2023 Lexus NX Review

2023 Lexus NX - A strong contender in a crowded segment with multiple powertrains


The Lexus NX is a five-passenger compact, luxury crossover that first came to market in 2014. For the 2023 model year, it carries over after a significant overhaul in 2022 with refreshed looks, updated multimedia, new powertrains, and more safety features. This new model seems to be setting the stage for a new era over at Lexus.  It was the first to introduce an updated exterior style sans a Lexus badge in the back, first plug-in hybrid Lexus, and the first to adopt a new multimedia interface.

The NX is available in four different powertrains with either front or all-wheel drive. NX 250 models come standard with a 203 horsepower naturally aspirated 2.5L in-line 4-cylinder. NX 350 models increase performance with a 2.4L turbo inline four-cylinder that delivers 275 horsepower exclusively with AWD. The first hybrid option is the NX 350h which pairs the 2.5L with two high-torque electric motors to offer a combined 239 horsepower. And finally, the first-ever plug-in hybrid is the NX 450h+ which gets 304 total system horsepower offering an estimated combined 84 MPGe.

It comes with Lexus Safety System 3.0 standard on all NX models. Standard advanced features include risk-avoidance emergency steer assist, left turn oncoming vehicle detection/braking, right/left turn oncoming pedestrian detection/braking, and dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed management. These features join previous standards like road sign assist, pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, intelligent high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. Prices start at $40,205 for an NX 250 FWD and climb as high as a starting price of $59,905 for an NX 450h+ F Sport model. There's a lot of competition in this segment including the Acura RDX, Audi Q3/Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX50, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lincoln Corsair and Volvo XC40. After a week in the NX 350h AWD here's what stood out...

Exterior Style (+)
The NX has grown up in its second generation. It's longer, wider, and taller than the previous model but still within the parameters of the compact class. The new dimensions give the NX a better stance with good proportions. It retains the signature spindle grille, but it has been refined and is even more visually impactful. Flanking the grille are LED headlights with a bold lighting signature seen across the Lexus lineup.  Models equipped with the F Sport package get a unique grille and bumpers with a sportier look. Around back, new LED taillights stretch across the entire hatch with LEXUS spelled out across the center.

Removal of the Lexus badge (-)
One key styling change that has started with the NX and carries over to the new LX is the removal of the Lexus emblem from the rear of the vehicle. Replacing that emblem are new block letters that spell out LEXUS. Reports have suggested that Lexus is doing this to signify a design change that appears more modern and youthful. I think it's too reminiscent of similar Lincoln models that doesn't necessarily scream younger to me. The overall design itself succeeds in being more modern and youthful, but if I were a buyer, I would prefer to have that very identifiable L badge on the back.

Powertrain Variety (+)
Most models in this offer class offer two, maybe three, powertrain options... but the NX is available with four. All four powertrains are newer including the first ever plug-in hybrid for the Lexus brand. Each of these four offerings will deliver a different driving experience that coincide with their price tags. Nonetheless, Lexus has smartly created some variety in one of the most popular segments.

2.4L Turbo i4 Performance (+/-)
The NX 350 AWD is equipped with a 2.4L turbo i4 that delivers 275 horsepower and 317 lb.ft. of torque mated to an 8-speed direct shift automatic. Acceleration is respectable with an estimated 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds. There is sufficient pep to scoot through traffic for a fun drive. When the RPMs are pushed, the powertrain feels a bit labored and whiny. For most everyday driving, this won't be noticed, but it is a reminder that 'fun driving' has some limitations.

Hybrid Variant (+)
Both the hybrid and plug-in hybrid make a lot of sense for the NX. The NX 350h improves both power and fuel economy. The standard AWD system uses a second independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels to maximize fuel economy with a combined EPA-estimate of 39 MPG. It's also quicker than the previous generation with 239 combined system horsepower that was 1.5 seconds faster in a 0-60 test.
Acceleration is good with an estimated 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds. There is sufficient pep to scoot through traffic for a fun drive. The electric motors boost torque for a quicker overall response in passing. The overall ride is smooth and controlled at all speeds. The NX feels nimble with responsive steering. Quick turns and avoiding potholes were easy and there was no significant body lean. The center of gravity feels good, and the electronically adaptive suspension delivers a comfortable ride. It offers three drive modes, normal, eco, and sport which can be changed via a dial in the center console. The AWD system uses a second independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels to maximize fuel economy. This is an engaging crossover with a comfortable ride suitable for longer drives.

Electric Advantages (+)
The NX 450h+ comes with an estimated EPA range of 36 miles on electric power only via a high-capacity lithium-ion battery. Combined with the 2.0L engine, the estimated EPA range is 84 MPGe. A high-output, high-efficiency system reduces power loss and results in faster charging times. Using the maximum charging current of 240V, the plug-in hybrid can be fully charged in approximately two-and-a-half hours when equipped with the optional 6.6 kW Expedited Onboard Charger.

