2022 Lexus NX 350h first drive review
If you are in the market for a luxury car in India, the Europeans have you fully covered with their vast model line-ups and a constant churn of new options. But Lexus India, which has been around for over half a decade in the country, now wants in on the action. The company is expanding its touchpoints in the country, and a stream of new models are incoming, starting with the facelifted ES earlier this year. But this second-generation Lexus NX 350h will probably be the one the Japanese luxury brand hedges quite a few of its bets on.
2022 Lexus NX 350h exterior and dimensions
This is the first full generation shift for the Lexus NX since it debuted globally in 2014, so deep changes are the order of the day. The NX now moves to the Lexus Global Architecture - K, effectively the luxury arm's version of the Toyota's New Global Architecture - K which underpins SUVs like the RAV4 internationally. Lexus' architecture is more rigid and the battery pack in this hybrid version is positioned within the wheelbase for better weight distribution and packaging.
This shift also means that the NX has grown in size. The SUV is now 20mm longer, 20mm wider and 5mm taller. More noticeably, the new architecture has brought with it a 50mm increase in wheelbase while front and rear tracks have grown by 35mm and 55mm. So the new Lexus design theme, which debuts with the NX, works quite well on the SUV. The overtly aggressive styling theme on Lexuses has sparked debate but this new take should quell that to an extent. The NX now sits more naturally on the road with quite an athletic stance.
The spindle grille, though larger and even more aggressively styled, fits more cohesively with the rest of the design. This is down to the shorter overhangs and the grille becoming upright and better integrated with the now single-piece LED headlamps. The rest of the bodywork has also been refined, so while the lines along the extended bonnet and on the haunches are sharper, they fit with the general look of the SUV nicely. But there will be no mistaking this NX when viewed from the rear. The large L-shaped taillamps connected by the full-width lightbar is striking, as is the wide new Lexus lettering. Some might still find this design approach a touch too extroverted but if you like to wear your success on your sleeve, the Lexus has you covered.
2022 Lexus NX 350h interiors and features
The NX is also the first Lexus to get a completely new interior design philosophy more focused on the driver. But that typically Japanese interpretation of luxury that the brand does so well has been retained, quite different from the more clinical ambience in some of its rivals. So in this dark red and grey colour scheme, one of four available, we found the NX to be a cosy but edgy place to spend time in, like maybe a Japanese evening lounge.
This sense largely comes from the fully rethought controls and centre stack. There's a striking mix of materials and textures like the pillowy soft red leather, balanced by the gloss black panels or the grey open-pore wood on the doors. But the one thing that possibly enhances the experience the most are the far more intuitive controls. The contentious trackpad of earlier has been replaced by a large 14-inch touchscreen. Even with far fewer physical buttons, this setup is quite intuitive to interact with. The system has logical menus, smooth transitions and uses vivid colours, so its easy to get used to. Thoughtfully, the climate controls aren't buried in sub-menus but take up the bottom band of the screen, so are always at hand. It's the same with the ventilated seats and the largely unnecessary heated steering wheel. In any case, the temperature dial and volume controls are physical, as is the drive mode switch. Each switch functioning in a slightly different but hefty feeling.
What stays with you are the small details like this. And there is no end to this. Like the electronic latch that feels gimmicky at first with its button operation but makes getting in and out just that bit easier(there's an easy enough manual override too and it'll even absorb static charge from your body!) or the sliding wireless charger pad that doubles up as a storage space, and the central storage tunnel that is latched on both sides so is easier for the driver and front passenger to operate. Even the windows operate with a slick and silent motion that adds to the positive feeling inside the cabin. The digital instrument cluster is quite plain by the standards of this segment, but the new touch-sensitive switches, similar to what Jaguar Land Rover uses, is made just that bit more functional by the large and clear HUD that guides you through its functions.
The vast amount of functions you control through these buttons can get overwhelming at times though. And some of the textures in the cabin don't exactly match up to the generally high standards elsewhere. This is most apparent in the large grey patch of dash board in front of the co-driver. While this is finished in a soft material and feels as bulletproof as the rest of the cabin, the textures here could have been less reminiscent of a Toyota-badged car. Also, we would have liked to have seen wireless phone pairing on the new touchscreen, but that should come with a future update.
