2021 Lexus NX300h Black Line Special Edition Review by Ben Lewis

So, this is always a tough thing to do – a review of an existing model when an all-new model has been previewed. Well, that’s the problem here – an all new 2022 Lexus NX is waiting in the wings, so the question is should you wait, or plump for the 2021 NX? Let’s take a drive in the current model and find out!

Blue Thunder

The NX hasn’t changed much visually since it got a refresh in 2018, but that’s okay, it was a stunner then, and it is still a bold, strong presence. Up front, you get key Lexus styling cues like a massive hourglass-shape grille, sharp angled LED lights and round projector beams that create an angry look. Our tester was a limited-number F SPORT Black Line Special Edition – the first ever F SPORT offered with the hybrid powertrain – and it gives some added menace with a unique front fascia, sporty mesh on that big grille, and side intakes that make it look like the NX will swallow smaller traffic in its way.

The profile is very coupe like, with high shoulders, smaller windows (compared to traditional SUVs like the Subie Forester), bulging fender flares – color-keyed on the Black Line – and a very Lexus sharp crease in the lower door panels. The finishing touch – dark finish 18-inch alloy wheels that look aggressive and tough.

The rear keeps the coupe-like theme with an upper rear spoiler creating a smaller-looking rear window, while angular LED taillights sit high on the shoulder line, and a scooped in design gives a tight look. The unique F SPORT exhaust openings say, “hey, I might have a Hybrid badge, but don’t mess with me!” Our tester looked especially bold in an exclusive Black Line Edition blue the company calls Celestial Blue.  

Live the Lex Life

Inside, you get the upscale Lexus vibe as soon as you open the door. You’re greeted by F SPORT front buckets that are as supportive and comfortable as they look. Suiting the hybrid Eco-ethic, instead of leather you get the synthetic NuLuxe which is lighter than leather, more durable, and requires no bumping off cows. (We do like leather, to be honest). Heated and ventilated, it’s easy to get and stay comfy.

The NX goes for sporty with a dark interior with metal-tone trim accents, so we appreciated the Black Line’s exclusive blue stitching on the seats, center console and doors to brighten things up. The F SPORT perforated leather trimmed heated steering wheel and shift knob feel great to the touch, while a wrap-around dash gives a performance feel.

While it may have sporty coupe-like lines, the NX is quite spacious, and the rear seats are fine for full-size adults. With the rear seat up, storage is plentiful, and flipping them down gives loads of space – hey it’s still an SUV, right? Make that a sporty one! Settle into that sport seat, and you’re greeted by two large circular gauges that look analog, but the one on the left changes from EV-style info to a tachometer when you engage Sport mode, which is cool. In-between, a driver’s trip computer serves up pertinent info.

The center stack truly is a stack with an 8-inch color display at the top, followed by vents, an analog clock and climate controls all on a section that juts out for easy reach. Underneath are your basic audio controls, with thankfully a volume and tuning knob. As we continue our tour down the NX waterfall, we get our Drive Mode controller and E-brake next to the nicely sized shift lever.

All good so far – maybe a little busy. Then we come to the touchpad access for info-tainment and like the other Lexuses (Lexii?) we have tested recently, it’s fidgety and hard to accurately call up what you want. Thankfully, there are enough backup switches that you can work around the system. The Lexus Enform info-tainment itself is excellent, with all the expected goodies like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa and 4GB Wi-Fi. There’s even Smart Watch and Alexa Skill Integration.

One thing we didn’t get, but lucky Black Line Edition buyers will receive are a set of custom Halliburton luggage that includes an Edge Lightweight 22” Continental Carry-on and a 26” Medium Travel Case, both in black. That is one cool perk!

When F SPORT met Hybrid

So, this is the first time you can get an NX with F SPORT trim and hybrid powertrain. Do they get along?

Let’s talk about the hybrid first. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine, combined with a high-torque electric motor to produce a combined 194 horsepower. That’s fed to a CVT transmission, while the standard all-wheel drive features a second electric motor in the rear axle.

While 194 hp doesn’t sound like a lot (the 2.0-liter turbo of the standard NX puts out 235 horsepower), the battery portion gives a bunch of low-end torque for a smooth and strong pull away from stops. We found that moving the drive mode into Sport gave added oomph and woke up the CVT transmission to a more playful mode.

It’s not the fastest SUV around, but it does feel responsive and crisp, especially around town. And you can easily get 33 mpg city if you let the hybrid do its magic. If you are looking for hybrid performance, this is one instance we’d say wait for the new model. Based on the all new RAV4 hybrid prime which puts out up to 302 horsepower, it will probably be a major step up in thrills.

More fun is to be found in the F SPORT’s sport-tuned suspension, that has a firm but not harsh ride, and well-weighted steering. It’s easy to toss into turns, and the harder you push it, the more it seems to like it. It’s a good split personality – Lexus comfy and quiet when you need it, but fun and engaging when you want it.

But is it a Smart Buy?

Well, if you are looking for a hybrid SUV in this segment Yes! Of course, it’s pretty much the only hybrid SUV in this segment, to be fair. Within the family, your most basic non-hybrid NX starts at $37,610. A NX F SPORT All-Wheel Drive starts at $41,100. If you want the hybrid F SPORT, you will be looking at the Black Line Special Edition at $46,810. It comes totally loaded, including Halliburton luggage, so with $1,025 destination, you end up at $47,835.

There isn’t much competition, but you might consider the smaller Lexus UX 250h at $43,240 comparably equipped, but you should see if the upscale but tight quarters will meet your needs.

Ultimately the NX 300h will be shopped against the non-hybrid model, and even though gas is getting expensive, $5,000 is a fair chunk of change. Then again if you’re an NX hybrid – or Halliburton – fan, it’s the only game in town. On the bright side, it’s got beautiful build quality, legendary reliability, and excellent resale value all on its side. Whichever NX you choose, you’re not going to go wrong. Even if you wait for the all-new 2022 model. Patience may be a virtue, but grabbing the current model is a great way to go, too.

The first Lexus NX hybrid available in F SPORT trim is an intriguing combination of performance, luxury, and efficiency. And heck, they’re even throwing in free Halliburton luggage!