Imagine the early days of motorcars. Every manufacturer had a few different styles, but for the most part, each brand had its spot in the hierarchy of functional sedans to luxury motorcars, with many of those brands still around today. Manufacturers didn’t tend to spin off completely different lines, but instead expanding through acquisition and consolidation, hence conglomerates like General Motors. Autos also used to be more regional, with Americans buying American cars, Germans buying German cars, and so on. Things change, and now quite a few global brands have their luxury brands, typically sold through the same dealer network. One of the most successful is Lexus, the luxury brand of vehicle giant Toyota Motor Company. With the cross-engineering and efficiencies of scale in manufacturing facilities, high-end Toyota vehicles are also pretty luxurious. So what does Lexus bring to the party? Good question!
That question is why I’m always interested in the chance to drive a Lexus vehicle, and when it’s an SUV / sports car hybrid like the 2022 Lexus NX 450h F-Sport, it’s a great chance to drive one of the best-engineered vehicles in the industry. After a week of driving the NX 450h throughout Northern Colorado, I can confirm that it really is a remarkably fun and comfortable plug-in hybrid SUV. It does, however, have some weaknesses too…
First off, though, the vehicle has an arresting appearance with an enormous front grill. This model shows off the vivid Ultrasonic Blue Mica and the 20″ F-Sport wheels:
You can also see the interior in that photo, a bold and exciting black and burgundy premium leather two-tone. It’s a really comfortable vehicle with seats that have all sorts of lumbar and back adjustments to ensure comfort even as it has the soul of a sports car (hence the F-Sport designation). But what most stands out with the 450h is that it’s a plug-in hybrid from a company that’s been refining the idea of hybrid for longer than just about anyone else in the industry.
In a word, it’s a delight to drive. The 450h looks like an SUV but it drives like that’s just a shell over something lower, sleeker, and ready to hug the road as you take curves at a good clip. I’m also a fan of plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, as they’re known, offering a great compromise technology for people who aren’t quite ready to fully embrace the world of EVs but still want something more flexible than a straight hybrid. EPA ratings for fuel efficiency puts the vehicle at gas + electric at a whopping 84mpg, and gas only at a respectable 36mpg. Keep in mind that once charged, the vehicle can go 38 miles on just electric, which proves to be plenty enough for most daily commutes. Since it’s a relatively small battery, it’s also easy to charge with a 110v plug overnight, no worries about rewiring the garage for a 240v or finding the closest charge point for a full recharge like you’d have with an EV.
As you’d expect, it also has every bell and whistle you can imagine, including a big, bright infotainment screen:
Notice in the above photo that there’s a heads-up display on the windshield too. I’ve really grown to appreciate these concise information displays that help you keep track of speed, speed limit, directions and more, all without moving your eyes off the road. One cool feature is the climate control knobs, with their temperature shown in the knob with a retro blue/red graduated background. They make fine-tuning the climate a breeze (pun, of course, intended), with more detailed climate controls accessible on the main display at the tap of the “Climate” link. Wireless CarPlay is being shown and it includes Wireless Android Auto too; really the best way to have your smartphone interface with a vehicle at this point.
Note the sports pedals too; they’re also part of the F-Sport package and definitely give it a bit more of a sportscar feel, though please, don’t try double-clutching or performance shifting this PHEV. Where things get a bit confusing is with all the controls on the steering wheel, because almost every single button affects the heads-up display, which is a bit weird. In most cars one of those directional buttons would let you easily adjust the information shown on the main gauge, but in the Lexus, it’s all about that heads up display.
Speaking of the main gauge display here’s how that looks:
The top shows engine RPMs, finally a break from the endless and obsolete tachometer gauge! Since it’s a partial EV, the electrical capacity is critically important and shown on the left side. The lower right shows range for both the EV and hybrid engine: 38 miles fully charged plus another 378 miles with the fuel and hybrid engine, effectively over 400 miles without the need for a plug or gas station, not bad at all.
This close-up of the infotainment area shows the Climate button and those cool temperature knobs, but notice also the easy access to heat warmers, coolers, the steering wheel heater and lots more. The NX 450h also has a regular volume knob, something lots of drivers are glad to find in a world where so many cars have unusual interface elements, sometimes just for the sake of being different.
However, speaking of being different, when I first had the Lexus NX 450h F-Sport dropped off, I have to admit I sat for a few seconds trying to puzzle out how the gear shift worked:
While it looks like you can just pull the shifter towards you to move into drive, you have to push it to the left, then up for reverse or down for drive. Once you figure out that motion that mimics a classic manual gearshift it works great, but notice that shifting into park involves pushing the “P” button, not moving the shifter to a specific spot in its pattern. There are also buttons to enable or disable specific safety features (of which the 450h has a lot) and to switch between EV and hybrid modes as desired.
The oddest part of the interior, the one element that caused every single passenger to marvel and discuss, was the door handle:
The outside has a classic doorhandle, but the inside seems to be inspired by the Tesla recessed handle: You push on the handle to open the door. Seems really weird at first, but after a couple of times it’s a surprisingly natural and logical gesture to open the door and exit the vehicle. You can also pull it towards you but the cool kids all push it to open the door.
The NX 450h also proves to be a bit short, not from the exterior dimensions, but from how the space is allocated in the interior. I’m a tall driver at 6’3″ so I have the driver’s seat all the way back, and you can see that leaves precious little leg room for the rear passenger:
Sometimes that’s because the very back is deep and has lots of capacity, but not in this instance:
This angle makes it look particularly shallow, but it’s not deep enough for a full suitcase and while it’s great for groceries or baseball equipment, you might find yourself having to fold down one of the 40/60 split seats to get enough space for anything larger, or even a big duffle bag after picking up your child for their first post-boot camp home visit.
Still, while it might not be optimal for a family with older children or outdoors people who bring a month’s worth of gear to the trailhead, there’s a lot to really like about this beautiful and peppy plug-in hybrid. I found that it worked fine for 3-4 adults if we moved the front seats up, and had plenty of capacity for, yes, a supermarket run, but not much else. There are a few design quirks, but so much is eclipsed by the drive experience, which offers the zoom of an EV and the versatility of a conventional gas engine.
And oh, that Ultrasonic Blue Mica is just stunning, especially in direct sunlight. This is definitely a car to test drive if you’re in the market for a sporty, smaller SUV that features some of the best engineering in the industry.
2022 Lexus NX 450h F-Sport PHEV, featuring a 304hp hybrid engine and continuously variable transmission. BASE PRICE: $56,900. Options included: Triple beam headlights, onboard charger, premium paint, smartphone convenience package, activity mount, rear bumper protection, mudguards, and rear puddle lamps. AS DRIVEN: $61,790.00.
Disclosure: Lexus loaned me the NX 450h for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Lexus!