Performance SUVs continue to proliferate, but it’s unlikely Lexus will ever join in the revelry. Its only model within spitting distance is the NX, the smaller and spunkier sibling to the cushy RX. Since the NX debut in 2015, sharing a platform with the Toyota RAV4 and having the brand’s first turbocharged engine, it has been a hit—trailing only the RX in sales.
For 2022, the second-generation NX continues this successful formula. The new design is evolutionary, and the sheetmetal again sports numerous creases. The familiar spindle grille returns, although the checkmark-shaped daytime running lights are relocated above the headlights.
Compared to the outgoing NX, the overall length and wheelbase have increased 2.2 inches. Lexus put those inches to good use, increasing cargo space behind the rear seats by five cubic feet to 23 cubes. Conversely, the seats-down cargo space has decreased by eight cubic feet, but it seems a worthwhile tradeoff.
Because performance matters to us, we set our sights on the mid-tier NX350 with standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission powered by an all-new turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four. With 275 horsepower, it’s more powerful than rivals such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Pronounced turbo lag hampers this advantage, however. The 3,987-pound NX hits 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, 0.9 second behind the 228-hp X1. With the boost fully on boil, the NX covers the quarter-mile in 15.0 seconds at 95 mph and reaches 100 mph in 16.1 seconds, 0.6 second slower than the X1.
Braking from 70 mph takes 175 feet—15 feet longer than the summer-tire-equipped Q3 and 6 feet shorter than the GLA250. All NXs roll on run-flat tires, and they exacted a performance toll on our skidpad. The 235/50R-20 Bridgestone Alenza A/S02 tires howl under duress and only managed 0.81 g of lateral grip, versus 0.89 g for the Cadillac XT4. Upgrading to the F-Sport handling package ($3,300) adds adaptive dampers that noticeably firm up the ride, but the summer tire option has been dropped. These choices are all in the name of fuel economy: Lexus estimates the NX350 AWD will return a combined 25 mpg.
Despite these middling performance figures, the NX350 also doesn’t mind getting a little rowdy if you push its buttons. Loosening the restraints of the stability-control system means it’s possible to pitch the NX350 sideways on a dirt road, tossing rooster tails of dirt high into the air. Not that any NX owner ever would, but they could.
Inside, we find a new infotainment system that is a massive leap forward. The NX debuts a new Lexus multimedia interface that banishes all memories of the old touchpad nightmare. The giant 14.0-inch touchscreen is crisp, bright, and responsive. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and you can stream music from your Amazon or Apple Music accounts. “Hey, Lexus!” summons a virtual assistant, who could hear our requests perfectly, even with the music cranked.
Many lesser controls are integrated into the touchscreen, resulting in a less visually cluttered dash. Comfortable seats and high-quality materials add to the air of serenity. On the road, the cabin is not particularly quiet, however. We measured 74 decibels at full throttle and 70 decibels at a 70-mph cruise. The optional 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system ($1,020) goes a long way toward masking road noise.
The NX350 sits in the middle of the lineup and starts at $42,625. Below it, there’s the $39,025 NX250 with front-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four. There are also two hybrids: the NX350h and the plug-in NX450h+; the latter promises 37 miles of EV driving. The NX350h is $42,125, while the NX450h+ is a stratospheric $56,635.
Which brings us back to the NX350. While it’s not a performance crossover by any stretch of the imagination, the turbo engine at least gives it a sprightly demeanor. Cross-shoppers will find a lot to like in the new infotainment system, and returning NX owners will feel right at home.
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