Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, builds five distinct SUVs. There is the entry-level UX, the smallest Lexus model offered, then this NX (which is a premium version of the compact-class RAV4), followed by the top-selling RX — all of which are car-based vehicles with front-drive architecture and AWD capability. Along with the truck-based GX (a premium 4Runner) and the full-size LX, Lexus has ample offerings to chase BMW, Audi, Cadillac, and Mercedes.

The NX sampled — a mid-level 350 F-Sport — starts at $43,100 and rises to $55,325 as seen here with optional equipment like triple-beam headlamps with washers, cornering lamps, parking assist software, power liftgate with kick-assist, ventilated front seats, 14-inch touchscreen, Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system, panoramic sunroof, panoramic camera with front and rear cross traffic assist plus much more.

A base front-drive NX250 begins at $39,500 — one of the more affordable premium crossovers in the compact class. The next model up is the 350h hybrid, at $42,700, while the 450Eh plug-in hybrid starts at $58,550. Matching the price variance is an assortment of powertrains, with base power provided by a 203-horsepower four-cylinder, and hybrid output of 239 horsepower with the additional electric motors, while our F-Sport used a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to create 275 horsepower. The 450Eh plug-in is the performance outlier with 302 horsepower — the same powertrain as used in the RAV4 Prime. That NX can drive up to 37 miles on electric-only energy.

Through the years, Lexus has used F-Sport to denote a sportier version of whatever vehicle the label is affixed to. Often it includes larger wheels and more aggressive tires, complimented by some stronger brakes, exaggerated body styling, plus a more descriptive interior — usually festooned in bright red leather. The engine room is generally not altered. Given the brand’s elevated levels of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and resale values, the F-Sport exercise obviously has more than niche success.

Radiant in redline red paint, our NX350 carried the whole F-Sport visual experience: red-highlighted sport seats and trim panels, larger 20-inch alloy wheels, driver-selected sport controls for the adaptive suspension, aluminum pedals and door trim, color heads-up display, plus a thickly contoured F-Sport leather-clad steering wheel with paddle shifters for the eight-speed automatic.

The F-Sport’s interior. Tim Plouff

All NX models include Lexus’ Electronic Safety Systems 3.0 — radar cruise, intelligent hi-beams, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert and brake assist — while the F-Sport features the much larger 14-inch screen instead of the standard 9.8-screen. Gone, thankfully, is the much-maligned console touchpad to control the multi-media screen; however, the new screen still lacks tactile feedback while requiring too many finger strikes to make simple changes. A volume knob helps with the radio, but there is no tuning knob. Too many basic functions are layered onto the screen that a simple one-touch button could accomplish.

Other laments include rear doors that need to open wider, especially since Lexus claims more rear legroom with the upgraded 2022 NX. The cargo hold lacks release levers for the folding second row seats, too — a given on many down-market crossovers costing half as much.

Back behind the wheel, the NX350 powers up the super-slab with relative ease, the turbo-motor much more energetic than previous non-turbo models. Press the Lexus to overtake slower traffic on narrow two-lanes, and a splurge of turbo-torque makes this an easy, stress-free task. The engine is willing and able, if a bit louder than expected while exercising. EPA estimates are 22/28 mpg with this AWD model.

The adaptive dampers on the F-Sport seemed to work best at an elevated pace. Otherwise, the Lexus’ chassis offered too much side-to-side rocking on undulating backroads, a trait of a chassis confusing stiffness for sporting compliance. Buyers used to German-based crossovers will note the difference immediately.

Yet other drivers will find the Lexus more than capable, as the data suggests that Lexus drivers like the “sportier” look,

Front view of the F-Sport. Tim Plouff

but rarely exploit the capabilities of a sporty chassis. The finely crafted interior, with soft touchpoints everywhere you reach, as well as technology at every control (the heads-up display earns good marks here for information sharing) is a stark reminder that Lexus knows its customers and what they like.

Larger than the tiny UX, a pinch smaller than the RX (all-new for 2023), the NX is really in the sweet spot of where American drivers are looking for new cars — backed up by its number-two-selling status at the brand. The 350h is perhaps the best buy — it is the least expensive premium hybrid in this segment, offering up to 41 mpg — while the 450Eh plug-in version will promise power and efficiency.

That leaves the NX350 F-Sport — crisply styled and smartly sized looking for a Saturday-night date.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.