by Morgan Carter
With hybridization becoming a growing trend, the relevant market segments are becoming more competitive, and standing out is becoming a challenge in itself. However, the Lexus NX Hybrid manages to do just that, and not just because of its unique styling choice, which is guaranteed to turn a few heads. For a small luxury crossover, the NX is remarkably affordable, while still providing impressive fuel economy figures from its 194-horsepower four-cylinder powertrain to justify its long-term viability. Rivals like its corporate cousin, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, are cheaper, though, but they don't offer the same long list of features and luxuries. The Lexus does make some sacrifices in terms of cargo and rear-seat space in the name of style and opulence, but it balances this out with supreme comfort and excellent safety ratings. Overall, it's not the perfect small hybrid crossover, but it isn't far off.
For 2020, the Lexus NX range has seen a few updates. Android Auto is now standard on every trim, along with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. This suite of features comprises pedestrian detection, road-sign detection, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. A power tilt-and-telescoping steering column is now standard, and Active Cornering Assist has been added. Cadmium Orange has been added to the exterior color palette while Silver Lining and Autumn Shimmer have been deleted. Minor changes to interior cosmetics have also been made.
The Lexus NX certainly doesn't look its age five years after its initial release. Smooth and sleek isn't the SUV's style, with bold, jutting angles present almost everywhere on the body. The standard model hybrid rides on 17-inch wheels, while the Luxury gets 18-inch variants. LED head- and taillights come standard, along with LED fog lights and daytime running lights. The grille is the now typical hourglass-styled Lexus spindle grille, key to the corporate identity of every L-badged model, while those badges get hints of blue alluding to the electrified nature of the NX Hybrid.
The luxurious Lexus hybrid SUV has a relatively small footprint, measuring only 182.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 104.7 inches. Without its mirrors, the NX stands 73.6 inches wide, with an overall height of 64.8 inches. It is also a bit lighter than similar hybrid SUVs, weighing in at 4,180 lbs. Ground clearance is 6.7 inches, with an approach angle of 28.7 and a departure of 24.5 degrees, all slightly worse than the non-hybrid variant.
Both models of the NX Hybrid SUV are powered by the same combination powertrain. Three electric motors and a nickel-metal hydride battery work alongside a 2.5-liter inline-four cylinder engine to develop a combined output of 194 hp. No front-wheel-drive is offered on the hybrid models, so this power is directed to all four wheels simultaneously. One of the electric motors focuses specifically on the rear wheels, powering them as needed to ensure optimum traction. At lower speeds, the SUV can run purely on its electric power for up to one mile. Regulating the power of the combination engine is a continuously variable transmission that abandons traditional gear shifting in favor of a more fluid power management system.
The powertrain supplies ample power to move the SUV, but it lacks the quickness of stronger rivals, managing the 0 to 60 sprint in 9.1 seconds as opposed to the early seven-second time of the non-hybrids. Still, there is enough low-end power, thanks to the electric motors, to get around town with a certain degree of briskness. However, passing on the highway will require a bit more patience and planning, more due to the CVT's power-sapping nature than the lack of potency.
The Lexus NX Hybrid isn't a particularly thrilling drive, but there's something to be said for zipping around town in the compact, fuel-efficient SUV. The low-end acceleration, assisted by the torquey electric motor, gives the crossover a certain zest, but that enthusiasm quickly dies down as you rev up and the CVT moderates power in favor of fuel economy.
The steering is great at low speeds, which is where the hybrid shines anyway. It's light and makes maneuvering around cramped parking lots a breeze. There is not much heft at higher speeds, however, even in Sport mode, and feedback from the wheels is almost non-existent. The brakes are equally peculiar in their application. Upon initialization, they take a moment to respond. But, once engaged, braking is effective and well-balanced. You will notice the switch from regenerative brakes to the standard brakes, but it's not overly jarring.
Ride quality is excellent in almost any situation, especially if you stick with the smaller 17-inch wheels. The suspension takes bumps in its stride, although large holes can throw it off a little. Still, it recovers quickly and never really rattles the cabin occupants. Road and wind noise are also dampened extremely well. While the engine is generally unobtrusive, it can complain a little when pressed too hard.
For a luxury crossover, the Lexus NX gets pretty good fuel economy. As rated by the EPA, the hybrid powertrain can cover 33/30/31 mpg across the city/highway/combined segments, beating out many a compact crossover, but lagging behind hybrid rivals, including the RAV4 Hybrid's 40 mpg combined figure. The NX relies on regular gasoline instead of premium, further enhancing its affordability. However, front-wheel-drive isn't available on the hybrid Lexus SUV, so you are forced to rely on the slightly less efficient all-wheel drivetrain. With a 14.8-gallon tank, three electric motors, and a battery pack, the SUV can travel for up to 459 miles before needing to refill the tank.
The interior of the SUV leans towards luxury, but focuses a little too much of the front half of the cabin. There is certainly space for up to five passengers, but the rear seats are a bit more cramped due to the short wheelbase, offering quite a bit less legroom than front passengers get. The headroom is more standard around the cabin, but the low roof means it isn't exactly generous. Passengers over six-feet tall may feel some claustrophobia. The raised front seats mean that the driver can enjoy good forward visibility, but the sloping rear roof generates large blind spots. The front seats are power-adjustable and the driver's seat features a memory function on the upper trim. Synthetic leather upholstery comes standard, with perforated leather available on the Luxury.
Considering its size, the NX doesn't boast a particularly high cargo capacity. This is in part due to the hybrid nature of the SUV, which means more space is taken up by the powertrain components. Still, the 16.8 cubic feet of standard space is ample, although it's far less than non-hybrid compact crossovers like the Audi Q3 with its 23.7 cubes. But the non-luxury Toyota RAV4 dwarfs them both with its 37.5 cubic feet. Still, the Lexus SUV offers 60/40 split fold-down rear seats that open up the storage area, supplying a maximum capacity of 53.7 cubic feet. However, the sloping roof means that loading larger items can be problematic. The power liftgate on the Luxury adds some degree of convenience, and the four storage compartments beneath the cargo floor offer safe space for smaller items.
