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Sharp on the outside, sumptuous on the inside: can the new NX surpass Audi and co?

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Cast your mind back to 2014 and the launch of the first-generation Lexus NX. At the time (and mostly in a positive way), we found the car quite shocking to behold.

Even the TV advert, which featured an origami fox along with other creased creations existing in an abstracted urban environment – Facet City – might have induced tension headaches in the viewer. Just how many angles, we wondered, was it possible to design into the body of a car before the result resembled a ball of tinfoil? The NX stopped well short of that point, but still.

Modern Lexus maw is present on the second-gen NX, though it’s more upright than before, and the mesh pattern has been redesigned with U-shaped blocks, for a more three-dimensional effect.

Clearly, given that this new version doubles down on the approach, Lexus feels it was onto something with the razor-sharp looks of the first-generation NX, and not without justification. This mid-sized SUV has become the brand’s best-selling model, propelling Lexus out of relative obscurity in Europe and giving it respectable market share in perhaps the most unforgiving segment of them all.

The second-generation car tested here aims to double that share and take even more conquest sales from the likes of the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLCBMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque. It features some small but significant changes to help it achieve that goal.

While the aesthetic merely fine-tunes that of the Facet City star, there are broader changes underneath. The entire line-up now consists of petrol hybrids (though non-hybrid models will be offered in eastern Europe), and there is also a plug-in hybrid for the first time in the form of the powerful, range-topping NX 450h+.

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The NX has also gained a new platform and an entirely new infotainment system known as Lexus Interface, and the latter alone should address one of the major failings of the old model.

If these developments result in a better-riding, more efficient yet no less opulent and idiosyncratic car, the new NX could and should continue Lexus’s ascent in this popular segment.

The Lexus NX Line-up at a glance

Certain markets have the option of an NX shorn of its hybrid elements, but in the UK you have the full-hybrid NX 350h in either front- or four-wheel-drive guise, or the NX 450+ plug-in hybrid, with 302bhp and 45 miles of electric range.

Trim levels start at the basic NX 350h and rise through F Sport to lavish Takumi. Confusingly, there are numerous option packs available, too, so it’s possible to have Takumi-level kit on an entry-level NX, though this is an uneconomical approach.

2.5 350h FWD241bhp£39,750
2.5 350h AWD241bhp£40,750
2.5 450h+ PHEV302bhp£50,950

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2 Lexus NX 2022 road test review lead

The Lexus NX is built at the firm's Kyushu plant in Japan and now underpinned by Toyota’s TNGA-K platform, the same as the Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Highlander. It means the car’s footprint has grown, to the tune of 20mm in both length and width, though the 30mm growth in wheelbase is arguably more significant. Track width is also up – by some 35mm at the front and 55mm at the back – though the suspension design itself is largely unchanged. The NX retains MacPherson struts at the front with double wishbones at the rear.

The car’s monocoque is also said to be unusually stiff, Lexus claiming a world-first use of 1180MPa steel for the important rocker reinforcement panel and 1470MPa for the roof reinforcement. Further developments include the use of high-rigidity foam in the rear corners of the hatchback structure, the fitment of Yamaha-developed chassis vibration dampers installed longitudinally at each end of the car and even a new twin-latch system for the bonnet, which Lexus claims adds rigidity.

Premium Plus Pack, F Sport and Takumi models are equipped with four- projector LED headlights that include Lexus’s first ‘slim’ adaptive high-beam system. The 11 LED chips are informed by the car’s forward camera.

F Sport models are fitted with further measures to improve stability, as well as the latest iteration of the Lexus’s Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), which uses a linear solenoid for the actuator for finer adjustments in damping force. Our test car made do with the regular suspension – also adaptive and adjustable through two driving modes, but not as sophisticated as the AVS – though all second-generation NX models use a steering rack some 20% quicker than their predecessors.

