Crossovers these days are becoming a solid backbone for many automakers when it comes to hitting crucial sales targets. This fact of life is amplified in the luxury CUV segment, where the battleground is white hot, and these vehicles have effectively stolen the spotlight from their sedan counterparts. Lexus has certainly done a good job of keeping up with trends, and has assembled a very potent lineup of crossover offerings. While some like the Lexus RX take pride in their role as being the figurative bread winner model, the Japanese auto giant knows that other buyers will want something distinctly different. One of these choices is the Lexus NX which is supposed to be a more affordable and stylish alternative for buyers looking to formally get into the brand. But can the NX indeed succeed in this role? Or is it not quite the sum of all of its parts?
Spindle Infused Design Actually Flows:
When it comes to exterior styling, current Lexus models have always preferred to let the eye of the beholder be the final decision maker. In the case of NX models like our Orange hued NX 300h tester, it’s largely business as usual. The front fascia is defined by the trademark front spindle grille which is also accented by L-shaped daytime running lights. The grille does jut out a bit more than what we are used to seeing in other Lexus offerings, but here on the NX we think it actually gives the front fascia a very distinctive appearance, and the NX actually manages to look younger and more eager to play when viewed from this angle. The side profile highlights the shorter wheelbase, and it leads out to the rear fascia. While the bulk of the design thankfully gets rid of some of the jumbled mishmash of traits that define the bigger RX’s suit of clothes, the rear is arguably the weak link here, with the bland lift gate contrasting sharply with the honed taillights.
That’s a shame since the NX is in a very competitive chunk of the luxury CUV segment, and faces potent challenges from rivals such as the Acura RDX, Mercedes GLC, and the BMW X3. The BMW and the Acura recently benefited from styling refreshes, and that allows them to have a leg up over the Lexus in the battle of aesthetics. The Lexus does have an edge over the Audi Q5 which has a more conservative suit of clothes when outfitted in roughly the same way our tester was. Our advice is to go for the F-Sport variant which works with the NX’s already athletic lines, and sprinkles in just enough attitude to help it appeal to buyers that want more sport to go along with their utility.
Jumbled Interior Lacks “Race Inspiration”
Lexus claims that the interior of the NX was supposed to be “race inspired” with many traits picked up from some of Lexus’s spicier offerings. In theory at least, it’s a good step up from the UX, but when put into practice, there were some indications that the cabin did not quite live up to the moniker. While the leatherette seats in our tester were comfortable, and made us not miss traditional cow hide, the dashboard is a literal mess of angles and switches with little thought given to ergonomics. Like other current Lexus models, the NX features a track pad that allows occupants to navigate the infotainment system, and as is the case with prior exposure to this layout, we found the track pad to be overly sensitive to use when out on the move. The system is at its happiest when used in park which allows the driver to be more precise with its use. The start/stop button is within easy reach, and the wood accents in our tester were a welcome contrasting element.
Head and legroom in the NX are very commendable for its segment, and the second row is perhaps one of the roomiest we have yet seen in the compact CUV segment. The rear seats also recline to help improve nap time comfort, but the lack of rear USB ports was a notable demerit considering that some rivals are kind enough to provide them to rear seat occupants. Lexus engineers gave the NX standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability back in 2019, and the Android Auto capability was a welcome feature. Our Samsung S10 Galaxy had little trouble hooking up to the infotainment system, and both the inputs and the projection feature were easy to operate and we had minimal issues with software lag.
Lastly with such a strong focus on rear passenger comfort, it was not a surprise to see that cargo room suffers as a result. Our tester only had a meager 17.7 cubic feet of cargo room with the second row seats up, which is rather undersized for the segment. Fold them down, and the figure goes up to 54.6 cubic feet which also lags behind rivals. While the space is still usable for everyday errands in town, buyers that are looking for cavernous cargo capacity or something that can haul bulkier items will not find it here, and should instead look at the BMW X3 and the Acura RDX which offer more generous amounts of cargo room with the seats up or down.
Sluggish Performance Diminishes Sporty Intent:
Performance for the 2020 NX hybrid lineup comes from a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that is paired with both an electric motor and Lexus’s hybrid technology. The end result is a modest 194 horsepower, and it’s very clear that the NX 300h prioritizes fuel economy over any form of enjoyable driving. Our tester proceeded to validate this theory in style by making the jog to 60 mph in a noisy and very sluggish 9.1 seconds. Part of the blame lies with the CVT which is tuned by default for greener driving. Even putting the NX into sport mode did little to improve its demeanor, and we found ourselves constantly lamenting the lack of passing power on hand when we tasked our tester with freeway driving. A turbocharged non-hybrid 2.0 liter four cylinder is also available, and while it makes a beefier 235 horsepower, it does require buyers to sacrifice fuel economy for the increased vigor that is found when you hit the gas pedal.
The lack of power is a real pity since the NX’s chassis (even in hybrid guise) can clearly handle more. The suspension for example does a good job of negating body roll, and the steering even does a good job communicating to the driver. It won’t hold a candle to more performance oriented CUV offerings, but the NX does make a commendable case for itself, especially when buyers choose to spec it as an F-Sport model which gets slightly stiffer springs to help sharpen the driving experience even further.
But while the NX 300h may be about as useful as a half baked Magikarp (of Pokemon fame) on the drag strip, it evolves into a mighty Gyarados when its fuel economy numbers are pushed into the spotlight. For instance, the NX 300h is capable of achieving an impressive 33 mpg in city driving which is higher than some of its rivals. An equally impressive 30 mpg in combined driving allowed our tester to be a very fuel efficient appliance when tasked with long distance commuting. It is not a Prius by any stretch of the imagination, but the 300h’s ability to flex its green muscle is very impressive feat and that might just allow it to win the hearts of buyers looking to put fuel economy over all else when buying a luxury CUV.
Pricing for the 2020 Lexus NX 200h starts at $39,420, with up-level Luxury models starting at $46,510. Our base grade tester had over $6,000 in optional equipment and extras which helped push the final price to a lofty $50,555. This is a princely sum for a hybrid compact CUV and it does make you question the long term value here when you factor in the sluggish driving manners that come bundled into its impressive fuel economy. The Acura RDX for example doesn’t offer a hybrid model, but it does wield a 10-speed automatic transmission and a lower price of admission to boot. The interior is also more modern than the Lexus, and it does a better job of emulating some of its race derived pedigree. The Lexus does make up some ground when compared to some of its German rivals, with the NX easily undercutting them in terms of pricing.
In short, the NX’s success in its role of being a compelling compact CUV will indeed depend on the customer that buys it. If they are looking for sport focused performance, then the 300h might not be for them. However, if fuel economy and the ability to maximize your green footprint is more your cup of tea, then the 2020 Lexus NX 300h might be a very compelling proposition for you.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.