Stylish 2020 Lexus NX 300h — Easy to like, hard to love

By Jim Prueter

(November 27, 2019) When it introduced the mid-sized RX 16 years ago, Lexus created a new class of vehicle: the luxury crossover. Back in 1998, Lexus originally had modest sales expectations for the RX, which was built on a Toyota Camry platform, but the vehicle quickly became the brand’s top seller.

Fast forward to 2020, and there’s an abundance of vehicles in another segment: the compact luxury crossover. Not only did Lexus not create the segment, they were actually a bit late to the party with its all-new yet impressive NX that was introduced for 2015.

For 2020 the NX remains basically the same as when introduced back in 2015. To be sure along the way Lexus has added trim levels like the F Sport, new engine choices, new and updated options like the Standard Scout GPS Link, made Lexus Safety Systems+ standard equipment on all NX models and some minor styling updates both inside and out. Lexus also added a hybrid version now called the 300h and an up market 300h called the Luxury. Tested here is the 2020 base NX 300h with a starting price of $39,270.

Dimensionally, the NX sits between the smaller UX and larger RX and competes with vehicles like the BMW X3, Lincoln Corsair, Acura RDX, Volvo XC60, Mercedes GLA, and Audi Q3.

Outside, the styling is edgy, with sharply sculpted and chiseled front and rear fascias. The unusually high beltline creates the illusion that the NXs windows are small and narrow, but visibility from behind the wheel wasn’t compromised at all. And, of course there’s the bold “spindle” grille featured on all Lexus products.

Inside, the five-passenger cabin stylish and best described as premium rather than luxury. There’s ample use of soft-touch material and fluidic sculptured instrument panel, center console and door trim. Seats are trimmed in NuLuxe, Lexus speak for faux leather. We liked the material but if your preference is real leather you’ll need to move up to the Luxury trim model that adds just over $7,000 more to the price. But you get more than just leather seating that price includes wood interior trim, rain-sensing wipers and more.

The NX is two-row seating only with comfortable and supportive bolstered seats up front, but taller drivers will wish for more adjustment that lowers the seat. Additionally, the wide center console robs needed leg and knee room. There’s seating for three in the rear but it’s tight and uncomfortable and best left for two passengers. The rear cargo area has moderate space but is nicely finished.
There’s a mouse-like controller with a touchpad that operates like a smart phone allowing you to pinch and zoom quickly on the LED screen. It worked well, but we still aren’t fans of the fussy Lexus Enform interface that’s complex and frustrating to use especially when driving and on bumpy roads. It’s the least user-friendly and intuitive infotainment system in its competitive set.

Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control and an infotainment system with an 8-inch display, Bluetooth, a USB port, Apple CarPlay and Alexa compatibility, a Wi-Fi hot spot, an eight-speaker audio system, and satellite radio. Available features include a moonroof; two upgraded audio systems, a 10.3-inch infotainment display, and navigation. Oddly, it includes Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto, which is a huge turnoff factor for Android loyalists.

Our NX 300h hybrid tester is powered by a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and three electric motors, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Together, this setup produces 194-horsepower while returning a decent 31 combined city/highway MPG. All-wheel drive is standard but know that the NX is not intended for off-road driving.

On the road we found the ride firm, but comfortable. Handling is steady, controlled and confident. There is expected body roll on corners and curves in the road. Steering is light making city driving easy. The cabin is mostly quiet but gets noisy when a heavier demand of power is called upon for rapid acceleration or when climbing a hill. Overall we wished for more horsepower to improve driving enjoyment and times when passing another vehicle on the roadway.

Lexus Safety System+ is standard and includes lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. However if you want the blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert systems it’s included in the optional Premium Package and will have to pony up an additional $3,270 that includes a number of unrelated features such as larger wheels, heated seats, a power tilt & slide moonroof, memory mirrors and a few other conveniences.

Overall the NX is a distinctive choice in the luxury compact crossover segment with contemporary styling inside and out. We wished for more interior room but liked its driving dynamics and fuel economy but.  Still, we longed for more horsepower from the mediocre performance of the hybrid and definitely wished for a more sensible, less detracting and easier to use infotainment system touchpad controller.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $39,070
Price as Tested: $49,702
Engine: 2.5L 194 hp Atkinson-cycle hybrid with three electric motor setup paired with a continuous variable automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 33/30/31 MPG City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Ratings: Overall highest possible 5-stars from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Aichi, Japan

Competes With:
Acura RDX
Audi Q3
Cadillac XT4
Lincoln Corsair
Mercedes-Benz GLA
Volvo XC60

Fab Features:
Edgy eye-catching styling
Outstanding fuel economy
Lots of standard features