For the large section of owners who will spend most of their time in the rear seat, its again largely good news with the Lexus NX. There's no four-zone climate but the space itself is soothing with the large windows and the large panoramic sunroof. The intricate detailing for the Mark Levinson sound system's 17-speakers(up from 14 earlier) is even more apparent as is the same thoughtful mix of materials on the doors, although again some of the grey bits on the sill could have done with a richer finish. But there is enough legroom and a surprising amount of headroom, and with the quite small battery placed under the seat, the floor height is as it would be in any other SUV. The seats themselves offer good under-thigh support and the back support should also be just right for most, the reclining function adding to that effect further.
Shifting to a smaller lithium-ion battery pack for the hybrid system has helped interior space. There's not a very big central tunnel given the transverse architecture so three abreast won't be too difficult and boot space is also a sizeable 520 litres.
2022 Lexus NX 350h driving impressions
The 2022 Lexus NX's 350h moniker points to the improved hybrid powertrain that sits in this SUV. It uses the same 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine paired with two electric motors, one connected to the six-step e-CVT and another on the rear axle which gives it AWD capabilities. But combined power has gone up to 244PS from 197PS, a peak torque output isn't stated as the peak 270 Nm from the engine and the 121 Nm from the electric motor come at different points on the rev band. The switch to a lithium-ion battery pack and a more compact control unit has also reduced weight and improved packaging.
In regular driving, you invariably start in EV mode, which means that the NX feels alert and superbly refined off the line. And when the engine kicks in with more throttle input, there's still some degree of electrical assistance so the Lexus makes for steady, and soothing, progress. The e-CVT is well matched to the gearbox, and as one of the better examples of this technology, there's only a hint of the delays you might otherwise expect from this type of gearbox.
The driver's seat happens to be quite supportive and the variable-ratio steering rack has just the right amount of heft with quite a natural increase in directness as you turn. But when the engine does kick in, with more throttle input or on steep inclines, it's quite loud and clattery, with some vibrations seeping through as revs build. But in start-stop city traffic, the electric motor should direct proceedings more often, so this trait may be less apparent.
But switch to the more aggressive S mode, and Lexus' claims that driving dynamics were given more attention this time comes good. The petrol engine now holds centre-stage and the CVT completely transforms itself, with the simulated gearshifts feeling quite similar to a torque converter in their directness. Even the paddles shifters work to enhance this feeling of control by manufacturing in engine braking, although overall mid-range performance can't quite match up to turbo-powered rivals. But more impressive is the Lexus' dynamic ability. Body roll is very well controlled, and despite the added weight of the electrical components, the SUV changes direction with confidence and with little stray body movements. The stability control, which can be quite heavy-handed otherwise, also backs off further improving the SUV's balanced demeanour. This is assisted by the AWD system, which can send up to 80 per cent of the available torque to the rear axle in this mode. The brakes too feel natural and progressive despite the regen built-in.
The Lexus' best attribute in our books though is its ride comfort, made even more impressive by the fact that it uses a less exotic double-wishbone rear set-up. On some of the fairly bumpy trails we took on this drive, the NX soaked up big undulations and even some rough gravel patches with solidity and a sense of compliance, with very little roughness passing through into the cabin. All on 20-inch wheels. There's a truly comforting fluidity, like some luxury cars twice its price, in the way the NX moves on the road, with little vertical or lateral body movements at any speed.
While will think this mid-spec Luxury offers a great balance of comfort and dynamism, and it is the most popular variant among buyers, more enthusiast drivers can choose the top F-Sport variant. Aside from the more aggressive styling and added features, this also gets adaptive suspension, a Sport Plus mode and higher grade anti-roll bars front and rear.
2022 Lexus NX 350h safety
The Lexus suite of ADAS functions debuts in India with the NX 350h. This includes a pre-collision alert system, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, cross-traffic alert and auto high-beam although emergency braking isn't available in India. We didn't get a chance to fully test out this system, but it does seem to pick up lane markings and cars in front easily enough. Most helpful are the hard buttons on the steering wheel to control the function quickly.
2022 Lexus NX 350h price and verdict
With prices starting from Rs 64.90 lakh, the Lexus NX is pricier than its rivals. This is down to it being a CBU and the added cost of the hybrid system. But if you are in the market for a midsized luxury SUV, the NX should definitely make your shortlist. It looks striking and offers a cabin experience that is comforting and distinctive, and now intuitive. Pair that with the obvious efficiency advantages over pure ICEs and the competent driving dynamics, and the NX has all bases of luxury car ownership largely covered.
Images by Varun Kulkarni
Watch our 2022 Lexus NX350h video review below,
Starts Rs 64.9 Lakhs