Lexus Interface and the new NX
I have a confession that may not surprise our readers: It’s not often that I give a 5-seat crossover a second glance. Which is even more funny considering I actually own one as a DD. I absolutely understand their appeal, but they just aren’t something that I gravitate towards. If you’re our usual audience reading this, I imagine you at least somewhat agree.
Recently, I spent a week at Toyota/Lexus North America’s Headquarters in Plano, Texas for their “HQ CONFIDENTIAL” media/press week following memorial day weekend. We were all there to see, sample, test, peek, and experience the full assortment of current and future products.
There were LOTS of 5-seat crossovers. Lots and lots.
Many of which we have seen before - new trim levels for familiar names like Highlander, Rav4, RX and about a dozen others - you get the idea. But at the end of the first day on their campus, they had a special reveal for us. We had block-off stickers affixed to our phone camera lenses, were not allowed to TOUCH a camera while in the main auditorium area and went in to see what all the fuss was about.
The all-new Lexus NX. Which is… another 5-seat crossover. There was the obligatory sizzle reel promo video, showing how many different ways our lives are better having a new NX. Truth be told, these types of vehicles are absolutely fantastic for day-to-day function but they all sort of blur together in the vast sea of options in the market. The OLD NX was a perfectly adequate, quiet, nice quality vehicle that I can’t remember a single interesting thing about so I expected the new one to be more of the same.
Then it drove out onto the stage. And I was shocked how good it looked. I can’t remember the last time doing a double-take on the silhouette of a CUV, but here we are. Magical things happen in Texas in the summer.
It absolutely shares the Lexus design DNA, but has shorn quite a bit of the ‘overstyling’ that many people (like myself) have not been thrilled about in the past decade or so. The front has the familiar shape we have mostly gotten used to, but overall the package is cleaner, smoother and all the better for it. But I’m not really interested in discussing the overall styling - that will hit or miss depending on whose eyes are doing the looking. There are a few design points that are relevant, but we’ll circle back to that in a bit.
There is one major exciting part of the new Lexus NX family that is more exciting than anything else. The all new Lexus Interface Multimedia system. Yes, they are fully aware that nobody liked the old system. In fact the man in charge of the project confirmed proudly that the old system sucked. This disdain for the current offering fueled him to make something all new, better and absolutely terrific. It took their in-house development team years of effort but it seems to have been worthwhile.
Remember that trackpad? Gone.
The laggy outdated interface? Gone.
The is it/isn’t it a touchscreen that is an eighth-mile from your reach? Gone.
The chaotic Nav that never seemed to have a good idea of what a direct route is? Gone.
This entire system was developed in-house by their own tech team which shares space on their North American Headquarters. They set out to create a MMI system that not only catches up with or beats the competition, but is as future-proof as possible too. The Lexus NX we had access to was the first vehicle that will have the new Lexus Interface system. It will make its way into the full lineup as updates/remodels as they come along in the next few years.
Lexus Interface can be had in the new NX in either 9.8” or optional 14” touchscreen configuration. All of the units I sampled and saw were equipped with the larger upgraded size. It was confirmed that there is no functional/feature set difference regardless of which screen you have - it’s purely the size you’re paying for which is terrific to know that you don’t lose out on any function if you end up opting for the smaller size.
BUT, the 14” is absolutely gorgeous. Unlike the tall and narrow orientation that has become popular running down the dead center of the dash in many vehicles, the Lexus screen is banked off the main driver cluster area and is angled towards them - well within reach. As every carmaker is trying to experiment with these increasingly large screens, they all have found different configurations of buttons, dials, and other physical controls to compliment the screen.
One of my colleagues mentioned the choice that the designers used to make the screen so ‘driver-centric’. A question was asked about what the passenger would do if they were inclined to use the screen’s various functions (climate adjustment, inputting GPS points, audio control). The answer was kind of shooed away with an explanation that they think it’s still reachable from the right seat (which is for ME, but absolutely not easy for the smaller of stature audience) and that the new voice control system (which is terrific in operation now that I'm mentioning it) is always available to anyone in the cabin.
As a selfish driver and long-armed passenger, I admit this had not been something I thought about but I DO wonder if this choice will be a deterrent or not compared to a more centrally located placement. Personally I like a driver-focused surround cabin layout whether I'm driving or not - but it is a valid point and I'm sure that there will be some that disagree with the choice.
