(Pocket-lint) – You’ve quite probably seen a bunch of Lexus NX on the roads since the series’ 2015 launch. That’s because it’s been a really popular crossover SUV series for the Japanese luxury brand. Fast-forward seven years, to 2022, and you might think the second-gen Lexus NX – here in its 350h self-charging hybrid form – looks rather like a nip and tuck version of the original.
On the face of it you’d be right: Lexus hasn’t reinvented the wheel from a visual perspective (despite using a new platform and new powertrain here) – what would be the need for something so well established? – but has refined the design and brought in some more contemporary design motifs (spindle grille and rear lightbar being two such features).
In the same breath, however, you’d be oh-so-wrong: the Lexus NX 350h is among the first to introduce Lexus’ completely overhauled in-car technology system. It does away with the severely outdated ‘mousepad’ system of old and – finally – puts Lexus firmly into the driver’s seat in this regard.
Add heaps of safety tech as standard and, combined with competitive pricing to keep the full spectrum of German and Swedish (well, Chinese) competition at bay, and is the NX 350h the ultimate hybrid crossover SUV?
As an update of the earlier NX 300h, the NX350h has three clear points of difference: from its side profile it’s softer with its metal folds, giving a gentle visual that’s less bulked out; from the front, however, the near-vertical drop-off of the front new grille gives a much more aggressive stance, but it pairs so much better with those striking headlights; the rear, meanwhile, adopts a signature ‘lightbar’ design with the lamps stretching across almost the full width of the car.
Not that you’ll be comparing like for like when seeing this crossover SUV out on the road. In isolation we think it really stands well on its own four wheels; it’s visually arresting from certain angles, while never veering into outlandish (there’s no bonkers kidney grille here). It’s also quintessentially Lexus – and it doesn’t need to shout too much to let you know that in a glance.
The Azure Blue paint work is rather plush (you’d hope so for £920 extra), while the 20-inch alloys of this F Sport variant further add to that upright stance (these being the “machine-faced” specials, an extra £1,099). Still, even if you don’t get the big-wheel bling, the entry NX 350h will look content on its 18-inch alloys we’re sure.
Jump in the driver’s seat and the NX 350h presents itself well, delivering the kind of comfort and refined finish you’d expect from a luxury vehicle. The seats here are leather with an aluminum inlay – and while we might’ve suggested that Lexus was avoiding outlandish, the ‘Red Flare’ versions of the black seats in this review might have you thinking otherwise (yes, they’re very red).
Lots of seat position adjustment means you can find the perfect spot for your derrière and legs, our model even came kitted out with heated and cooled (ventilated) seats. Lexus isn’t stingy with standard kit, though, meaning you’ll get the heated seats on even the most entry model (just not ventilated too).
There’s also ample space to casually lean your not-in-use leg, unlike some earlier hybrids that were obsessed with giant centre tunnel sections, given a more open space to the centre. The gearstick hasn’t gone fully digital or anything, though, it’s still very much an actual, physical stick that you need to slide over to pick between its drive, neutral and reverse options (park is a simple press-button).
Interestingly – and we suspect not everyone will like these – the interior door handles are e-latch, meaning they’re electronically controlled and take a sort-of two-step mechanism to open so you don’t fling a door open without looking and smash it into a passing cyclist or pedestrian. You can override with a good shove, if you need, though. And it’s not like the door doesn’t open, it just has a split second moment of pause, which should prompt you to have a little look around as a result. The exterior handles are entirely conventional looking, though, not hidden from view like so many modern ones are.
Diverting our attention to the rear and this five-seater will easily accommodate four adults total, or a family of five with at least one younger kid in the mix. There’s ample legroom, having sat in the back (in a car park whilst out driving on our own… weird, we know), the seats don’t drop any of the comfort you’ll find up front (save for the degrees of adjustability, of course), and there’s also air conditioning and chargers back here too.
But it’s less the interior space and more the tech that grabs our attention about this car. Why? Because it’s a complete overhaul. Much as we’ve loved various Lexus cars over the years – the LC 500, while a completely different kettle of fish, is wonderful to drive because its V8 engine dominates – the in-car technology setup has been sub-par for years and years.
Not so in the NX 350h. It’s the first Lexus to really step things up, bringing together all the mod cons that are now, frankly, just expectations for many drivers. You get a wireless charging pad for your phone (plus neighbouring USB-A and USB-C ports for charging). There’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility (although not wireless, far as we can tell, when trying out the former). Don’t use that and the sat nav is – shocker alert – actually usable this time around.
