The second-generation Lexus NX was revealed back in June and it sounded like quite the improvement on the old model: four different powertrains, a new platform and all kinds of up-to-date driver’s assistance and convenience features. This is the luxurious Lexus version of the Toyota RAV4 and both SUVs will be made in Canada at Toyota’s assembly plant in Cambridge, Ont.
The NX still has its large and polarizing grille, but somebody must like it because the luxury compact SUV sells very well in this highly competitive segment.
I had the chance here in Phoenix to drive three of those engines on some curving desert roads and dull interstate. I did not drive the least costly model, which is under the hood of the NX 250 and smaller than before: a 2.5-litre 203-horsepower four-cylinder that’s taken straight from the basic Toyota RAV4 and which will be fine for most people. Not great, but fine. Considering you can buy a basic RAV4 all-wheel drive for almost $17,000 less, this might be a tough sell.
The previous generation had a standard turbocharged 2.0-litre that was good for 235 horsepower, but this has now been boosted in the NX 350 to a 2.4-litre turbo that makes 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. This is a brand-new engine that’s only found in the NX. It can also be optioned with Lexus’s F-Sport Handling package, which includes an active air suspension and performance dampers. Now that’s more like it, and it was good fun to throw it around the hairpins and dipsy-doodles of the secondary roads here.
For those who want a hybrid engine, there’s the NX 350h, which bumps combined horsepower to 240 – up about 20 per cent from the previous generation’s hybrid – while improving fuel consumption by a litre to 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres. This is the engine that’s in the Toyota Sienna and Highlander, adapted for the smaller vehicle and making about 20 horsepower more than the RAV4 Hybrid.
And then there’s the top-of-the-line model, the NX 450h+ plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which is basically the same 304-horsepower powertrain that’s in the Toyota RAV4 Prime. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an exceptional engine, though its electric-only range is seven kilometres shorter at 61 kilometres. The 450h+ can also be optioned with the F-Sport Handling package.
My favourite of the four was the NX 350, thanks to its responsive engine and flat handling. I didn’t get to try it without the F-Sport option, though I assume it would feel just like the hybrid. Not great, but fine. The 350, however, was surprisingly fun. I didn’t expect that.
I’ve always dismissed the NX as being a gussied-up RAV4 and just a way for drivers to spend more money to achieve the same result. This new model might share the same platform but it feels like a completely different vehicle that deserves its own consideration.
2022 Lexus NX
NX 250: $47,500
NX 350: $55,400 - $64,900
NX 350h: $49,900 - $65,700
NX 450h+: $59,950 - $76,350
NX 250: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
NX 350: 2.4-litre turbo four-cylinder
NX 350h: 2.5-litre four-cylinder with twin electric motors
NX 450h+: 2.5-litre four-cylinder with twin electric motors
Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic or continuously variable transmission/all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres):
NX 250: 8.4 combined city and highway
NX 350: 9.5 combined
NX 350h: 6.0 combined
NX 450h+: 2.8 (electric-L) combined; 6.6 with depleted battery
Alternatives: Genesis GV70, Toyota RAV4, Acura RDX, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Infiniti QX50, Volvo XC60
The new NX is a little longer and wider (by 20 millimetres each way), and 5 millimetres taller than the previous model, and if anything, its wedgy looks have been softened for the better. Even that blackened-out front grille doesn’t seem quite so offensive as before. At the front, the headlamps and daytime running lights have been switched around and reshaped, and at the rear, there’s a thin, good-looking light bar that stretches the width of the tailgate.
The cabin is very refined and comfortable, as you’d expect. Seats are spacious in both the front and rear, and the fit and finish is exemplary. Lexus has a well-deserved reputation for this.
The party piece is the optional 14-inch centre display touch screen, which is huge and practical, though the standard screen is no slouch at 9.8 inches. Most important, the touchpad controller is gone, as Lexus has finally accepted it’s more frustrating than helpful – drivers would move their fingers around a touchpad on the centre console to direct a mouse around the screen, and it was fiddly and inaccurate. Acura has a similar system, and here’s hoping it will also be killed sooner rather than later.
The quickest of the four powertrains is actually the 450h+ PHEV, which will zip from standstill to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.2 seconds. The 350 is right behind it at 6.8 seconds (a half-second quicker than the outgoing non-hybrid), while the 350h and 250 bring up the rear at 7.4 and 8.8 seconds, respectively.
Of course, performance isn’t just about stomping on the right pedal. All four trims are quite pleasant to drive on any kind of highway, but the F-Sport Handling models felt more invigorating through the curves with their adaptive suspension, stiffer dampers, and 20-inch wheels.
The list is long as the NX rolls out Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. This adds detection of pedestrians and vehicles (now including motorcycles) crossing at intersections, with automatic braking if needed, as well as curve speed management to slow the vehicle around turns without deactivating cruise control.
A smart addition, standard on all models, is the detection system that prevents the doors being opened if the NX is parked and there’s a vehicle or bicycle approaching on the side. This has been featured on Hyundais and Kias for the past couple of years. As well, the doors are opened with just an electronic push button – that’s straight out of the Corvette playbook.
Your smartphone will now be an even more integral part of the vehicle. The NX hybrid and PHEV can be paired to your phone, and up to seven others, so that you can leave the keys at home.
There’s reasonable space in the back, with luggage room behind the rear seats increased by almost 14 per cent in all models except the basic 250. That’s because those more powerful models now use run-flat tires and this creates more room under the rear deck, since there’s no longer a spare tire. The 250 still uses regular tires however, and carries a spare in that extra space.
This is a very impressive reimagination and expansion for the second-generation of the NX. Lexus wants the NX to outsell its larger RX SUV, and this pricing and long list of features should help achieve that. It also expects electrified models – the hybrid and PHEV – to account for at least half of NX sales, up from about 20 per cent before, especially since the hybrid is only $1,000 more than the equivalent NX 350.
The RAV4 is a significantly less expensive proposition, but if you want the premium feel of a Lexus and the fun-to-drive factor, it’s competitively priced and will surely be a popular vehicle in its segment.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.