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buying: Tested: 2022 Lexus NX350h Luxury AWD Is an Old-School Hybrid

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Although hybrids are proliferating in the compact luxury SUV space, the 2022 Lexus NX350h is in a class of its own. Whereas those other compact luxury SUVs, including the range-topping Lexus NX450h+, are plug-ins (or PHEVs), the NX350h is a traditional-style hybrid.

Compared to a PHEV, the NX350h's much smaller, lithium-ion battery pack has only enough energy to power the SUV short distances on electricity alone, whereas its plug-in peers are all capable of traveling more than 20 miles on battery power. The old-school NX350h still delivers impressive fuel economy, though, and its more basic powertrain also keeps costs down, allowing the $42,700 gasoline-electric Lexus to take the title of most affordable hybrid in its segment.

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2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD © Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD

The Price You Pay

That said, going heavy on the options can quickly cut into the cost-effectiveness of the NX350h, with our Nori Green Pearl test vehicle wearing $13,630 in options. The priciest was the $7450 Luxury package, which added heated and ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, ambient interior lighting, a 10.0-inch head-up display, and a massive 14.0-inch infotainment screen with in-dash navigation in place of the standard 9.8-inch display.

While both infotainment options feature physical knobs for adjusting the temperature of the dual-zone automatic climate-control system and the audio volume, neither includes a physical control for audio tuning or a dedicated homepage, the lack of which makes navigating through the system's menus an unnerving experience. As Steve Krug writes in his book Don't Make Me Think, a homepage is like "a North Star," providing a comparatively "fixed place" to return to in a digital environment that otherwise requires users to remember where they are in the setup's "conceptual hierarchy [to] retrace [their] steps."

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Though it vastly improves upon the maddening touchpad interface of the outgoing model, the latest NX's touchscreen system is not without its flaws. This sentiment also applies to the NX350h's powertrain.

2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD © Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD

Driving Dynamics

The all-wheel-drive NX350h packs an additional 45 horses compared to its predecessor, extracting a total of 239 horsepower from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and trio of electric motors. (There are two up front—one of which connects to a planetary gearset to mete out the combustion engine's power in a manner that mimics a belt-driven continuously variable automatic transmission—and one mounted at the rear axle.) Factor in a curb weight of 4062 pounds, 151 fewer pounds than the last NX300h we tested, and it's little surprise the 2022 NX hybrid is also a good deal quicker.

Accelerating to 60 mph is a 7.6-second affair, while the run from 50 to 70 mph happens in 5.0 seconds, figures that cut 0.5 and 0.6 second from those of the aforementioned NX300h. Granted, it can't keep up with the 275-hp NX350 or the 302-hp NX450h+. (The turbo four-cylinder NX350 hits the mile-a-minute mark in 6.6 seconds and accelerates from 50 to 70 mph in 4.5; for the NX450h+ F Sport, those times are 5.6 and 3.8 seconds, respectively.) Still, the NX hybrid is less of the slowpoke it once was and now packs acceptable punch for merging onto freeways and passing at highway speeds.

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Use all of that performance, however, and the NX350h lets more of the four-cylinder engine's grating grumble enter the cabin. The 75 decibels we recorded under flat-foot acceleration exceeded both that of the NX300h and the Toyota Corolla Hybrid by 1 decibel.

2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD © Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD

Avoid pinning the accelerator, though, and the interior of the NX350h is appropriately tranquil. Soft springs make for a cushy ride that further contributes to the sense of repose. That softness comes at the expense of body control, as the NX350h wallows through turns and nosedives under braking. Although innocuous enough in day-to-day driving, these motions underscore the fact the NX350h favors a comfortable ride over engaging responses. The nose-heavy Lexus understeers at the limit, and the optional 20-inch Bridgestone Alenza A/S 02 run-flat tires squealed shrilly as the NX350h circled our skidpad at 0.79 g—0.02 g less than its two NX siblings and its NX300h forebear.

Stomp on the left pedal at 70 mph, and the SUV comes to a halt in a class-competitive 180 feet. In non-emergency braking, though, it was difficult to smoothly bring the NX350h to a stop. Blame the pedal's unpredictable action as it switches from regenerative to mechanical braking—particularly in low-speed stops, such as at neighborhood stop signs. Instead of a seamless handoff between its two braking systems, the NX350h suddenly slows at a far greater rate once the mechanical binders take over stopping duties from the electric motors' regenerative function. That awkward modulation is a surprising misstep given that Toyota has been developing and producing hybrids for nearly a quarter of a century.

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2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD © Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD

Dollars and Cents

What the NX350h lacks in grace, it makes up for by way of its low cost of entry. Only devoted plugger-inners whose daily commute is less than the plug-in's range will find a cost savings. Otherwise it will be decades before the additional $14,600 outlay for the 450+ is recouped. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, the NX350h returned 34 mpg, missing the EPA's estimate by 3 mpg.

Even the segment's most affordable PHEV, the Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring, is more expensive by $10,305. This does not mean consumers have no reason to choose vehicles such as the Corsair Grand Touring and NX450h+, the latter of which includes a number of dynamic enhancements over the NX350h.

2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD © Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2022 Lexus NX 350h Luxury AWD

However, it does mean the NX350h, as the least expensive hybrid in its segment, better meets the needs of buyers looking to purchase a hybrid compact luxury SUV as a matter of financial prudence. It may be unexciting and—in some areas—unpolished, but the 2022 Lexus NX350h is arguably a more sensible hybrid option than better-performing PHEVs.

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Twenty-five years later, the GLE—formerly the ML—isn't the cheapest luxury SUV you can buy. But it offers everything modern buyers are looking for.While the first ML was certainly not the first luxury SUV ever made—the original Range Rover and the Jeep Grand Wagoneer arguably did it way earlier—it is the one that kickstarted the movement as we know it today. In the west, Mercedes-Benz stunned a historically conservative German automotive industry with the introduction of the ML in 1997. In the east, Japan that changed the landscape of family vehicles with the now-venerable Lexus RX. The BMW X5 didn’t come out for another two years, debuting in 1999.

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