Luxury comes at a price. That’s not new.
On its face, the Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line, this week’s drive, is modest in size and price on the ever-expanding luxury scale. This edgy small crossover rides on but a 104.7-inch wheelbase, compact like the Acura RDX or Volvo XC40, both luxury makes, or, like the recently tested Subaru Crosstrek or Hyundai’s Tucson, not luxury makes.
Base price for a front-drive NX 300 with 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 gas engine is a reasonable $38,535, remembering that $40 grand is the average cost for a new vehicle these day. NX is available in six trims, some with AWD and some hybrids. The tested top level 300h F Sport Black Line, checks in at $47,835, including delivery.
Within that pricing expanse there’s certainly an NX that could suit many folks needs, depending on the luxury level required to permit a crossover to be parked at your particular soccer field, or in your neighborhood.
For now let’s focus on this most luxurious and sporty of the NX models, which also happens to be a hybrid with AWD.
Outwardly the 2021 looks much the same as last year’s model, a giant spindle grille that marks the Lexus brand, plus 3-dimensional taillights and HD headlights that look like checkmarks. This styling sets it apart from many of its competitors. Mine was a bright Celestial Blue that got the old optic nerves tingling.
Being a hybrid the 2.5-liter I4 engine is mated with two electric motors that together put out 194 horsepower, which provides reasonable power to get on the freeway. That said, you’ll want to use the Sport drive mode (one of three) to boost power, while Normal is fine for around town. The downside of Sport mode is the noise the gas-powered engine makes to boost the crossover to highway speeds. The engine sounds busy, like it’s working hard under heavy acceleration, not exactly what I expect from luxury makes, such as Lexus. Still, the power is there.
F Sport means the suspension has been tuned for a sporty ride, which translates to firm and sometimes too firm, a combination of that stiffer suspension and the NX’s short wheelbase.
On the plus side, handling is sporty and precise for a crossover, which means it is fun to drive on winding roads and is equally easy to park. With a smoother power source and normal suspension it would be more comfortable. The NX 300 Luxury trim might be the better choice if tushie thumping isn’t your driving goal.
Still, with the electric power that smoothly launches the crossover to about 35 mph (if you don’t tromp the pedal and engage the gas-powered engine) you save gas and cruise quietly at city speeds. I managed 27.4 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving for the week. The EPA expects better, rating the NX at 33 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The lower figure seems doable.
Another benefit of the tested Black Line and all the hybrid models is their standard AWD system. That best suits Wisconsin’s climate for steady traction. The Black Line also upgrades to 18-inch tires.
From a performance standpoint the Subaru Crosstrek comes pretty close to this Lexus, but without a hybrid system. It also costs far less.
But NX’s luxury interior helps set it apart from non-luxury makes.
First, fit and finish are aces and the black leather interior in the test crossover featured a bright blue trim line on the dash and piping on the seats to electrify its interior styling. Plus F Sport comes with spiffy textured metal-look trim on the doors, satin chrome trim on the air vents and console and the dash features that blue contrasting stitching. Even the floor mats are trimmed in blue, adding a bit of ou la la.
To drive home Lexus luxury the driver’s seat powers back once the ignition is turned off and the NX features a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, which helps set up a driver for a comfortable ride. Three memory buttons are available for the driver’s seat too.
F Sport’s seats are supportive and sporty, but some will find the hip pocket too tight. Rear seat room is moderate, especially headroom, best for two adults, meaning this is a four-seater unless you’re filling the back seat with toddlers or car seats. The F Sport also has three-level heated and cooled seats up front and a heated steering wheel. Sadly the wheel isn’t D-shaped, which would only make sense this being the “sporty” model, and its leather is rather slick. That’s not a problem when the driver is ungloved, but the wheel was pretty slick in a gloved hand.
Dash controls are well laid out and the 8-inch info screen is large enough for easy viewing. Sadly there’s still the clumsy touchpad on the console to adjust much of that screen, yet Lexus has bowed to consumer pressure and added tuning and volume knobs by the screen. Oddly there was no navigation system on the test car.
There is a sunroof overhead, although it’s small. Plus side, safety equipment is well represented. That’s more important than nav or a panoramic sunroof.
Lexus Safety System 2.0 is standard and includes lane tracing assist, road sign assist, pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, smart cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and smart stop technology.
Cargo room behind the rear seat is good at 16.8 cubic feet (hybrid has a bit less than the gas-version) and grows to 53.7 if the split rear seat is lowered.
Other pluses include toggles for the climate control settings, fan and directionals, which is easy to use even when wearing gloves. There’s Wi-Fi here, Alexa skill and smart phone integration, satellite radio, an 8-speaker sound system and chrome pedals, part of the F Sport trim. Plus a power hatch is now standard.
No denying that the NX feels luxurious. It certainly looks it inside, while the exterior is different enough to set it apart from many small utes and crossovers. But if functionality weighs heavier on your budget than luxury, there are a lot of small crossovers such as that Subie or Hyundai that will do the job.
Hits: Unique styling, good power, sporty handling, 3 drive modes and AWD. Sunroof, supportive seats, good safety equipment and decent mpg.
Misses: Sunroof is small, clumsy touchpad for info screen adjustment, steering wheel feels slick, tight hip room in front seats, firm ride and busy sounding engine under heavy acceleration. Needs a flat-bottom wheel for F Sport.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 194 hp
Transmission: CVT, automatic
Weight: 4,180 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 182.7 in.
Cargo: 16.8/53.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 1,500 lbs.
MPG: 27.4 (tested)
Base Price: $47,835 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $47,835
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage