2023 Lexus NX 450h + Luxury – Review by David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
The little NX that couldn’t last year has become the big NX that could this year. Toward the end of 2022, we spent a week with Lexus’s NX 350h hybrid sport utility, which made do with just 239hp. That output fell short of the mark in launching a vehicle weighing 4,487 pounds. This year, we spent a much more enjoyable week in the 302hp NX 450 hybrid, which boosts horsepower by nearly 50% over the previous model we tested.
The 450h drivetrain couples a 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder gas motor (165hp/185lb.-ft. torque) to a trio of AC electric motors. The pair up front produce 179hp and 199lb.-ft. of torque, while the rear unit adds 53hp and 89lb.-ft. of torque. Bottom line, the 450h assemblage yields a combined output of 302hp, which is good enough to propel this diminutive chassis through the standing start quarter mile in 14.1 seconds at 99mph. From a standing start, the NX 450h achieves 60mph in 5.6 seconds, while also managing to post an overall fuel economy average of 36MPG. This NX will also run for 35 miles on electric charge before resorting to backup power from the gas engine. The EPA rates this EV-only performance at 84MPGe.
Another huge improvement in the 2023 NX is resolution of the door latch issue that drove us to distraction in the 2022 model we tested. Lexus has appended a set of usage stickers to all four inside latches indicating that the door release operates not by pulling out the latch in the conventional method, but by pressing in on an invisible release button at the front of the latch. Although this method might have worked with the previous NX we tested, without explanatory stickers, the only way to open the door at the time was to pull the nasty, tiny latch out (twice!), not push it in. If you need to explain a “feature” to this extent, maybe it’s not such a great feature.
With that issue in the rear-view mirror, let us examine the rest of the NX’s living room. Despite the fact that the NX model occupies the bottom rung of the Lexus family ladder, the NX “Luxury” we drove was fully fettled and fitted with every convenience Lexus owners have come to expect from their mounts. The interior furnishings here are sleek, understated, but elegant. You will not find any contrasting stitching on the seats, nor jarring stylistic doodads to energize the dash or door panels. Rather, the interior is done in a triple black motif. Piano block dominates the face of the dash and its prominent 14-inch touchscreen display panel. The matte black “open pore wood” on the doors contrasts nicely with the sheen of the leather-trimmed seats. The interior pays tribute to good taste and also serves as a perfect contrast to our NX’s outrageous Cadmium Orange ($595) exterior paint.
One of the luxury features Lexus touts as standard on this line-topping NX is a standard Head Up display. If you wear Polarized glasses, you will thankfully not be able to see the array of information projected onto the windshield and into your line of sight. When I removed my sunglasses, however, I was astounded to discover that the Head Up information projected a baffling blizzard of information, including but not limited to: road sign assist, lane tracing assist, dynamic radar cruise control (with adjustable gaps to traffic), steering assist, and lane departure alerts. All these parameters can be controlled via a set of tiny buttons on the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel. Trying to decipher which button controlled which icon proved overwhelming while driving. Micromanaging the virtual Head Up invariably detracts from your concentration on the actual road. I gladly reached for my Polarized Carrera shades which obliterated the whole noxious array.
Thanks to standard all-wheel-drive, a handsome set of 20-inch dark gray metallic rims, and solid traction provided by all season Bridgestone Alenza A/S 02 radials (235/50R20), the lithe NX 450h gives a stout account of itself in the handling department. If you select Sport Mode rather than Normal Mode from the Drive Mode actuator, this NX will provide a convincing display of handling prowess on snaky back roads. Although Lexus augments the CVT transmission with a pair of metal paddles to promote gear change charades, the transmission is happiest when parked in Drive. With 302hp now on tap, Lexus has moved the 450h much closer to the sport-driving Fun Zone than any previous NX incarnation.
As usual, Lexus is Japanese for loading the sticker with extras. While the base price of the top echelon NX is a reasonable $56,555, a horde of upcharges brought the final tally to $62,780. The most expensive and probably least necessary option was $1,070 for the “Panoramic View Monitor, Lane Change Assist, Cross Traffic Alert.” The Lane Change and Cross Traffic aids are common standard items on vehicles costing half as much as this Lexus. The View Monitor is fun to watch as it does a 360-degree scan of your surroundings and then projects an image of all 4 sides like a mini satellite. But I think I’d rather save the thousand bucks.
2023 LEXUS NX 450h + Luxury
ENGINE: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves + 3 AC electric motors
HORSEPOWER: 306hp (Combined)
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 36MPG Gas Only/84MPGe
PRICE AS TESTED: $62,780
HYPES: Tidy Handling, Sophisticated Cockpit, Quick Enough
GRIPES: Poor Rear Vision, Dread Up Display
STAR RATING: 8.5 Stars out of 10
© 2023 David E. Colman