The 2022 Lexus NX has undergone a complete makeover, and follows the usual script of being bigger and stronger, and bristling with fresh connectivity and more electrified technology than before.

Brimming with Trims

While the outgoing NX came in only two trims, the 300 or 300h hybrid, the 2022 NX stable has four variants, all of which come standard with all-wheel drive in Canada. First up is the entry-level NX 250 Signature that, with a starting price of $47,400 before freight and tax, runs with the 203-hp 2.5L four-cylinder from the Toyota RAV4. Next is the $55,400 NX 350 Luxury that gets a turbocharged 2.4L four making 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. Both the NX 250 and NX 350 use an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed in the gas-powered NX 300 of old.

Then we come to the 2022 NX 350h hybrid. Lexus predicts this 239-hp gas-electric model will be the volume model. Lexus and Toyota are serious about electrification, and here it comes down to aggressive pricing and a broad range of hybrid trims (five in total), starting with the $49,900 Signature. The telltale marker here is the $56,400 NX 350h Luxury that is now only $1,000 more than the equivalent gas-only NX 350. With the outgoing NX, the gas-to-hybrid gap was $2,500.

Capping the NX hierarchy is the 302-hp 450h+, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with an all-electric driving range of 61 km and a starting price of $59,950. Like the 350h, this PHEV uses a 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine paired with twin electric motor-generators in the front. The on-demand all-wheel drive system employs a separate independent electric motor that drives the rear wheels when extra traction is needed. Transmission duties for both the 350h and 450h+ are handled by an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Similar Styling, Softened

Viewing this redone Lexus, it carries all the styling cues of the first-gen NX, but the overall look has been softened; it’s now more mature and better resolved. It doesn’t look so much like a paper cut just waiting to happen. There’s a new grille and reshaped headlights. The standard wheel size is 18 inches, which is upgradable to 20 inches. The 2022 NX’s wheelbase has increased by 30 mm (1.2 in), its width by 20 mm (0.8 in), its height by five mm (0.2 in), and its overall length by 20 mm (0.8 mm). All this translates to increased passenger space, as well as 14 per cent more cargo room behind the second row, according to Lexus.

Upgraded Tech

Inside, we find a totally redesigned cabin featuring the first application of Lexus’s next-gen infotainment system. While a 9.8-inch touchscreen is base, all vehicles at the media launch event in Phoenix, Ariz., were equipped with the optional 14-inch screen that includes a three-year trial for services such as Google-based Cloud Navigation, Destination Assist, and Intelligent Assistant. The brand’s old and imprecise touchpad is now a thing of the past, which is certainly cause for celebration.

While most hard buttons have been relegated to the dustbin, we still get two big rotary temperature controls, a volume dial, and another for calling up drive modes. All other HVAC functions are controlled via a dedicated section in the lower part of the screen.

With this expanse of digital real estate, the touch points are large, well-marked, and fairly easy to hit. The driver-angled screen is pin sharp, and as would be expected of Lexus, this NX’s cabin is a paragon of quality materials and execution. The overall design is simple, elegant, and feels expensive. The driver’s gauge cluster is totally digital and these testers sported the optional 10-inch colour head-up display.

The infotainment system features wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, and now two smartphones can be paired via Bluetooth simultaneously. Intelligent Assistant is Lexus’s dedicated voice activation system that mimics Siri, Alexa, et al. Saying “Hey, Lexus” wakes up the helpful disembodied voice within, after which just about any function of the vehicle can be controlled via natural voice commands. Calling in destinations is quick, easy, and, in my brief experience, dead accurate. If the destination is a hotel, for instance, you can also ask how far it is, how long it will take to get there, call the location, or have your progress and arrival time sent to a contact.

The system can also learn a driver’s voice or particular accent. Apparently, Intelligent Assistant reads inflections as well. Blurt “Hey Lexus, I’m cold!” with a tad more urgency, and she’ll turn up the heat a few degrees more than she normally would. Further control of the system is done via touch sensor pads on the steering wheel. Other available features include wireless charging, a digital rearview mirror, thematic ambient lighting, and a heroic 17-speaker surround sound system.

Exterior and interior door handles are now digital, although there is mechanical override if all systems go sideways. This handle-tech ties into a new safety feature that monitors for rear approaching bikes, cars, and pedestrians, and issues a warning and momentarily delays door opening if needed. Hyundai and Genesis, as well as Jaguar Land Rover, offer similar technology.

Delightful Drive

The gas-only NX 350 with its 275-hp turbocharged 2.4L four is a strong performer. Paired with the eight-speed auto, power delivery is smooth and seamless. But jumping into the hybrid 350h reveals why, for only an extra $1,000, Lexus expects this to be the best-selling variant. Its combined horsepower output may be less (239 hp versus 275 hp), but the instant surge of electric torque when dipping into the throttle gives it superior drivability. The weight penalty for the hybrid is only 20 kg (44 lb). Factor in the fuel economy (5.7 / 6.4 / 6.0 L/100 km versus 10.5 / 8.3 / 9.5 L/100 km), and you have what is sometimes referred to as a no-brainer. Perhaps the only drawback to the 350h is its CVT that sends the engine’s revs soaring when matting the throttle. But overall, it’s well behaved.

Standard on all NX models is the latest suite of the brand’s advanced safety features that adds new touches such as risk avoidance steering assist, left turn oncoming vehicle detection/braking, adaptive cruise with curve speed management, and road sign recognition.

Lexus picked some scenic and challenging roads through the Arizona desert for this media launch. The 2022 NX is a competent handler with accurate and natural-feeling electric steering, going down the road with signature Lexus refinement. The only real complaint comes from the seat height that doesn’t adjust low enough for those with longer torsos. Oh, and the backlighting for the gauge cluster could be brighter.

For those seeking more sport in their NX, the F Sport package (adaptive variable suspension with sport dampers, dark wheels and trim, sport seats) is limited to the gas-powered NX 350 and the PHEV NX 450h+.

The most expensive 2022 NX is the 450h+ F Sport at $76,350. With 302 hp combined (Lexus doesn’t print torque figures for the hybrids), this variant is certainly the swiftest of the lot, but at 2,030 kg (4,475 lb), the extra 100 kg (220 lb) of battery and hybrid gubbins over the gas 350 is noticeable.

Electric range is an estimated 61 km, charging time is 4.5 hours (240-volt), and combined fuel economy with full battery is 2.8 Le/100 km. Once the battery is depleted, combined economy is 6.6 L/100 km.

Final Thoughts

Currently, Lexus’s best-selling vehicle is the Cambridge, Ont.-built RX, which is one size up from the NX. But Lexus predicts this newer, larger, and more tech-savvy 2022 NX will become its new top seller. We wouldn’t bet against it.

The 2022 Lexus NX arrives in Canadian dealerships late 2021.