modest amount in this class. Trim levels include base, Premium, Luxury and F Sport, and depend on the powertrain. By comparison, the 2021 model year had only two powertrains: an NX 300, which took over for the 200t in 2018, and the NX 300h, which survived the whole run since 2015 to comprise 23% of sales, according to Lexus.

The Wicked Switch Is Dead

There’s no news about the NX as relevant as the elimination of Lexus’ much-hated Remote Touch Interface, a touchpad on the center console that countless consumers have deemed a deal breaker. We’ve struggled to overcome it every time we’ve evaluated a Lexus — be it for review, during annual awards deliberation or in a multivehicle Challenge like the one the 2018 NX 300 lost. This interface, paired with a display high on the dashboard, was cited as a major strike against the earlier generation in that contest. Remote Touch’s staying power is about cultural differences: Japanese consumers, we’re told, prefer their screen high and forward where it’s too far to serve as a touchscreen, and they don’t care for fingerprint-smudged displays. They have a point, but Remote Touch was a medicine worse than the disease, in our eyes.

In the old system’s place, the 2022 NX has a standard 9.8-inch touchscreen or an optional — and enormous — 14-inch one, designed here in the U.S. for global distribution (except Japan). All vehicles present had the larger screen, but Lexus says the smaller one shares its functionality, along with a physical volume knob (an item too many automakers now delete, aggravatingly). The system works reasonably well; I think the menus could be a little better thought out, and it cries out for a physical home button off the screen, especially for getting out of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay without multiple steps. And a few more physical buttons wouldn’t hurt for people who don’t like touchscreen overload, though I don’t mind it. But this doesn’t need to win any award to be a win for Lexus shoppers, it just has to ditch the remote touchpad and include (as it does) CarPlay and Android Auto, both wired and wireless, as standard equipment.

These might seem like minor things, but the presence of one and lack of the others definitely hurt Lexus for years. I’ll return to these features, but hey, this is a car review. Let’s drive.

Behind the Wheel: Three 2022 NX Models Tested

One of our objections to the previous NX generation was that it rode firmly and busily without any real payoff in handling. We also dinged the 2018 NX 300 for being pokier than its competitors, with a Cars.com-tested 0-60 mph time of 7.3 seconds (worst in the group) and notably modest passing power even though the engine and transmission worked well together. For 2022, the NX rides a new platform and enjoys a 1.2-inch wheelbase increase and a wider track — the distance between left and right wheels — by 1 inch in front and 1.8 inches in back.

lexus-nx-2022-07-exterior-silver-suv-wheel Cars.com photo by Melissa Klauda

Note that my test vehicles were all the Luxury trim level for a clean comparison, priced as equipped between $53,840 and $59,020. This means they had 20-inch wheels in place of standard 18s, whose taller tire sidewalls might have provided more cushioning. They also had the standard suspension rather than the unique setup in the F Sport trim level offered on the NX 350 and NX 450h Plus (also available combined with the Luxury trim in the latter). The F Sport option cuts two ways: It has an adaptive suspension with electronically controlled shock absorber firmness, a technology that can theoretically make a vehicle either comfortable or sporty to suit the driver. But in our experience, Lexus F Sport vehicles always ride more firmly regardless.

NX 350 Luxury AWD

The longer wheelbase and wider track might not seem like dramatic changes, but the NX 350 Luxury I drove had better ride quality than its forebear, and the handling is both better and certainly good enough, even in the Luxury trim. Lexus is among many brands that chased sportiness for years when it probably would have satisfied customers even more by emphasizing ride comfort, especially in SUVs.

The new 2022 NX 350 replaces the outgoing NX 300’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a turbo 2.4-liter four rated at 275 horsepower and 317 pounds-feet of torque — up 40 hp and 59 pounds-feet of torque in a vehicle that weighs 15 pounds less with standard AWD. The result is predictably good, mostly.

Just so we’re comparing apples to apples, the AWD 2021 NX 300 is closing out its days with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 7.0 seconds (lower than our measured 7.3 seconds from 2018). Lexus says the new NX 350 hits 60 mph in 6.6 seconds; that’s an improvement over the 300, though it’s still short (by quite a bit, in some cases) of manufacturer-estimated times for the base drivetrains and slowest versions of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

The 350 launches definitively off the line, and its eight-speed automatic transmission is mostly well behaved. One exception was some delay I detected when stomping on the pedal to pass, which at some speeds induced lag of a full second or more. As disappointing as this may be, it’s more common than you’d think among new vehicles, and it’s always worth looking for.

