The compact crossover segment is a notoriously competitive one, and the luxury side isn’t any different.
Lexus kickstarted the mid-size movement with the RX back in the late ’90s, and the smaller NX has been the brand’s flag bearer in the class below since it debuted in 2014.
With its last major refresh in 2018, the NX has continued to major on the traditional Lexus strengths of comfort, quality, and value. Here in 2020 it still covers those bases, remaining a strong contender in a class overflowing with excellence. What it lacks is a real stand-out feature though, a definitive USP that pushes it above and beyond the competition.
Familiar looks have aged well, mostly
We’ve had a decade now to get used to Lexus’ spindle grille. Depending on the treatment, like on the gorgeous LC, I’d say it’s worked. The NX is not one of those examples, at least from the front three-quarter view. The hourglass shape folds under the front bumper, giving the NX the overbite of an elderly horse. Luckily the rest of the shape holds up, especially with the body-colored bits of my NX300 Executive tester. No black plastic, faux-off-roading trim here. The profile proportions give the NX a level of athleticism more in line with the funky little UX than the more conservative RX. Eminent White Pearl is a good paint option too. What it lacks in colorful charm, it makes up for with a deep sparkle.
Pop the door open and the NX interior feels instantly familiar. That’s no bad thing: the leather is smooth, and the center console design is easy to grok. My tester sticks to the so(m)ber all-black treatment, though dashes of bronze contrast stitching and trim fillets in the door lift the ambiance slightly. There are no surprises inside, including the shake-your-fist infotainment system setup (more on that later). It all feels well screwed together, although bizarrely it even looks it, literally, with two exposed screws on either side of the center console.
A smooth highway cruiser
Beyond a badging change from 200t to 300, Lexus hasn’t tinkered with the heart of the non-hybrid NX. The familiar 2.0-liter turbo engine pumps out a healthy 235 hp, along with a stout 258 lb-ft of torque available barely off idle. Even sticking to the turbo fours of the class and not the more powerful six-pot turbos, these aren’t benchmark figures in the segment. That shouldn’t matter though, as the NX300 is plenty quick enough in everyday use, with its six-speed auto quickly kicking down a gear or two when requested.
There are steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and selectable drive modes, but beyond a sole exploratory fiddle with both, I never felt the need again. Left to its own devices, the NX averaged 24.5 mpg (9.6 L/100 km) during our week together, just above its EPA-quoted 24 mpg combined rating.
Steering feel is notable by its absence. The rim is whisper-light at any speed, though it responds to inputs consistently. On the flip side, it makes the NX a very comfortable highway mile-muncher. Here, the soft suspension tuning on this non-F Sport model soaks up expansion joints and potholes with aplomb. The tires on the unique 18-inch wheels feature sizeable sidewalls, allowing the rubber to soak up the worst our roads could throw at me during our week together.
It’s at lower speeds in the city that the NX can get jiggly. It takes a while to settle after even moderate bumps, along both axis. The NX felt less cohesive and in control of its own motions around my neighborhood than the last RAV4 I tested. I chalk that up to its last-generation chassis. Toyota’s got a good thing going with the TNGA platform under the RAV (and pretty much every other modern Toyota), offering a stiffer, more predictable foundation. The NX can’t switch to it soon enough.
Tight quarters for the class
Front-row space is perfectly adequate in the NX. It’s easy to amble in and out and the seats are mega comfy, and the power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allows you to tailor the driving position to your needs. My tester comes with a sunroof, but even then, 38.2 inches (970 mm) of headroom is plenty. I have a long torso for someone 5’10″—and more of a lockdown mane than usual—and I never felt cramped. The front thrones are both heated and cooled here, and as a personal favorite feature, the settings stick whenever the car is turned back on. If you’ve set it to toasty buns in the winter, it’ll kick in every time you thumb the starter button. Even the Macan Turbo I was in before the NX didn’t do that.
It’s a bit of a different story in the second row. It’s not bad, but the very upright rear seats don’t look inviting. I narrowly avoided the headliner with the front seats set to my needs. Legroom is on the shorter side with just 36.1 inches, or around 2 inches less than the Acura RDX and Volvo XC60. The rear bench is perfectly finee for two adults, but not three, unless they’re very comfortable with each other. Or it’s a very short trip.
The NX’ biggest disadvantage is its cargo bay. It offers just 17.7 cubic feet (500 L) of space behind the rear seats. Not only is that a tighter space than any of its main rivals, but it’s less than half the haulin’ room of the RAV4. That really limits the utility of this “utility” vehicle.
That blasted infotainment
Look, this isn’t news anymore. Lexus’ infotainment system is bad. The trackpad is inconsistent, making it hard to reliably select anything. It requires a surprising amount of attention for even the simplest of tasks. It almost makes me wonder if it’s all intentional. Maybe Lexus made it such a pain so it would discourage anybody from ever taking their attention off the actual act of driving?
The good news is that both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are present. For me that meant asking Siri to handle any Spotify changes or navigation routes. In that sense it worked effectively, and I find Lexus and Toyota models most likely to pick up where my playlists left off last time I was driving. So hey, there’s that. My tester has the 10.3-inch infotainment screen; in the US, the only way to nab that is with the Mark Levinson sound system. The ML systems are great in every Lexus I’ve experienced them in, so if you care about the quality of your tunes, check that box.
Much better tech news: the NX comes with an ample amount of safety assists across the board. Lane departure alert, automated emergency braking, full dynamic cruise control, and auto high beams are standard on all trims. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert appear mid-way up the trim ladder, as does a head-up display and a 360-degree camera. That’s where the NX carves out a price advantage over the competition.
Verdict: 2020 Lexus NX300
Speaking of price: a front-drive NX300 starts at $37,895 USD, or $46,445 in Canada (both including destination). AWD is standard in the land of Tim Hortons however. The Lexus undercuts the German rivals, and comes with a healthier list of standard safety features, plus it is super easy to find Lexus Spare Parts if you need to. It makes more sense closer to that entry point than in this spec, where it rings up at nearly $50k US ($59,175 CAD). For that amount of cash, the NX can’t match the engagement of the competition and is even further behind in the infotainment game.
Don’t discount the lure of comfort and Lexus reliability, however. If worry-free motoring is priority number one, the NX makes a certain amount of sense. It’s a decision of the head more than the heart.