Power comes from a 2487cc Atkinson-cycle petrol engine mated to an electric drive motor. The two are combined with a slave motor (whose purpose is to take up the slack in any difference between road speed and motor/engine speed), along with a planetary gearset that allows each to operate at independent speeds. The system is 24% more powerful than its predecessor and, claims Lexus, 22% lower in CO2 emissions, plus there is also the capacity for surprisingly long bursts of all-electric running.

The basic NX 350h that sits at the base of the range is solely front-driven, but every other NX uses Lexus’s E-Four driveline, whereby a 53bhp electric motor can power the rear wheels independently of the front axle. As such, the NX can balance its torque distribution anywhere from 60:40 front to rear to 20:80, depending on the driving surface. Along with the combustion engine and front motor, total power for the NX 350h is 241bhp with all sources on song. This rises to more than 300bhp for the NX 450h+, which also totes a 45-mile EV range.


11 Lexus NX 2022 road test review cabin

An all-new interior and infotainment array are perhaps the two most significant developments for the Mk2 Lexus NX. These elements also represent strong reasons to go for the Lexus over its rivals, so thoughtfully have they been executed in the main. The way the dashboard and transmission tunnel meld themselves around the driver in a manner reminiscent of recent Jaguar sports cars and fan-favourite BMWs of yesteryear is a particularly nice element, as is the clear instrumentation and the modest diameter of the sporting steering rim.

This is certainly an intimate space – one you would be happy to find yourself in for day-long drives – with a level of aesthetic interest beyond most crossovers, particularly if you go for F Sport trim. A little less gloss black plastic would enhance the ambience further, though this is a small criticism in the context of the NX’s otherwise appealing spread of soft-touch surfacing and premium-feel switchgear. Outright perceived quality is high, if not quite as high as in the hewn-from-stone Audi Q5.

The stubby gear selector looks a little odd but feels solid and is pleasing to use. It’s a bit more avant-garde than the rest of the quite ordinary transmission tunnel

On the subject of switchgear, Lexus has, despite the arrival of an expansive, 14.0in touchscreen for the NX (9.8in in entry-level models), elected to retain physical dials (or at least clear and obvious haptic-feedback controls) for the climate controls and volume. Given the trouble certain German makers have run into in their rush to remove from their cars anything you might press or twist, this seems a wise move.

Ergonomically, taller testers felt the NX wasn’t all that spacious both in the front seats and along the back row, though averagely tall adults won’t struggle to get comfortable in any of the four main berths. The generously bolstered front seats are especially cosseting, and the level of adjustability offered by Premium Plus Pack cars is nothing short of excellent.

Lexus NX infotainment & sat-nav

Many drivers now gravitate towards using either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the NX caters for both with a high level of optimisation and good graphics. However, Android Auto needs a wired connection.

Lexus’s own software is vastly better than the old model in terms of menu design and functionality of the 14.0in touchscreen (9.8in on entry-level and Premium Pack models), which features large icons and quick responses. The system is reportedly 3.6 times quicker in its responses than before, and the colours and fonts can also be changed. Thoughtfully, Lexus has retained physical controls for the volume of the system plus the temperature dials and some of the other major HVAC functions (though blower speed is now by touch-sensitive slider).

Elsewhere, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is offered with range-topping Takumi grade, and there are four USB ports in the cabin – two up front, two in the rear – of which three are USB-C and one is USB-A.


23 Lexus NX 2022 road test review engine

Toyota and Lexus have, over the years, worked to make their shared, economy-maximising hybrid-drive powertrains feel more natural, particularly where the matching of vehicle acceleration to engine speed is concerned. The set-up in the Lexus NX represents the latest step in this process and the level of sophistication achieved is commendable, if not always able to match the best efforts of the Otto-cycle crowd.

In the NX 350h, performance itself is acceptable but modest, our test car reaching 60mph in 7.1sec but then needing another 12 seconds to reach triple figures. By comparison, the latest Hyundai Tucson Hybrid – a crossover lower in both price and status – was just 0.5sec slower to 60mph and actually quicker to 100mph.

German rivals tend to deliver a smoother low-speed ride; F Sport hardware might fare better here. Engine soundtrack is sometimes at odds with self-styled luxury billing.