NX 350h Luxury AWD

Like its predecessor, the NX 300h, the new NX 350h combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with two motor-generators and a battery pack, the classic Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive/Lexus Hybrid Drive (Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand), and adds a third electric motor on the rear axle to enable standard AWD.

I think this version rides smoother and more composed than the non-hybrid. I can’t say there’s a good reason because it weighs only 45 pounds more, but sometimes the different weight or weight distribution in a hybrid — or the way suspensions are tuned to account for it — can make a noticeable difference. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; we prefer the hybrid version of the current Toyota RAV4 over the regular one, and this Lexus shares a great deal with that model.

This generation’s total system power is 239 hp, versus 194 hp for the NX 300h. The acceleration is more than adequate, especially for a hybrid, but it does have the familiar hybrid feel, with some rubber-band effect, whereby you press the accelerator and it takes a moment or two for the powertrain to catch up to your full intentions — though not the momentary complete lack of passing response I mentioned about the NX 350. The brakes also have the characteristic hybrid regenerative-braking feel, which is to say a bit mushy compared with the best conventional brakes. But this and the somewhat wonky acceleration are typically ignored or accepted in exchange for high mileage.

Lexus cites its 0-60 mph time as 7.2 seconds, which is slower than the NX 350, though quicker than the NX 250 (8.2 to 8.6 seconds depending on driveline, according to Lexus). But it’s also considerably quicker than the 2021 NX 300h despite rating an EPA-estimated 39 mpg combined, an 8 mpg improvement. It’s hard to beat that, as is the fact that the NX 350h is priced $500 lower to start than the non-hybrid NX 350 at $42,125 (all prices include destination charge). Less thrilling is that the 350h now has a minimum gasoline octane requirement of 91 like the NX 350 and 450h Plus rather than 87 octane in the previous hybrid and new NX 250.

NX 450h Plus Luxury AWD

Lexus’ first plug-in hybrid, the NX 450h Plus, is equipped similarly to the 350h but has a much larger battery pack and operates at higher voltage with 302 total hp. It has an EPA-estimated range of 36 miles on electric power, after which it operates as a hybrid at 36 mpg combined, according to Lexus. I wasn’t able to sample its all-electric acceleration because the battery pack had been depleted by my rotation in the car. In hybrid mode, the 450h Plus might have been my favorite powertrain. For one thing, it’s the quickest of them all, with a 0-60 time of 6.0 seconds (albeit still comparatively modest in this class), per Lexus. But more important, its added electric power helps eliminate hesitation of all types — both the passing delay in the NX 350 and the rubber-band effect in the NX 350h.

The ride quality is also pretty good, but there’s a handling give and take to the vehicle’s added weight — almost 400 pounds more than the NX 350h: It seems to lower the center of gravity and quell body roll in turns, but it compromises roadholding (as weight always does).

Had there been time and adequate Level 2 charging, Lexus says, we could have recharged the 450h Plus fully in 2.5 to 4.5 hours, depending on equipment. The standard onboard charger is rated 3.3 kilowatts, but an optional Expedited Onboard Charger boosts it to 6.6 kW. These translate to roughly 8-14.4 miles of range per hour of charging, respectively. (Given that a household 120-volt outlet can provide about 1.5 kW, depending on the charger, you could get by with Level 1 for overnight charging, but it wouldn’t be adequate for preheating or -cooling the cabin in extreme temperatures to preserve your electric range.)

So, the powertrain is my favorite and the ride is good. Is this my favorite version? Well, it is more expensive — $56,635 to start — though it should be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 if you can front the money. The problem is that the NX 450h Plus will probably prove difficult to get. It’s essentially Lexus’ version of the Toyota RAV4 Prime, which itself was hard enough to come by before the effects of the pandemic and microchip shortage were fully felt. Lexus will prioritize California and other zero-emissions-vehicle states like in the Northeast, and I suspect it will be just as difficult to get there as elsewhere. Your best chance, if you’re interested, is to get your order in now.

The Cargo Shuffle

Another strike against the 2018 NX 300 in our seven-model comparison test was its cargo space, including its height. What’s happened with the 2022 redesign is … difficult to judge. The previous generation offered a claimed 17.7 cubic feet behind the backseat and 54.6 cubic feet with the seats folded; the 2022 NX’s cargo area is specified as 22.7/46.9 cubic feet, so it grew behind the backseat but shrank overall by Lexus’ numbers. But that may not be the whole story, because these methods don’t always account for underfloor space, and with the elimination of the spare tire in favor of run-flats, there are several very roomy bins in the back of the NX 350. Even the two hybrids — which take up different amounts of this room with their added equipment, including the 12-volt battery relocated from under the hood — still have usable bins below grade.

