2022 Lexus NX hits all the marks

Just about every part of this compact luxury SUV that should’ve been improved, is.

Time can be harsh. Following its debut in late 2014, the Lexus NX compact crossover seemed well positioned for younger buyers looking for a way to sneak into the automaker’s portfolio, but as the years dragged on, its competitive set pushed ahead while the NX floundered. The 2022 Lexus NX seeks to remedy that with a serious dose of 21st-century upgrades, and it’s accomplished nearly everything it set out to.

Out with the old tech, in with the new

The single most important change in the 2022 Lexus NX is inside, where the automaker’s tired old infotainment has been kicked to the curb in favor of something far better. The so-called Lexus Interface is the result of the company’s North American arm finally putting on some pants and telling Japan that its old telematics were holding the automaker back with younger, more tech-enveloped buyers.

And guess what? Lexus nailed it. Standard on a 9.8-inch screen and optionally available in a larger 14-inch format, Interface looks and feels like it belongs in this century. Responsiveness is way up, thanks to a big boost in processing power. The design is clean and straightforward, lacking a home screen but sporting a permanent dock on the left side that makes it easy to swap between various menus. The full-screen navigation map might be my favorite part, although it could stand to have a little better contrast in the colors used for backgrounds and side roads. My fingers do all the work now; there are no trackpads to be seen.

The features run deep in Lexus Interface. In addition to usual trimmings like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the system integrates Apple Music and Amazon Music into the head unit via the onboard 4G LTE modem. Natural-language voice recognition wakes up with the usual “Hey” command and will do anything from finding a coffee shop to turning on the windshield wipers. User profiles stored in the cloud allow you to hop between Interface-equipped vehicles and hold onto various settings. And, while a demo wasn’t available, the NX will let you use your phone as a key and share a temporary key with several people at once.

A digital gauge cluster and optional head-up display round out the new screens, both of which are capable of displaying all the necessary information I could want. A new steering wheel allows for greater menu manipulation, and on my well-equipped NX 350 tester, the HUD will show what each directional button does as I rest on it with my thumb.

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Safety tech also gets a boost. Every Lexus NX comes with the automaker’s Safety System Plus 3.0, which includes all the usual good stuff like automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and road-sign recognition. But there are also some clever additions like the ability to detect oncoming vehicles during a left turn and apply the brakes to avoid a collision, as well as similar capabilities for right turns to avoid hitting pedestrians or cyclists.

Even something as simple as the door is not immune to a tech injection. A new electronic door latch means a simple button press opens each door from the inside or outside (mechanical redundancies are hidden away in the event of a dead battery). While that might seem unnecessary, it allows the doors to work with the car’s safety systems to prevent an occupant from opening a door into an oncoming cyclist.

My only true tech gripe is the wireless device charger. While I appreciate its large size, which should cover a vast majority of ever-embiggening phones, the surface is too slick, allowing phones to slip and slide and stop charging around curves. Even my leather iPhone ($378 at Amazon) case isn’t enough to maintain a constant connection. Thankfully, there are four USB ports to use instead.

Fresh powertrains, more electrification

The 2022 Lexus NX is offered with four different powertrains. The base NX 250 uses a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-4 that makes 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and it’s the only variant available in front-wheel drive (AWD is standard for the rest). The NX 350 upgrades to a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 making 275 hp and 317 lb-ft. The NX 350h is a traditional gas-electric hybrid producing a net 239 hp. At the top of the lineup, the NX 450h Plus plug-in hybrid uses an 18.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that enables an electric range of about 36 miles by Lexus’ estimates.

Since Lexus believes the turbocharged NX 350 will be its volume model, that’s where I choose to spend my time, and I think it will perform to the level its buyers expect. The turbo I4 should provide all the motive force most people need, with ample torque for around-town get-up-and-go and a transmission that provides nothing but smooth shifts. It doesn’t feel as sprightly as I was hoping it would, but I’m still happy with how the NX 350 drives.

The NX 350′s nonadjustable suspension tries its best to provide a blend of flat-ish handling and luxury-level softness, and I think it largely succeeds. It doesn’t feel ponderous in turns or dips, and entering a corner a little faster than expected keeps the majority of the body roll at bay, but bad roads return little discomfort. It’s not going to win any agility contests, but the NX is fun enough to chuck around at random. Lexus’ hallmark interior hush is present here, as well, although not as strongly as in its larger cars; certain road surfaces will still return a bit of noise, but it’s better than it was before.

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Fresher inside than out

Speaking of better than it was before, the NX’s interior designers deserve a raise. The cabin’s quality is much higher than in the previous generation. Not only are the various surfaces more attractive, they look and feel more expensive, especially in the areas my hands usually end up. Everything is oriented toward the driver, but not so much that passengers will have a hard time fiddling with the infotainment. It’s all laid out very sensibly, visibility is good in all directions and an optional panoramic roof makes the cabin feel plenty airy, although there’s ample space in both rows to begin with.

Growing exterior dimensions means extra space inside, including the cargo area, which on the NX 350 grows some 14% to 22.7 cubic feet behind the second row, which is ample for a young owner but still a bit behind competitors like the Acura RDX and BMW X3.

By comparison, the 2022 NX’s exterior reinvention is far less radical. The general silhouette remains the same, with some interesting lines running the length of the sheetmetal, but the front has been cleaned up to remove the beak shape in favor of something flatter and more aggressive. Lexus’ giant-ass grille is still here, but it looks much cleaner alongside new headlights. The rear end borrows the same new taillight structure as the revamped IS sedan, and there’s a new badge that replaces the encircled L in favor of a more modern typeface. The NX was already sufficiently expressive, so these changes play it close to the vest.

Down to brass tacks

The small entry-luxe SUV segment has only become more competitive since the first-generation Lexus NX appeared. And it’s been an uphill battle for Lexus over the past few years, especially when its cabin tech has only grown more stale. Something big needed to happen in this little SUV, and the 2022 NX should be far better positioned for today’s youth of means thanks to some well-deserved (and well-overdue) upgrades.