2022 Lexus NX350 First Test: Turbocharging Into the Compact Luxury SUV Segment

When you’re battling 14 rivals in the industry’s most competitive luxury segment, you better bring your best. And after seven long years, Lexus re-enters the compact luxury SUV segment with a completely redesigned 2022 NX. Curious buyers will find not one or two engine options, but four distinct powerplants, more than any other Lexus. Although the big grille is back, the new second-gen NX offers so much more than the aggressive front styling we all expect from Lexus.

The most popular NX will probably be the NX350, which sits one rung above the price-topping 203-hp NX250 and leads with an enticing new 2.4-liter turbocharged I-4. The NX350 offers 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque—much better figures than the last gen’s 235 hp and 258 lb-ft. With more power and a reimagined interior that finally eliminates the dreaded infotainment touchpad, the 2022 Lexus NX350 attempts to pick up where the 2021 NX300 left off. On paper, the new NX sounds compelling.

How Quick Is the NX350?

The big surprise with the 2022 NX350’s test numbers is how it compares to the less powerful 239-hp 2022 NX350h hybrid. In our testing, the AWD hybrid found its way to 60 mph in only 7.0 seconds, quicker than the 7.3 seconds we clocked with an AWD version of the turbocharged NX350. There’s more to this picture, though. Daily drivers will appreciate how Lexus kept turbo lag to a minimum in this powerplant; that unfortunate sensation can subtly make every trip slightly less comfortable than it should be. Not in the 2022 NX, however, which continues a long line of Lexus models described as “smooth” in one way or another.

Things go awry when you start comparing the 2022 Lexus NX350 to the competition. We’ve tested a number of Acura RDXs, the most recent of which was a 2020 Advance AWD model that hit 60 in 6.8 seconds, a full half second quicker than the Lexus. That’s a difference you’ll feel. So is the Q5’s performance; we’ve tested a 2021 AWD model reaching 60 in only 5.7 seconds. But hey, quickness isn’t everything, right? Some MotorTrend editors described the NX350’s engine as peppy, punchy, and eager to rev, but just as many pegged it as merely adequate for the segment. How you react to the NX350’s oomph will depend on how thoroughly you’ve stomped on the competition’s accelerator pedals in your test drives.

Performance and the Figure-Eight Course

On the road, the 2022 Lexus NX350 operates with a cold competence that fills its driver with confidence but won’t make them seek the long way home. At least, not compared to the segment’s best. Well-weighted steering and capable handling are laudable, but there are simply too many other more-fun vehicles in this class for us to recommend the NX350 as a prime canyon-carver. The NX450h+ plug-in hybrid is the best-driving version of the lineup, but $50,000-plus plug-in hybrids aren’t for everyone.

A couple dynamic issues popped their heads up during our testing. The first regarded ride quality, which is fine over most surfaces. Even so, it can be overly firm over harsh impacts yet lacks the body control you’d want to handle sudden rises in the road. A few editors also experienced a slight vibration through the steering wheel of one of our test SUVs. On our figure-eight course that evaluates acceleration, handling, and braking as well as the transitions in between, the 2022 Lexus NX350 clawed back some ground. The NX350’s time of 27.3 seconds at 0.63 g (average) was nearly identical to that of a 2020 RDX and ahead of a 2018 NX300 FWD’s performance of 27.8 seconds at 0.62 g, though it couldn’t match the Audi Q5 (26.5 seconds at 0.67 g).

We can describe the NX350’s delightfully sporty behavior at the limit as featuring a peppy motor, somewhat intelligent transmission programming, excellent chassis balance that can be steered on the throttle on the skidpad, and enough grip to be interesting.

The NX350 shows real potential. Whereas at least one main Lexus competitor—the Infiniti QX50—drives  with a dynamic flaw that prevents us from more highly recommending it, that’s not the case here. The Lexus is a solid overall performer.

What’s Inside

Actually, let’s start with what’s not inside. There’s no touchpad. Lexus has spent a ton of resources on improving its infotainment experience, which now starts with a 9.8-inch touchscreen. The 14.0-inch touchscreen on multiple test NX models we’ve driven operates quickly and is canted toward the driver to make it easier to operate at a glance. We still prefer an actual button or knob to increase or decrease fan speed, but it otherwise works. And unlike some competitors that place the parking brake controls by your left knee, the NX sticks it where it belongs, near the gear shift lever.

Other smart touches include a soft place to rest your right knee at red lights, and squishy armrests—go ahead and smirk, but these details make an evening commute that much easier to handle. Lexus also offers a head-up display, wireless charging, and standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s even a Digital Key feature, which takes some getting used to. The tech, which makes it possible to unlock and start the car via smartphone, means opening the door feels a little different than traditional doors; the handle may look the same, but pull on it to open the door, and the handle itself doesn’t move. The tech divided the MotorTrend staff. Some didn’t understand Lexus engineers’ need to reinvent the wheel; others appreciated how it made the NX feel advanced.

Really, the NX could use more premium details in its cabin. Aside from the enormous available screen—which accepts over-the-air updates like a Tesla—there’s just not enough perceivable luxury in the driver’s line of sight. Put simply, the interior feels fine but doesn’t look as luxurious as it could. The Mark Levinson speaker grilles on the door panels are distinctive and premium, and the small pieces of wood trim on the doors are nice but a bit subtle. Luxury is more than just the badge; design is important, too. And in this case, we found the exterior more successful than the interior.

Practically speaking, the 2022 NX gets the job done. The RDX feels more spacious inside for rear-seat passengers, but like that Acura, the Lexus includes deep underfloor storage compartments in the cargo area. Having a place to separate various types of cargo is a big plus whenever you take a trip to the beach, the mountains, or stack the cargo area with tons of just-in-case knickknacks on a vacation.

Better! But Good Enough?

Luxury SUVs cost a lot of money. There are more than a dozen enticing competitors other than the NX, but not many have the same reputation as Lexus, which for 2021 once again won IntelliChoice’s award for the best-value luxury brand.

The 2022 Lexus NX350 is a clear improvement over the 2021 NX300 it mostly replaces, and if you have Lexus blinders on, you’re set. But if your budget can stretch (quite) a bit, we’d recommend trying the NX450h+ plug-in hybrid, the best model in the range. Focus on the NX350, however, and its real improvements don’t bring it to the front of the pack. As one editor commented, the NX lacks standout sizzle.

Source: Read Full Article