2020 Lexus NX 300h by Ben Lewis

We always hear about “Best in Class”, “Class-Leading” or “Class Standard”, but what happens when you’re the only one in your class? And that’s what we have here, in its segment ,the Lexus NX 300h is the only regular hybrid in its class.

Well, some manufacturers might take that as an opportunity to set the bar low – where else you going to go? – but not Lexus. Like all their products, they hold everything to a higher standard. But is it worth going to a hybrid, when there a lot of other interesting choices, including a non-hybrid Lexus NX?  Let’s take a look.

Sharp-dressed SUV

Well, you certainly don’t have to compromise on looks to get a hybrid. While it’s been around for a while, the NX line remains an aggressively-styled SUV with sharp edges and a clean modern look.

The front end has the now-familiar and massive Lexus “Spindle Grille”, which works amazingly well with all the other slices and dices going on. Nike whoosh-like signature daytime running lights and optional multi-lens LEDs give some visual pop, while the “gills” on either side of the grille look like an angry sea monster ready to pounce.

From the profile you can tell the NX vehicle shares the chassis from the previous generation RAV4, but it is much more coupe-like, with black overfenders giving some rugged cred, and the Premium Package’s 18” alloys filling out the wheel wells. A tasteful badge on the flank let’s your friends know you bought the eco-friendly model – nice, not overdone.

The rear has the sharp angled LED taillights echoing the front and some nice chrome accents highlighting the rear fascia. All in all, a smart-looking design. Our only thought is with such cool lines, maybe something more eye-catching than the Nebula Gray Pearl of our tester would be in order. There’s a new-for-2020 Cadmium Orange that really caught our eye.

 Lexus Luxury Beckons You

Inside, the NX 300h feels Lexus-like with high-quality materials and loads of goodness. The center console pooches out, which not only puts controls at your fingertips, it also creates a sport-coupe like cocoon that’s inviting. Our tester stepped things up with the optional Navigation system with a massive 10.3 display, and 10-speaker premium audio system.

The tech hungry will be satisfied with Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa Device Compatibility, Wi-Fi, Lexus Enform Remote with Smart Watch and Alexa Skill Integration, Siri Eyes-free and Google Voice control. It still has the Lexus touchpad that remains kind of fiddly, but it feels more intuitive than before. (Or we’re just getting used to it.) Those not on the iPhone bandwagon will be pleased with standard Android Auto functionality for 2020.

You’ve got two nice round gauges for info – the one on the left is neat – it looks like an analog eco/power/battery charge display but it’s actually a digital display. Put the NX into Sport mode and it turns into a tachometer – very cool. A smaller 4.2 -inch full-color Multi-information driver display serves up key info as well.

Our tester didn’t have leather, but the high quality NuLuxe leatherette had us completely fooled, and the seats are nicely-sized and extra supportive. If you miss the feeling of cow, you do get leather wrapping around the fat steering wheel and shift knob. You sit tall in the NX, and the visibility out is excellent.  The rear seat is also very comfortable for adults, and they fold down to create an expansive cargo hold. Our tester made cargo access extra easy with the optional power back door with kick sensor.

While the quality is high, like the exterior, our monotone interior was a bit too reserved for our taste. We would have opted for a more colorful choice. Lexus includes some tasteful two-tones including Rioja Red, Glazed Caramel, or Crème. Still, no matter what color you choose, the quality and the high content is obvious.

The Lone Hybrid

The NX 300h is an interesting vehicle. Until recently, Lexus (and Toyota) hybrids were all about the fuel efficiency, and eco-friendliness. But now we’re seeing the same vehicle touted for high-performance – like the new RAV4 Hybrid – that also get excellent fuel economy. Even the Avalon Hybrid we recently tested was quite sporty.

The NX, however seems to be more old school, where fuel efficiency is king. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter, four cylinder joined to an electric motor for a total of 195 horsepower. The 300h gets its standard all-wheel drive thanks to an additional electric motor at the rear axle. While it is not the invigoratingly quick RAV4 Hybrid, it is very smooth and quiet, and happily shunts over to full EV mode as often as possible.

We found that putting the NX into Sport mode does enhance the fun and pull away from a stop is strong. But the silkiness of Standard mode is probably where most buyers will stay, and at that it’s pure Lexus lux. And where most hybrids do their best work – around town – you’ve got a city EPA of 33 mpg, which is quite good for this size AWD SUV.

The rest of the drive is Lex-y as well, along with the impressive powertrain silence, is a smooth, controlled ride, with a nice feeling of heft to the steering, and confident braking. It’s an easy vehicle to get comfortable in.

Lexus also adds the security of Lexus Safety System +2.0 with Lane Tracing Assist and Road Sign Assist on all models, as well as Active Cornering Assist. Our tester also had the optional Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which we highly recommend.

What Cost, Exclusivity?

Being the only hybrid in its class, Lexus could have made the money play, but they are actually quite fair. Considering all the technology, the NX 300h is only about $800 more than a comparable non-hybrid NX. Like many European makes though, a tempting option sheet can make for a sizeable price jump.

Our NX 300h started at $39,070 but was a bit of a showcase of all the goodness Lexus offers. We had options including the Panoramic View Back Up Monitor ($800), Auto-dimming rear view mirror ($125), Triple Beam LED headlights ($1,515), Navigation with Premium Audio System ($1,860), Intuitive Parking Assist ($535), Power Back Door with Kick Sensor ($550), Premium Package ($3,270), Illuminated Door Sills ($459), Cargo Mat and Net ($383). Add in $1,025 for Destination and we came in with a grand total of $49,592.

Yep, almost $10K of options. The nice thing is you can pick and choose to find a setup that works for you.

The closest competitors are close at hand. The new Lexus UX200h hybrid is a beautiful, if notably smaller vehicle, and comparably-equipped comes in at just under $40,000. We’d also consider the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – you don’t get the Lexus poshness, but you get a more invigorating drive. And completely loaded, you’re looking at $40,595.

The Lexus NX 300h may be the only choice for those in this segment looking for a hybrid, but with great style, loads of luxury and comfort, and fuel-efficient thriftiness, it’s a great choice, too!