Lexus has opted for something similar to Ford’s Mach E (I won’t ever willingly call it a Mustang) with two physical dials mounted directly to the front of the touchscreen. They look great, and compliment the widescreen layout wonderfully. The Lexus Interface system layout of information has a lower area (between the dials) that is more-or-less fixed with climate controls (including heated/cooled seat function) which is great so they’re always there at the ready and not buried in menus. The rest is variable depending on what you’re doing. When using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as in most other vehicles - the system ports directly so their default layout/screen setup is standard… Just very large. Pinch to touch works just as you've come to expect it with phones and tablets - it just feels immediately familiar in the best possible way.
I saw a hands-on demo done live, and the effortlessness of the system, the speed in which it reacted and the seemingly usefulness of the whole thing was impressive. The team collaborated with Google to do it’s map software because by now, we all know they have the best mapping available so why reinvent the wheel when the wheel is SO well done?
I had a multi-layer question for the team during one of the reveals - I brought up the current attitude of disposability/fast moving nature of new tech these days, and contrasted that to the near-evergreen like build quality of Toyota/Lexus vehicles. More specifically, is their mindset and expectation of their tech to be as long-lasting as the vehicles they are placed in? What tech products on sale now have a relevant shelf life of 5 years, let alone 10, 20 or 30 like a Toyota car? Are they concerned that all this effort into making an all new Interface that is a permanent install going to be the reason these future cars get junked/discarded well before the vehicle doesn’t drive anymore?
They absolutely recognized the concept of my concern. They assured all of us that their motivation was to develop a system that would last the lifetime of the vehicle without any issue - even if that vehicle is made by Toyota and could possibly outlive us all.
They seem to be confident that over-the-air updates can keep the systems current as well as using firmware updates to unlock future potential in the cutting edge hardware that powers the system. When prodded about the idea that updates would serve as ‘planned obsolescence’ in the ways that old cell phones sometimes are for the worse after OS updating occurs, they assured us that any/all updates would be optional, and up to the user to opt in for them.
This all seems like a very optimistic view, as you'd expect the creators to have - but time will tell. I really liked the system during the demos and feel pretty good that they will not only catch up with their competition coming from their archaic current offering, but leapfrog ahead of most of what’s out there now immediately.
So aside from the exciting new Lexus Interface, the NX is (on paper) just a new version of a very familiar vehicle. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
Lexus has had a VERY bold visual design language for the past decade or more. They have been accused of being overstyled, and much shade has been thrown at the front grille/bumper design that has made its way to every single model in their lineup. This new NX is the start of the new look of Lexus.
Now at first glance, that familiar love-it-or-hate-it shape up front is still there. But it’s been refined. It is less jarring, and far better integrated into the rest of the front clip. It’s just a tad restrained without retreating and starting over. Combined with the fact that after all these years I'm starting to finally be used to looking at it, I actually think this is a very much improved application of the “spindle grille”. In the past, I have only really liked this "predator-maw" on the coupes and sporty sedans, and feel like it's shoehorned and just awkward on the SUV's in the lineup but the NX handles it better than I expected.
Going over the rest of the car, the new NX is simpler, cleaner and smoother than the outgoing car. It has a more muscular look with a few curves instead of a plethora of creases all along the bodywork. Moving to the rear, the company was VERY excited to show off the new full-width taillights and updated rear logo treatment. Instead of the familiar round logo we have come to know (which isn’t going away, just used everywhere other than the rear), a simple clean type treatment with WIDE spacing goes across the rear of the liftgate.
Now on a technical basis, this kind of thing isn’t a monumental change for many people. It is, however something they take seriously and want to move their brand image in a slightly different direction. If a new badge helps initiate that shift, I'm all for it.
The rest of the vehicle is pretty normal. The interior is quiet, well built and non-offensive. The seats are comfortable and ergonomics are VERY thought out as the rest of the brand’s vehicles tend to be. There’s some standard powertrain options - turbo 4cyl, hybrid, PHEV, as you’d expect. I’m sure that they are all going to be reliable, adequately powerful and competitive in their respective market. It’s a Lexus, after all. I won't bore you with brochure details but suffice to say they have mulitple powertrain and trim levels that will suit a multitude of customers.
In the end, these new NX models will sell like hotcakes regardless of the new tech and new styling. But I really appreciate Lexus using a higher volume vehicle to debut their new tech and new styling. It shows that not just the top of the range is worthy of the latest and greatest. This will also allow them to get their new Lexus Interface used by far more people much earlier than if it were on a 100+ thousand dollar vehicle.
Lexus vehicles have never been anything less than a SOLID choice when buying a new car. They run forever, are built extremely well and do everything pretty right. This new NX sets out to do things just a little bit right-er with this new electronics package. It’ll look pretty great doing it too.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.