Principle to the lot is a whopping-great touchscreen that’s hanging off the dash most eloquently. In our F Sport review model it’s the 14.8-inch panel, but entry-level cars will have a smaller 9.8-inch variant (which we’ve not seen). That screen is angled towards the driver, but not too severely, to aid with touch control – that’s right, no ‘mousepad’ controller to the central column anywhere to be seen, which is a godsend.
The idea behind the screen positioning is to put everything within comfortable reach of the driver. Super, except if you’re in a right-hand drive country, because all the on-screen menus default to the left, which would be ideal in the USA or Germany or any of the other (admittedly numerous) left-hand drive countries. Hopefully just a small over-the-air (OTA) update for regional adjustment could be in the pipeline in the future – because the NX is the first Lexus to support OTA updates too, meaning all this tech should only get better over the course of time too.
That one small gripe about menu position aside, however, and we honestly don’t think you’ll spend too long digging through the depths of menus. Quite simply there aren’t that many to muck about with. We’d like some more in-depth adjustment for the on-board audio system, mind, but that’s about all.
Cleverly, Lexus hasn’t foregone the idea of physical controls, finding that sensible balance between touchscreen and tactile interactivity. The driver’s and passenger’s climate controls, for example, are rotational dials (which look rather like they’ve been extracted from a Jaguar Land Rover factory) complete with neat illumination and clear display about the chosen temperature.
All in all, the tech suite here sees Lexus not just step forward, but positively leap into the current generation. It’s good nine times out of 10, too, with only little peculiarities – the steering wheel buttons are too easy to press by accident – ensuring it will get a big thumbs up from most drivers. Indeed, go look inside an Audi Q5 and there’s now not really a thing to separate the two (didn’t think we’d be saying that any time soon).
The 2022 NX 350h has one crucial letter in its name: the ‘h’. Standing for ‘hybrid’, this model is a true self-charging hybrid in that it recoups energy from regenerative braking whilst driving that, in the right conditions, means it can run on electric only (EV mode).
But before you go and run out to buy one, you need to consider the limitations of this. Namely: EV-only driving will top out at 30mph, any quick acceleration attempts will see the engine kick in to take over, and the realistic range on nothing but electric is likely nothing more than a mile. Plug-in hybrid this is not (that’s the NX 450h’s job), and all-electric this isn’t even trying to be.
So why is the hybrid factor so important? A number of reasons: you don’t need to ever think about it if you don’t want, just filling up at the pump like any regular car. However, in the background, that EV assistance will aid consumption and, as a result, you’ll achieve a better a miles-per-gallon compared to a conventional combustion system. In our hands, including some rorty pedal-to-the-floor test driving moments, we returned 37.5mpg – we suspect 40mpg isn’t out of the question.
But it’s not just about lowering consumption, it’s about changing the driving experience. Stop at some traffic lights in a city and you’ll potentially pull away in EV only mode. It’s quieter and smoother than any conventional combustion system, the latter point in particular adding a further element of refinement.
Lexus uses an E-CVT system – that’s electronic continuously variable transmission – which, in effect, has as many gears as it pleases. It means the NX 350h drives smoothly in all conditions, although its 2.5-litre engine can get a little ‘shouty’ when put under pressure. There’s no the same kind pep here as you may find from its key competitors either, with the Audi Q5 that bit punchier.
Still, the NX 350h does have a 15 per cent 0-62mph improvement over its predecessor, hitting that in 7.7 seconds. Not that you’re buying this car for blistering speed, it’s more about comfort, but it’s good to know it’ll hit the mark to overtake promptly as you need.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out the array of safety technology that Lexus has put into the NX 350h as standard. There’s a lot (in addition to that e-latch doorhandles), which is pretty unusual compared to many, but certainly commendable.
There’s a pre-collision system (warning system, auto-braking if irresponsive); intersection assist (detects oncoming traffic/pedestrians, useful if you can’t see by eye); emergency steering assist; adaptive cruise control with road sign assist (can recognise and react to signs). If you want yet more then the Extended Safety Package adds front cross traffic, lane change assist, advanced park and remote parking – but at additional cost.
The NX 350h looks to be the start of a revolution for Lexus. Not just because there’s stacks of comfort, lots of safety kit as standard, and distinctive looks. No, because the Japanese luxury car brand has finally invested in a new tech suite that finally brings it into contention.
That’s really important because its closest rivals – the pricier Audi Q5, for example – now aren’t the gulf apart in terms of technology usability that they once were. And that will bring new customers, not just return investment. It’s a mighty important change.
Otherwise the Lexus NX 350h isn’t exactly about thrill-seeker driving style – its hybrid powertrain will help with some smooth city driving and better consumption overall – but well-judged comfort in a luxe package that’s competitively priced enough to give real reason to consider buying.
Writing by Mike Lowe.