Review: 2022 Lexus NX 350 AWD
Luxury is increasingly communicated by touchscreen acreage, rather than by power or engine displacement, and Lexus is the latest upscale automaker to adopt this digitized vocabulary. The middle sibling in a three-SUV family, the NX, returns for its eighth year on the U.S. market with nip-tucked sheetmetal and an attention-seeking infotainment implant. Inside and out, the NX is trying desperately to be tech-forward. So hard that the new-for-2022 car comes off as fussy; you get the feeling the NX would block you from its social media channels if you called it an “automobile.”
Those door handles aren’t handles, for one. Rather than rely on hinges to mechanically unlatch the door, Lexus uses buttons to electronically prompt the mechanism. These “Digital Latch” controls respond to the slightest pressure, meaning you don’t yank a handle so much as place a delicate palm into a butler’s gloved hand. Elegantly indulgent, or stupendously pretentious?
If your gut reaction puts you in the second group, cut Lexus some slack. It must, after all, convince you that this is Definitely Not a Toyota–in the case of the 2022 NX, while also introducing you the biggest interior design change since the infamous trackpad appeared in 2010. The NX is a relatively new model line, debuting in 2014 under the headline of First Turbocharged Lexus and sharing most of its architecture with the contemporary RAV4. (The NX is the smaller sibling to the cash-cow RX.) The second-generation model arrives for the 2022 model year based on Toyota’s TNGA-K platform, which also accommodates the Sienna, Highlander, and Camry. Given this overlap, you can expect to see that NX-first turbocharged engine—a 2.4-liter member of Toyota’s Dynamic Force family, and the first forced-induction variant—in many other vehicles. Lexus also added a plug-in powertrain (450H+) for the inaugural year of the second-gen NX, bringing the total number of powertrains from three to four. (In order: NX 250, NX 350, NX 350h, NX 450h+).
We tested the turbocharged model, designated NX 350 and available only with all-wheel drive. Our tester was technically a pre-production vehicle, but a jaunt through the 2022 model year configurator revealed that the $43,025 car boasted at least $7K in options. That number is conveniently close to the $7450 price of the Luxury Package, which ticks virtually every box. (The most desirable options—the big infotainment screen, the nice stereo, the moonroof—are available individually, to Lexus’ credit.)
The angularly styled sheetmetal of the mid-sized RX fits strangely on its little sibling; there are three character lines everywhere you look except for the rear, which is so generic, down to and including its L E X U S lettering, that one of our staffers mistook it for an Escape (from the same vantage point, E S C A P E). That objection noted, the aggressively edgy RX has sold in the six figures each year since 2012. For better or worse, this crease-happy design language is now synonymous with Lexus crossovers, and the social status that comes with such a posh product.
The interior is a far more elegant proposition—if you aren’t intimidated by square inches of screen. Gone is the tiered, button-festooned console, the touchscreen that perched awkwardly atop it, and (at long last) the much-maligned trackpad. The analog gauges in the instrument cluster disappear as well, replaced by a 7-inch screen. A 14-inch screen (as a standalone add-on, $1105) dominates the center of the dash, absorbing all buttons except for climate control dials and volume knob (which doubles as audio on/off). Standard models use a 9.8-incher placed in a similar configuration. Drive modes gain their own Very Important Dial, which is so conspicuous that your author frequently mistook it for stop/start or stereo volume.
What isn’t immediately obvious is the NX’s reliance on its head-up display, in which Lexus has concentrated a host of information usually relegated to a digital instrument panel and controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. In this case, the steering wheel controls manage the projection on the windshield, which you can configure three different ways, based on your tolerance of digital graphics. The buttons themselves we found finicky—they require more pressure than the exterior door latches (usually a double-click, too) and are make of matte black plastic. Speaking of doors, egress demands as much attention as ingress: The interior handles, if you succeed in prying out one end, operate like those on mid-20-teens BMWs—pull once to unlock, once again to unlatch. The easier method is to lay your hand on the armrest and depress the blade’s forward end with your thumb. Once such push, and the door unlocks and opens.
Despite its insistence on complicating such delightfully satisfactory and well-established controls such as buttons and handles, the NX rides beautifully for a little luxury crossover. It’s softly sprung, as you’d expect, but the boat-like behavior of its larger RX sibling is absent. Nothing but the most abusive pothole will bottom out the suspension. Even the fancy, 20-inch wheels don’t intrude much into the experience. The NX is most likely to alarm you at single-digit speeds, at which it displays a hyperactive spatial awareness. The forward-collision sensors chime if you creep forward at a red light or stop sign, when it “sees” the cross-traffic. Worse yet, the NX will sound the alarm at stoplights when you stop at a non-intimidating distance behind the next waiting car. The system would feel more worthwhile if it could keep more zealous watch on the blind spots, which, thanks to abnormally chunky B-pillars, are rather generous.
If left to determine its own following distances, the NX is a much more relaxing companion. During a late-afternoon airport run down Michigan’s I-94, the NX’s driver-assist systems navigated sweeping curves with ease and ushered us smoothly through a knot of stop-and-go traffic. To access such refined behavior, however, you must use the steering-wheel controls and head-up display. The projected information is sufficiently bright, even with polarized sunglasses, but you cannot set cruising speed or following distance using any other display. An iPhone-toting twenty-something may acclimate readily; older generations may feel like 1987’s Blade Runner wasn’t too far off the mark. Couldn’t cars just do regular car things?
If you agree with the premise that more pixels are always better, and relish the novelty of gadgetry, the new NX will wow you. The screen responds with phone-like rapidity to swipes, taps, and touches yet avoids drowning you in submenus. The native graphics are handsome enough to make us skip CarPlay. If the prospect of learning a new ergonomic, screen- and “digital latch”—dependent language wearies you, you’ll be better served by a marque stepping more slowly into the future: BMW’s 2023 X1 has also decided to transcend most analog controls, but Acura, for instance, still festoons the console of its RDX with jab-friendly physical buttons. If you can hang with it, however, the 2022 NX undeniably jets Lexus into the modern, digitized age. Still, we wonder? has Lexus jumped too far, too quickly?
2022 Lexus NX 350 AWD
Price, base / as-tested: $43,025 / $50,000 (est.)
Highs: Lovely ride, responsive touchscreen with pretty graphics shouts “this ain’t your grandparent’s Lexus.”
Lows: Ugly exterior. Unnecessarily complicated ergonomics for ingress/egress. Overly dependent on head-up display.
Summary: In its quest to modernize and add glamour, Lexus has given this posh little SUV a fussy character.