With a full 14.5-gallon tank it offered a range of over 543 miles. After a week of my standard driving, I barely tapped into the gas as I recharged the 36 miles of electric range each night by plugging into a standard 120V outlet. The NX does require premium fuel. The NX 450h+ comes with an estimated EPA range of 36 miles on electric power only via a high-capacity lithium-ion battery. Combined with the 2.0L engine, the estimated EPA range is 84 MPGe. It's also the quickest NX available getting from 0-60 in 6 seconds. A high-output, high-efficiency system reduces power loss and results in faster charging times. Using the maximum charging current of 240V, the plug-in hybrid can be fully charged in approximately two-and-a-half hours when equipped with the optional 6.6 kW Expedited Onboard Charger.

Fuel Economy (+)
When the NX 350h arrived with a full 14.5-gallon tank it offered a range of around 550 miles. Fuel economy ratings for the hybrid are 41/37/39 city/highway/combined MPG and after a week of suburban driving I averaged 40 MPG. These ratings are better than average for the class, but it does require premium fuel.

Multimedia System (+)
The new multimedia interface system pairs with a standard 9.8-inch touchscreen (or optional 14-inch screen) that extends from the digital cluster behind the steering wheel with a slight angle towards the driver. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is standard and once connected I had no issues with the CarPlay. The optional Mark Levinson 17-speaker 1,500-watt surround system fills the NX with clear audio.

The new Lexus interface features high-resolution graphics and a more modern execution. The menus have been simplified and are much easier to navigate through the screens. The system incorporates an intelligent voice assistant in which you can utilize the command "Hey Lexus" to adjust the climate, navigate directions or change audio options. This system can be personalized via cloud technology that can be transferred to other Lexus vehicles with the same system.

The touchscreen design is sleek with two climate control dials at the bottom corners that look chic. There's also a small volume dial at the bottom center with quick touch buttons for defrosters on either side so that you don't need to navigate the touchscreen on cold Chicago mornings. Features such as heated/ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, advanced park, ambient lighting, WIFI, and driver connect can all be done through the touchscreen, voice commands, or steering wheel controls. Over-the-air updates offer real-time updates for mapping and enriched media experiences. The cloud-based native navigation is also available to occupants with or without a network connection. Gone from the system is the center console the touchpad controls.

Interior (+)
The overall interior layout is both functional and modern. Drivers will face a simple digital cluster with views that can be customized to the driver's preference. The leather steering wheel is simple with paddle shifters and controls for the multimedia interface. The wheel design is sophisticated and provides a comfortable grip. The dash layout is driver-centric with a sporty feel. Materials are all soft to the touch and high-quality. Below the multimedia touchscreen is an appropriately placed wireless charging pad with nearby USB A and C ports.

The center console consists of an electronic gear selector that utilizes a short knob that moves through the gears non-linearly. It takes some time to get used to navigating through the gears, but ultimately was an execution I liked better than others out there. Also in the center console are two large cup holders, storage, and controls for some driver assist features. The center console storage has a neat feature that opens in two directions to face either the driver or passenger.

The overall interior space is more spacious than the previous model and offers reasonable head and leg room for a compact class. The seats are both comfortable and supportive. Optional features include a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, black open-pore wood trim, and a flashy red leather interior.

Door Handles (+)
One unique feature is the execution of door handles. Outside, most vehicle handles pull out or flip up, but on the NX there is a touch sensor on the inside of the handle to release the door. The actual handle never moves as it's fully controlled by the embedded digital latch. On the inside the handles are also different with a slim lever that works more like a button rather than a traditional handle. Both executions take some getting used to and even confused my kids who normally figure these things out quickly. Note that there is an emergency latch in place should the vehicle lose power or the digital technology malfunction.

Safety (+)
The NX was the first Lexus to receive the updated Safety System + 3.0 which includes the following driver assist features:

* Risk avoidance emergency steer assist
* Left turn oncoming vehicle detection/braking
* Right/left turn oncoming pedestrian detection/braking
* Dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed management
* Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection
* All-Speed dynamic radar cruise control
* Lane tracing assist
* Lane departure alert with steering assist
* Intelligent high beams
* Road sign assist
* Blind spot monitor w/rear cross traffic alert

Additional features available include a digital latch with safe exit assist, a digital rear view mirror, and front cross-traffic alert.

Final Statement (+)
In a fast-growing segment of compact luxury crossovers, the NX needed an update and the changes made by Lexus were all on point. The new styling is similar, but the proportions and size is a big improvement. The updated interior is a huge step forward and the multimedia system should appeal to a younger demographic, but Lexus needs to stay on top of the ever-changing technology to ensure it remains relevant. I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the NX and think it's an overall great package to consider, especially considering the variety available.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle:
2023 NX 350h Luxury
Exterior Color: Redline
Interior Color: Palomino Leather
Notable Options: Mark Levinson Premium Audio ($1,020), Power folding heated rear seats ($1,030), Panoramic View Monitor, Lane Change Assist, Front Cross Traffic Alert ($1,070), 20" Alloys ($1,310), Triple beam headlights ($850), Advanced Park ($480), Illuminated Door Sills ($460), Wireless package ($450), and more.
Price as tested: $57,955 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.