From the saloon ranks, at this price and footprint, you might also find yourself looking at the BMW 3 Series 330e M Sport, which we would expect to reach 60mph in less than six seconds without breaking a sweat. Those wanting more from their mid-size Lexus crossover should therefore opt for the plug-in hybrid NX 450h+ over the NX 350h. The former’s combined 302bhp gives it a turn of pace comparable to that of the BMW.

That said, for the kind of low-stress, everyday driving for which it is intended, the NX 350h does just fine. This hybrid system is roughly 25% more powerful than the one in the old NX, and this manifests in the form of easy all-electric running at town speeds and snappy roll-on acceleration out on the open road. Only when the battery is very low on charge, and the car then needs to rely heavily on engine power for urban driving, does this powertrain begin to feel a touch ill-conceived.

That, and when strong acceleration is called for. Here, Lexus’s hybrid system still reverts to its old problem, whereby the flailing engine feels oddly detached from the driving controls, and the amount of progress made feels less significant than the level of noise made. It never lasts long but is enough to make more interested drivers think twice about owning the NX 350h.

As for the attractive shift paddles mounted to the steering wheel, they are little more than ornamentation, often having no effect at all on how the powertrain is behaving.


24 Lexus NX 2022 road test review cornering front

We won’t dwell too long on the NX 350h’s credentials as a driver’s car because it isn’t intended as such, despite what those razor-sharp exterior creases imply.

However, it does possess the hallmarks of something devised by engineers who understand how important it. is that premium cars feel cohesive from the driver’s seat. Accuracy and composure matter for such cars, and yet family-oriented crossovers of the Lexus’s ilk must also remain undemanding to drive. Even without the updated AVS, the NX acquits itself well across all these areas and in doing so puts itself at the sharp end of the class, behind BMW but ahead of Audi and Mercedes.

NX stops well into tight hairpins, if with very little brake feel, and got around our handling circuit tidily enough

It starts with the steering, which is moderately but intuitively geared, has a little heft in the motion and, as one tester put it, offers the understated, connected road feel that an interested driver might want. Straight away, it makes the NX 350h feel plain good to guide along the road. The car’s cornering balance is then unambiguously nose-led, yet the suspension keeps the body on an unusually short leash but still permits plenty of suppleness and weight transfer. It means getting that bluff nose to the apex is rarely any trouble, and the NX feels more agile and lithe than it probably is in reality.

The short-travel suspension also laps up fast A- and B-road driving without hesitation but does so without sacrificing comfort at speed, and this is arguably the car’s greatest strength. It’s possible to get the NX to the point where its wheel control can’t quite keep up with what the road is doing, but we would be very surprised if many owners arrive here with any regularity. Driven with reasonable commitment levels, the car’s confidence-inspiring controls and manner make progress easy, the NX being relatively impervious to float and uncomfortable amounts of body roll. As for traction, the 2.5-litre hybrid powertrain in our test car never threatened to give the tyres any trouble at all.

Track notes

In the main, the NX 350h proved impressively sure-footed on Millbrook’s daunting Hill Route. It develops good levels of grip, and through tighter turns you can really sense the rear motor coming into play and helping to rotate the car.

Key to the NX’s sense of safety and stability is its fine body control: heave, pitch and roll are curtailed earlier than you would expect in this kind of vehicle, and with a level of finesse that is usually reserved for out-and-out performance cars. It means the NX performs well, should you find yourself carrying more speed into a bend than you intended to, and the steering possesses a heft that feeds into the sense of stability.

Of course, the Hill Route also shows the hybrid powertrain at its revvy, uncouth worst. Under heavy loads, the NX 350h is neither as quick as its 241bhp promises, nor as refined as its brief suggests it should be.

Ride comfort and isolation

Sumptuous seats and above-average insulation from the blare of the outside world have long been Lexus hallmarks. However, during the decades that the brand has evolved from being a purveyor of stately left-field saloons to mainstream hatchbacks and SUVs, it hasn’t always hit those traditional high notes – so where does the new NX rate in this regard?

