Lexus is preparing a new iteration of the urban-centric NX CUV, but before that model arrives, the Japanese luxury giant has unleashed one last sporty surprise into the marketplace with the 2021 NX 300h Black Line Edition. Black Line Edition models blend sporty styling cues with an interior that puts distinction and refinement in the driver’s seat. The RX Black Line Edition has been a success for Lexus so far, but can some of this sales magic translate into a smaller CUV?
Black Line Edition Adds Depth To NX Range
That depth starts on the exterior of the NX, with our F-Sport grade tester arriving at the office with a nice coat of Celestial Blue paint (a Black LIne exclusive.) The front end does not attempt to blend in, with the F-Sport package adding a large blacked-out spindle grille with smoky chrome trim accenting the sinister vibes. Bi-LED headlights and LED daytime running lights to help light the way for owners, while the full LED package continues in the taillights. A slick set of 18-inch split 10 spoke alloy wheels round out the package and add a splash of sportiness to the side profile.
The exterior also serves as a rolling showpiece of some of the updates that came to the NX for the 2021 model year. While the aluminum roof rails have been around for a while, the power tilting mirrors are a new standard feature for 2021 and finally allow the NX to be right up there with some rivals that have long offered this feature to buyers.
Value Focused Luxury Adds Substance To NX
The black interior of our Black Line Edition tester looked and felt terrific, with plenty of high-quality materials scattered throughout. The NX does not have traditional leather accents, with NuLuxe faux leather being used on the seats and other select interior areas. Metallic accents are also splashed throughout the interior, and soft-touch plastics are also a welcome addition. But the real stand-out item here is the contrasting blue stitching, it does a good job of making certain areas pop to the eye, and it’s even used on the floor and cargo mats. Head and legroom are good for front-seat passengers, but while the back seats are technically capable of holding three passengers, we suspect that it would be tight quarters if used in that fashion. Fold the seats down, and you get plenty of cargo room which we took advantage of to haul a piece we needed for our resident Buick Verano.
The F-Sport package also brings its own suite of additions to the interior, but we’ll focus on the ones that matter with aluminum-look pedals, a jet black headliner, as well as slightly more supportive heated and cooled front seats. A heated and perforated leather steering wheel greets your hands, and it actually fits like a glove when you put it into a prime driving position. Lexus is known for making user-friendly cabins, but while the controls, for the most part, are within easy reach, the infotainment side of the coin is still the same prominent weak spot that dogs other Lexus models.
You still get around with a touchpad that’s about as frustrating to use as seeing a regular-season Detroit Lions game, but the base 8-inch screen (the 10.3-inch screen is not equipped here) makes up for it to a degree. The screen houses a backup camera, and the system comes with standard Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, and Android Auto functionality. You also get voice command functionality, but sadly it’s not the Dynamic Voice Command System that has made a good first impression in some of the newer Lexus products we’ve interacted with. Oh, and one other interesting thing we noticed is that while a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system became newly optional in 2020, the Black Line Edition that we tested did not have this optional extra and instead came with a tamer eight-speaker system.
Green Focused Performance Saves Miles But Loses Out On Sport
Our biggest gripe actually centered around the performance hardware possessed by the NX 300h. Unlike the gasoline-powered NX, which makes 235 hp, the hybrid model produces 194 hp, with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder being mated to a small electric motor. While hybrid models are never about having maximum numbers most of the time, they should still have some confidence when going through the daily commute. The 300h’s weakness appeared in city driving, with our tester lacking some of the low-end punch that we have come to experience from some of its rivals. Things improved out on the freeway, with our tester doing a good job of soaking up the miles on long freeway trips.
A CVT is the lone transmission here, with the unit coming with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual shifting duties. While it did feel a bit weird going through the digital cogs of the CVT with the paddles, the shifts were actually pretty crisp and accurate for the most part. The firmer suspension and the front and rear dampers helped give our tester an impressive degree of handling prowess. It’s not a pure hot hatch, but our tester was very easy to maneuver in the city. Sport mode is where the maximum amount of entertainment can be had, but again, the 300h is all about mileage, and the CUV can achieve 31 mpg in combined driving. Like other Lexus/Toyota hybrid models, the 300h can go a short distance on pure electric power, but only at speeds below 35 mph, so look for it to only be useful when tooling around the neighborhood or a local parking lot.
Pricing here starts at $46,810, which is $5,000 more than a comparable gas-powered F-Sport model. Our lightly optioned example had a final sticker of $49,040, which included the destination fee. Black Edition models also come with a set of trim exclusive luggage, but our tester’s set was absent when it arrived at the office. The NX competes in a very crowded pool of entries, with the BMW X1 and the Mercedes GLA Class being key benchmarks. The NX is a bit less expensive than the Benz, but it’s not quite as dynamic in daily driving as the X1, which has crisper acceleration and sharper handling behavior.
The NX is also in an interesting place when it comes to being a hybrid. The combined 31 mpg rating is near the top of its class. Still, with lesser models like the Kia Niro hybrid and the Hyundai Kona Electric all offering superior mileage for less money, buyers might be a bit hesitant to take the plunge on the pricier NX to achieve their hybrid needs.
But look for the 2021 NX lineup (hybrid and gas) to continue holding down the fort for a little while longer. The brand recently unveiled the 2022 NX, which brings new styling and technology to the model and enhanced performance with the all-new 450h+ variant. The 2022 models will be making their way to dealerships later this year.
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.