Road Test Review – 2023 Lexus NX 450h+ F Sport Handling – A Performance Hybrid That Trumps Others?

The second-generation Lexus NX has been a sales success for the brand, with the model bringing buyers more technology, style, and efficiency. But while the mainstream versions certainly deliver the goods on fuel economy, what if you’re an SUV buyer that craves more performance to go along with your ability to dodge the pump? Lexus thinks the 2023 Lexus NX450h+ might be the perfect antidote for these buyers. However, can it deliver the driving fun enthusiasts want and good fuel economy?


F Sport DNA Adds Flash To NX 450h+

While the current generation NX is not as wild of a styling exercise as its predecessors were, the look is still fresh. Our tester wore a lovely shade of dark blue paint with the spindle-style front grille and the black accents scattered throughout the rest of the SUV, being complimented quite nicely by the aquatic-looking hue. The look is also more minimalist than before. However, there are still plenty of bold traits embedded into its DNA, and thankfully it’s not relatively as subdued as the Volvo XC60, which will always be a prominent example of Swedish minimalism in action.

The rear styling is just as expressive as the front end, with the sleek taillights melting into the rear liftgate with a lightbar in the middle unifying the two pieces together. The rear bumper also gets a pair of faux vents and a flowing rear bumper incorporating a small faux diffuser. While the faux diffuser is perhaps a bit overkill on a vehicle like this, it shows that Lexus is willing to step outside its comfort zone regarding hybrid entries. The NX is undoubtedly a welcome breath of fresh air compared to some of its rivals.

Performance DNA Gives NX Interior More Pop

Slip inside the NX 450h+, and you’ll quickly understand just how committed Lexus designers were to providing a solid theme for the cabin. Black accented trim is complemented by splashes of red accents, and the model benefits from more soft-touch materials and higher-quality plastics. The doors themselves steal a page from the Chevrolet Corvette and pitch traditional door handle assemblies for electronic buttons. These buttons will also automatically disable themselves if pedestrians or cyclists are on that side.

Like other new Lexus models, the NX has ditched its touchpad interface system and features a formal touchscreen infotainment system instead. A 9.8-inch system is standard on lesser trims, but the range-topping 450h+ arrives with the 14-inch screen standard. This system benefits from new software, and Lexus did a good job delivering response times that are faster and more accurate than before. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, with Amazon and Apple Music being bundled in. The seats are sufficiently bolstered, but we were longing for lower back support, with our lower back radiating unpleasant waves of pain after a long road trip during its visit. The rear passenger room is also good, though taller passengers will have to work with tight legroom.

Our main gripes, however, centered on some minor details that expose themselves when you give the NX a more extensive look over. The small rear windows eat into rear visibility, and we wish there were more physical controls to help access certain functions easier.


Lexus Promises More Performance, But Is It There?

Look under the NX 450h+’s skin, and you’ll see that the performance hardware is lifted from the Toyota RAV4 Prime, with this NX being powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s paired with three electric motors that produce a combined system output of 302-hp. The rearmost motor provides standard all-wheel drive capability; in theory, this setup is supposed to give the 450h+ an edge in performance.

In practice, however, we found the amount of performance on hand to be a bit lackluster. Our tester did manage to make the sprint to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, but buyers looking for more assertiveness in the driving experience will not find it here. Instead, our tester preferred to go through the motions in a restrained manner, and even placing it in Sport mode failed to help provide any extra encouragement. While the performance on hand is more than enough for most buyers, the setup’s inability to deliver all this fun at its full potential was disappointing.

Ride quality is smooth, with the 20-inch wheels and tires allowing the NX to soak up various bumps and divots. The run-flat tires also helped our tester have flakey cornering behavior, with tire squeal arriving early and grip somewhat lacking when we tasked the CUV with curvier sections of roads. While the 450h+ will not light the world on fire with its driving dynamics, what it has under its sleek skin will certainly please SUV buyers willing to work with its unique attributes to get the most out of it.


Value Quotient

Pricing for the NX 450h+ starts at $59,155, which will get you a 450h+ that lacks the F Sport trimmings. Go for the complete F Sport Handling treatment like our tester, and you’ll be greeted with a base price of $60,405. Our example arrived with some light options, which caused the price to go over $62,000. While this pricing is acceptable for its segment, it also points to a major problem that the Lexus has to deal with, Its Toyota badged sibling.

While the RAV4 Prime is not as luxury loaded as the Lexus, it manages to get slightly better performance from its electrified powertrain, with the Toyota shaving a few tenths off of its 0 to 60 time while also being somewhat lighter than the Lexus. This slight performance edge makes you wonder why you would buy the more expensive Lexus, especially since the ritzier NX has nothing to make it stand out in any discernible way from the Toyota in raw dynamics. It also doesn’t match it in fuel economy either, with the Lexus’s 84 MPGe rating in combined driving being lower than the Prime’s 94 MPGe while its 36 mpg in combined driving with just the gas engine is one mpg less than the Toyota’s 38 combined MPG.

That minor gripe aside, the 2023 Lexus NX450h+ is a commendable attempt at making a performance hybrid offering. The three electric motors help add a jolt to the 2,5-liter four-cylinder, while the exterior styling in F Sport Handling models makes it look like a very fancy track shoe. That said, we would like to see Lexus do more fine-tuning to the NX to help it be a more discernible and appealing upgrade over the RAV4 Prime, especially in performance and handling.