If anything’s going to be the bridge to an electric future, it’s the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV), which runs fuel-free on a stored charge but defaults to conventional hybrid operation when that’s depleted.
Redesigned for 2022, the second-generation Lexus NX includes gas-only and conventional models, just as before, but adds a PHEV powertrain for the very first time. The 2022 Lexus NX 450+ runs from $62,065 to $78,465, while I had the $77,765 Executive trim. All pricing includes a non-negotiable $2,115 freight charge, while all NX models are all-wheel drive.
The new NX gets a major redesign, and while you can still see the styling bones from the last model, the body-side creases have been toned down and the rear is much improved, with full-width lights and smoother tailgate. I’ve never liked Lexus’s so-called “spindle” grille, though, and the old one looks downright elegant compared to this wide-maw muddle.
Inside, the previous upright centre stack is replaced with a curvy, asymmetrical design that puts the 14-inch touchscreen closer to the driver. The centre console is less cluttered, and the steering wheel is handsomely designed.
The redesigned 2022 NX hasn’t yet been rated by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), although the 2021 version got its highest Top Safety Pick+ designation.
Standard features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, and automatic high-beam headlights. The Executive package adds items such as a panoramic-view rear monitor and a self-parking feature. That last one is slower than parking it yourself, as all of these systems are, but it works really well and does everything, including changing gears, applying throttle, and finally putting itself in park. Later in the model year, a remote parking system will be available that will allow all that to be done without anyone in the driver’s seat.
The NX 450+ includes such standard items as 20-inch wheels, a power tailgate, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 14-inch infotainment screen, premium stereo, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming mirrors, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rain-sensing wipers, and power sunroof.
The Executive package includes a head-up display, digital rearview mirror, and premium LED headlights, but also a couple of items I would have expected in the base trim, such as a wireless charger, auto-levelling headlights, and a hands-free tailgate.
User Friendliness: 6.5/10
Lexus has finally dumped the old NX’s ghastly infotainment controller, with its console-mounted touchpad that moved a cursor on the screen. It’s now a touchscreen, but the NX still doesn’t have all the dead-nuts simplicity you want when changing functions at 100 km/h. There are some dials and buttons for functions, but too much involves tapping the glass.
I’m not impressed with the new steering-wheel-mounted controller where you spin your thumb on the steering wheel’s touchpad to bring up selectable menus in the head-up display; you then tap the pad to move between them and select your icon. It’s how you operate the cruise control, and that’s a level of complexity that doesn’t need to exist.
I like the NX’s cloud-based navigation, and it’s brilliant for locating destinations with voice control. But the electric-button interior door handles are an unnecessary gimmick, and I dislike their awkward, two-pull manual override, which you don’t want in a panic situation. Plain mechanical handles work just fine.
The second-smallest of Lexus’s sport-utilities, one up from the UX, the NX offers a roomy interior for its size. Its 632-L cargo space isn’t the segment’s largest, but it has a bit of storage under the rear floor as well. It can tow 907 kg (2,000 lb).
Think about being all relaxed and cozy in your most comfortable chair, and you’ve pretty much got the NX 450+. The seats are supportive; both front chairs have eight-way power adjustment, and there’s a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel. You can set the climate control to send air just to occupied seats, saving battery when you’re on electric-only.
The ride is deliciously comfortable as well – smooth but not too soft – and the cabin is quiet. Overall, this is one of the top vehicles for interior comfort that I’ve driven in a while.
The NX 450h+ shares its powertrain with the Toyota RAV4 Prime. It has a 2.5L four-cylinder engine that makes 181 hp on its own, and 304 hp when combined with the hybrid system, and with a 6.6-kW onboard charger.
It’s officially rated for 61 km on electricity alone when fully charged, which takes about 2.5 hours on a 240-volt charger. (While it takes longer, you can also top it up from a regular 120-volt outlet; you don’t need to install a home charger as you’d want with a full electric.) When that depletes, the system automatically reverts to gas-electric hybrid operation. You can choose to start your journey on battery; run in auto mode, which automatically switches between battery or hybrid, depending on conditions; or save the charge for later by running on hybrid and then switching to battery-only. That means it’s possible to use the combined gas-electric system for the highway, when a battery depletes faster, and then tackle city streets with that stored charge, where electric operation is more favourable.
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
The hybrid system drives the front wheels, while an electric motor powers the rear ones when all-wheel is required. The NX is sure-footed and smooth, with nimble steering and composure around curves.
You must plug it in to get that initial electric-only range, but the hybrid system self-charges through regenerative braking as well as an electric motor-generator under the hood that puts excess energy into the battery. There’s none of the harsh pedal feel that hybrid brakes used to have (and occasionally still do on some vehicles), and they stop confidently. Overall, this is a nice vehicle to drive.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
I charged the vehicle whenever it sat in my driveway, and while I haven’t received the hydro bill yet, it’s immensely satisfying to drive more than 500 km and pay $5.70 for gasoline. On electric operation, the NX 450+ is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 2.8 Le/100 km (energy used converted to equivalent gasoline energy). On hybrid operation, it’s rated at 6.2 L/100 km in the city, 7.0 on the highway, and 6.6 combined. When I was in that mode, I averaged 6.8 L/100 km.
This Lexus doesn’t yet have much similarly sized, plug-in luxury competition, but one example, the Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring PHEV, is rated a 3.0 Le/100 km, and 7.1 L/100 km on gasoline.
It’s a hefty step from the $62,065 base trim to my Executive at $77,765, thanks to such items as 20-inch wheels, more driver-assist technology, higher-grade headlights, panoramic sunroof, head-up display, and more. The range-topping F Sport Series 3 then adds variable suspension, F Sport steering wheel and seats, sportier drive mode settings, and F Sport styling cues for $700 more. Should you not want PHEV, the regular NX 350h hybrid, also all-new, runs from $52,015 to $67,815.
The Lincoln Corsair comes in at slightly less than the 450h+, running from roughly $60,000 to about $73,000 with most option packages. If you’re willing to forego some of the Lexus luxury features, the Toyota RAV4 Prime can be fully kitted to its top level for $59,000 or so (and there are government incentives available at the federal and provincial levels that could see that price drop by thousands of dollars).
PHEVs are often dismissed because their battery range is minimal next to a full electric, but 61 km (or so; it depends on factors such as ambient temperature and driving style) is more than enough for many daily commutes, and it won’t leave you stranded if it runs out. You need to be diligent about plugging in to justify a PHEV’s extra purchase price, but for many, the 2022 Lexus NX 450+ might be the best possible bridge to a full electric future.
|Engine Cylinders||Hybrid I4|
|Peak Horsepower||304 hp net|
|Fuel Economy||6.2 / 7.0 / 6.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 2.8 Le/100 km comb EV mode|
|Cargo Space||642 / 1,328 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2022 Lexus NX 450h+|
|Price as Tested||$77,865|
$15,700 – Executive Package, $15,700