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Due to inconsistent methodology between automakers, and sometimes within the same automaker, we conduct our own independent cargo measurements. We don’t do so on the road, however, and will have to wait until we get a 2022 NX at home and can compare it with a 2021. We look forward to working up at least one of these vehicles back at Cars.com HQ, but it seems like the specs might be lying to us — and underselling the cargo space.

The Interior

By the numbers, the 2022 NX lost 1.8 inches of front-seat legroom versus the prior generation, but at 41 inches, it’s in the right range for the class, and at 6 feet tall, I had no complaints after a full day of driving the Luxury trim level. I didn’t sample the F Sport, which has more aggressively bolstered sport seats with NuLuxe imitation leather along with a distinct steering wheel, new gauges and aluminum pedals and scuff plates.

All vehicles were pre-production, so it’s best not to draw final conclusions on the interior quality, but overall it seemed good for the class and there are more interesting color choices than Lexus gets enough credit for, including creams and reds. I like open-pore wood trim, but in my NX 450h Plus, which lacked the Mark Levinson audio option that otherwise would take up some of the space, the expansive wood applique on the front door panel looked a bit excessive.

As for the backseat, it’s another area our judges marked down in 2018, citing that generation’s “tight head, hip, knee and shoulder room,” and singling out its lack of a panoramic moonroof.  The 2022 NX offers the panoramic roof and seems roomier. I found it quite comfortable back there; if anything, it’s a bit narrower than some models, which comes into play only with three passengers or multiple child-safety seats.

All the Other Tech

The best thing I can say about the technology is that it mostly serves the driver and passengers well.

  • Along with the new touchscreens, the vehicle is notably devoid of touch-sensitive controls, which we loathe. The only exception is the buttons on the steering-wheel spokes if you option the head-up-display, which are touch-sensitive only for the purpose of showing you on the display what your next press will execute. Actually pressing the button still has a mechanical action.
  • The Digital Key option lets you use a smartphone as a key. It’s convenient for the owner but even more so when sharing with up to seven “guests,” so long as Lexus Remote Connect services are active. Combined with the Advanced Park feature on the NX 350h and 450h Plus, it also lets you move the vehicle from outside via the smartphone app.
  • The NX includes Voice Assistant, which I used briefly out of frustration at the lack of a home button. I found it slow to respond when I said, “Hey, Lexus.” Lexus is hardly the first brand to institute this, and I hear there are people who want to control machines with their voices; I am not one of them; speech to text via Android Auto is about my limit. Similarly, Lexus’ new User Profile feature that stores one’s settings in the cloud and will automatically transfer them to other Lexuses (once they add the capability) seems overly ambitious.
  • I might feel the same about the Intelligent Assistant, which requires a Drive Connect subscription, because I think people tend to want their weather and other information and services from Apple or Google and are subscriptioned out already.
  • To that end, the NX’s enhanced Cloud Navigation, which requires Drive Connect, might be a bridge too far when CarPlay and Android Auto are built in. I’d have to spend more time to be convinced of its virtues, if any.
  • The high-tech safety features seem more convincing. In addition to the regular collection of active-safety features in the standard Lexus Safety System Plus 3.0 suite, the NX adds a number of turning-related provisions, including emergency steering assist within a lane, as well as a warning system with automatic braking when turning left into oncoming traffic or in either direction in front of a pedestrian or cyclist. The NX’s adaptive cruise control can also manage speed in curves, and it can be used with hands-on lane-centering steering. (The hands-free lane centering now offered by several automakers isn’t in the NX as of yet, though Lexus has a version in the works called Teammate.)
  • The new rearview camera mirror is a nice option for 2022 to account for so-so rear visibility when in motion.

More From Cars.com:

Should You Buy a 2022 Lexus NX?

With a starting price of $39,025 with FWD and $40,625 with AWD, the NX 250 starts off the 2022 lineup just above its predecessor, the 2021 NX 300 FWD ($38,685). The same model with AWD is $40,085, so you’ll understandably pay more for the new and improved 2022 NX 350 ($42,625), which has standard AWD, or the hybrid NX 350h ($42,125). As noted above, the new NX 450h Plus is $56,635 before incentives.

The NX has become more competitive with its redesign even if it remains modest in size and acceleration versus other models in its class. Being sold alongside the enormously popular RX SUV is a positive, and being the first Lexus in the showroom to do away with the Remote Touch Interface can only help the NX strip away some shoppers.

The 2022 NX is currently assembled in Japan, but production will begin at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada in early 2022.

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