We’re always happy to test a new Lexus – but a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes they are just lovely, refined vehicles that you’d be happy for your grandparents to toddle around town in.
But lately, Toyota’s luxury division has been messing with us – throwing some Jalapeno poppers into our box of creamy nougats. The IS 350 and IS 500 are both jaw-droppers – thrilling to drive, stunning to look at, proof that Lexus is ready to take on the world’s best and give them a good stomping.
So, when we got our hands on the all-new NX 350 we were wondering, super sweet or hot! hot! hot! Put on your bib – we’re going for a test drive!
Bold New Look
Ok, the outside certainly turns up the heat. The previous model was a pleasant looking, luxurious transport based on the previous Toyota RAV4, which could also be described as pleasant. As the new RAV4 got seriously bolder, so does the NX.
Up front is a massive Lexus spindle grille that leaves no doubt who makes the vehicle. While it is big, it’s interesting to look at, with a 3-D effect that looks especially tough in our blacked-out F SPORT model. Flanking the lower part of the grille are additional intakes that also house small circular fogs. Signature L-shaped daytime running lights and three-projector headlamps create a serious and aggressive look.
The profile reminds of the previous NX after a gym membership. Those former slabby sides now bristle with muscular fenders while a pronounced shoulder line at the door handles keep things tight and crisp. You can’t hit the gym without some new kicks, and the F SPORT wears 20-inch split-five spoke alloys in a gloss black that really catch the eye.
The rear has a fresh look, thanks to a full-width LED blade rear taillight (like you’ll find on the IS) that creates a unified look, while the familiar Lexus logo has been dropped in favor of bold L E X U S lettering that really catches the eye. Speaking of eye-catching, our tester’s F-SPORT-unique “Ultra Sonic Blue Mica 2.0” (yes, the actual name) really popped, looking rich and sporty.
If you think the exterior looks good, wait until you step inside.
Of course, you expect high quality materials – it’s a Lexus after all – but it really does feel like a step above the previous model, with a rich look that’s designed to show off technology. Plop into the ultra-comfortable F SPORT driver’s seat and you get a cool digital readout that is happy to put the tach front and center, and let it arc across the digital speedo. At the bottom of the gauge is a turbo boost display that’s cool.
This big story is literally a big story with the available 14.0-inch infotainment display, that is also beautifully integrated into the dash creating a cockpit vibe. The display itself is gorgeous, and you’ve got Wireless connectivity including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Charging, so you can ditch your chords.
We were excited to also ditch the old Lexus touchpad info-tainment system, but the new one isn’t ready for prime time. We found having to navigate around through different screens from mildly annoying to exasperating at times. Luckily, you can now just say “Hey Lexus!” and ask for what you want.
The voice system is well thought out, with dual microphones, enhanced noise-cancellation, seat detection and speaker location capabilities., The system enables a voice-first approach allowing front seat occupants an expanded and interactive experience to access navigation, media, phone and certain vehicle settings such as climate control and window opening/closing.
The rest of the driving experience feels very European, with a small stubby shift lever in the center console, a chunky leather-wrapped wheel with plenty of remote controls, and easily accessed paddle shifters when the sporty mood invites.
When not feeling sporty, helping us chill out was an awesome sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. The navigation system has some cool tricks, too. An off-line mode detects when you’re entering an area with low connectivity, and downloads applicable maps and services in advance. That’s very cool!
Tech aside, this is a very comfy place to be for those in front and in back – much like the previous model, size-wise, while the generous cargo bay is even more generous with an additional 5 cubic feet and easy folding rear seats when it’s time to haul the goods.
Speaking of access, one thing you will notice is that door access is done by a microswitch, just a fingertip touch unlocks and opens the doors. Very luxurious. When you’re inside, it takes two pulls to open the door – which is very BMW-like.
WT F SPORT!
The drive is a step up. Under the hood is a new 275-horse, 2.4-liter, turbo 4-cylinder. And it’s a sweetheart of an engine, with 317 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,700 rpm. Combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission and All-Wheel-Drive, our tester was punchy and solid off the line, and was even more enthusiastic in Sport mode. There’s a sporty exhaust note, too, fitting in line with our F SPORT’s aggressive looks.
Thanks to the F SPORT’s Active Variable Suspension and upgraded shocks, ride and handling are equally sporty, and the NX finds a middle ground between the more luxurious Lexus models and sportier Europeans like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. An easy-to-reach knob on the center console lets you dial in your desired drive.
We especially liked the NX steering which had lots of feel, making it all the more fun to go after those twisty roads. Being a Lexus at heart, when you’re not pressing on, the ride is comfortable, composed and quiet.
While you’re cruising along, you can feel confident with the standard Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, which includes Risk Avoidance Emergency Steer Assist, Left Turn Oncoming Vehicle Detection/Braking, Right/Left Turn Oncoming Pedestrian Detection/Braking, Oncoming Vehicle Detection and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Curve Speed Management. If it sounds like Lexus is raising the bar on the safety goodies, you’re right!
How Much for The New Hotness?
Like most things Lexus, you have a wide range of models. You can get into a new NX for as little as $39,025, for the front-wheel drive NX 250. For a stylish competitor loaded with safety and luxury, that’s a strong value.
Stepping up to our tester, the NX 350 F SPORT Handling AWD model, wii cost you $47,725. Our loaded tester included Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint, The Luxury Package ($2,200), Panorama Glass Roof ($1,600), Power Rear Door ($400), Digital Key and Wireless Charger ($450), Panoramic View Monitor and Front Cross Traffic Alert ($1070), Triple Beam LED headlamps ($850) and Heated Steering Wheel ($250). We rang the bell at $53,640.
Note: When the Toyota RAV was all-new last year, the price jumped a bit, so it’s not surprising to see the same thing here.
Competition? Load up a BMW X3, and you’ll see it’s $51,745. The BMW adds a bit of sportiness, but it can’t match the sheer drama of the NX interior. Volvo’s XC40 is also an intriguing choice at $46,325. We love the Swedish style, and the XC is a great drive as well. And of course you could opt for a RAV4, at $42,317 for a well optioned hybrid model.
With a nice upgrade in performance and that stunning interior, it would be tough not to give the Lexus the nod over the competition.
Bold on the outside, beautiful on the inside, and a joy to drive, the Lexus NX 350 F SPORT is the perfect blend of spicy and sweet!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.