In short, it puts on an impressive show but doesn’t shade the latest Audi Q5 and probably also trails the BMW X3 in terms of outright refinement and comfort. And make no mistake: it’s those cars that Lexus will have wanted to topple with its rolling refinement. The car’s long-wave gait strikes a unique and fine blend of taut but supple control – similar to what you find in senior sports cars, in truth – that builds on the sophisticated cabin atmosphere.

However, on its 20in wheels, our test car laboured choppier low-speed routes in a manner that undermines the powertrain’s slicker moments, when the combustion element drops out entirely. Given the majority of these cars will be bought and used not as long-distance transport but as everyday family cars, this is a key chink in the NX’s armour. The car’s ability to simultaneously cosset and reassure while offering an expansive view of the road ahead and a general sense of capaciousness don’t make up for the inability of the chassis to deftly quell the effects of rawer road surfaces before they bubble up into the cabin.

Acoustically, the NX is again good but unexceptional. When running for short bursts in EV mode, it is unsurprisingly extremely quiet; but if the car’s battery is running low on charge, the engine will fire up, and if it does so while, say, you’re sitting at traffic lights, the effect is particularly uncouth. Isolation from wind and road noise while cruising is fine; it sat between the Kia EV6 and Nissan Qashqai, according to our dBA data.


1 Lexus NX 2022 road test review tracking front

The Lexus NX holds considerable subjective appeal simply by dint of not being one of the usual German suspects, yet it still matches those cars in terms of premium-ness. The design – both exterior and interior – is no small part of this overall effect, as is the build quality, and with the arrival of the plug-in hybrid 450h+, neither is the NX off the pace for raw technological ability.

In terms of accessibility, the Lexus wins more praise still. In entry-level, front-wheel-drive, sub-£40,000 form, it undercuts the likes of the Audi Q5 40 TDI and BMW X3, despite coming with decent levels of standard equipment, and this pricing advantage is carried over to the plug-in hybrid model. The final price of the car does, however, move dramatically depending on grade and option packs.

With Premium Plus Pack, NX 350h beats Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 rivals, keeping almost half its value after four years

Taking our AWD 350h test car as an example, opting for rakish F Sport guise takes the price from around £41,000 to just over £50,000, while the range-topping Takumi, with its elegant wheels, Mark Levinson sound system and artful interior, nudges £55,000 – or roughly what you will now pay for a Porsche Macan S, albeit before options.

We found the regular 350h, kitted out with the 38 optional extras included in the Premium Plus Pack, which costs around £8000, would fulfil almost every owner’s needs.

As for fuel economy, the NX 350h is at its most frugal on flowing A-roads, where the powertrain can easily dip in and out of all-electric running and the engine is unstressed. Expect to achieve 50mpg along such routes.

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26 Lexus NX 2022 road test review static

Without doubt, the Lexus NX is an improved proposition compared with the original.

The Mk2 model is every bit as striking yet subtly easier on the eye, and the combination of its sumptuous interior and quietly assured drivability makes it a pleasure to rub along with day to day, in a way that the old car was too rough-mannered to achieve. The new infotainment system also plays no small part in making the NX a more complete machine than before, as do improvements to economy and performance.

Spec advice? Both the Premium and Premium Plus packs offer an excellent spread of equipment, though neither comes with the Adaptive Variable Suspension unique to F Sport models. We would suggest trying both set- ups before buying

All this enhances the fundamental quality that makes the Lexus an appealing choice in a relatively homogeneous class: its individuality. If you like the looks of this car, now is the time to explore the idea of ownership.

With all that in mind, the NX remains the left-field choice to some extent. The powertrain, though efficient, feels alien at times, and despite the stability and control this chassis possesses, both ride and handling fall short of what you would find in any comparable BMW.

Even so, the second-generation NX marks a notable step forward for one of the more interesting cars in the mid-size SUV class.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Lexus NX First drives