Inside the cabin, the NX offers a variety of nooks and crannies for your small personal items. There is a large glove compartment and center console cubby for the larger items, while the console mid-tray and door pockets can only accommodate smaller items. There are four cupholders, one for each major seating appointment, but they are not as large as we would like.
The entry-level hybrid is actually a tier or two above the base NX 300, so it comes quite well equipped with features. Standard fare includes synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, keyless entry and ignition, and power front seats. There is also a 4.2-inch TFT display to help you manage the hybrid systems. The advanced driver-assistance features comprise a rearview camera, forward collision avoidance, and Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, pedestrian detection, and road-sign recognition. Features added when you upgrade to the Luxury trim include perforated leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power liftgate, and a power moonroof. The safety suite is further enhanced with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The standard infotainment suite on the NX hybrid is comprehensive, comprising an eight-inch display with a remote touchpad that grants access to HD Radio, Bluetooth hands-free, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, and a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. Android Auto compatibility has been added as standard on all vehicles produced after October 2019. An eight-speaker audio system channels sound throughout the cabin on the base hybrid model. The suite sees some upgrades when you move up to the NX 300h Luxury, as the Navigation Package is included as standard. This upgrades the display to a 10.3-inch model and adds built-in Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation and Destination Assist. Furthermore, the standard sound system is replaced by a 10-speaker Lexus premium audio system. An optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson setup is also available on the Luxury trim.
J.D. Power awards the hybrid SUV an above-average dependability score of 83 out of 100. To date, the 2020 model has not been subjected to any recalls, and this remains true looking back over the past few years. There is also a distinct lack of significant complaints. Lexus offers the NX Hybrid with a 50,000-mile/48-month basic warranty and a 70,000-mile/72-month powertrain warranty. The hybrid components are covered for 100,000 miles/96 months.
The NHTSA awards the NX Hybrid an overall crash-test safety score of five stars, while the IIHS gives the 2019 standard NX a perfect score of Good in every category, which should be applicable to the identically equipped hybrid variant. The SUV also receives the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ award. This is no doubt due to the comprehensive safety suite that comes equipped on every model. Standard safety features include ABS, stability and traction control, hill-start assist, LED fog lights, and eight airbags: dual-front, front knee, front side, and side curtain. Advanced safety features comprise forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, pedestrian detection, and road-sign recognition. Rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are also available.
There isn't too much to complain about when it comes to the Lexus NX Hybrid. It's certainly not perfect, but it ticks enough boxes to earn its spot on any discerning hybrid buyer's shortlist.
While it may fall well short of the gas mileage estimates of the mechanically related Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, as well as the cargo space of the Toyota, the NX 300h still bags impressive mileage estimates and only requires regular gasoline, further reducing the cost of ownership. Combine this with high levels of specification, luxurious finishes, and high levels of safety, and it seems like a win-win situation. But the NX Hybrid suffers when it comes to the practical aspects of crossover ownership - the cargo volume is even less in hybrid guise than the already disappointing figure without electrification, and it fails to provide the performance expected of a luxury marque. Combine this with finicky infotainment and a package that prioritizes form over function, and the NX Hybrid isn't all too easy to recommend. Still, with not many luxury hybrid crossovers around, it occupies a niche that might fit your specific needs. If you're outside of this very specific niche, though, we'd rather have the RAV4 Hybrid instead.
Quite a bit pricier than your standard compact crossover, the Lexus NX Hybrid has a starting MSRP of $39,270. This is quite affordable considering the SUV's good fuel economy and its long list of standard features, but if you want the best the hybrid range has to offer, you will be looking at the 300h Luxury, which sees the price jump to $46,360. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Lexus' $1,025 destination charge.
Hybrid vehicle purchases, while generally demanding a higher initial investment, are still primarily aimed at those with affordability and long-term economy fore of thought. As such, we recommend sticking with the base 300h trim. It offers the same performance as the upper trim and, for the most part, much of the same tech and comfort features. You will have to forego the leather seats, but the blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and heated seats that you lose out on can be added with the Comfort Package for just $980, saving you quite a bit on your initial outlay. So unless you desperately want the leather seats, larger wheels, moonroof, and larger infotainment screen, you should be happy with the base NX 300h.
When looking for an affordable hybrid SUV, the Toyota RAV4 springs to mind almost immediately. Having recently undergone a full redesign in 2019, and receiving some much-needed updates in 2020, the more budget-friendly SUV is certainly worth consideration. It's not nearly as luxurious inside as the Lexus, and its tech features are far more limited, but it gets standard smartphone integration and the full Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety features. The RAV4 also provides more than double the cargo capacity of the NX, but passenger space is no better. Add to this a stronger 219-hp four-cylinder engine and seven mpg higher combined fuel economy, and the Toyota hybrid SUV will certainly appeal more to the economically minded buyer. But, if you have the extra cash, and want to combine affordability with luxury, then the mechanically related Lexus NX should still meet all your needs. Smart money's on the Rav, though.
Looking toward the other end of the spectrum, the Lexus RX 450h is an even more premium hybrid SUV. Bigger and stronger than the NX, thanks to its 308-hp V6 combination powertrain, the RX also slaps on a much higher price tag with the base model asking for the same investment as the top-tier NX 300h Luxury. But, for that extra downpayment, you get a more upscale and better-appointed interior. However, the RX doesn't improve on passenger or trunk capacity much, with only 18 cubic feet offered with the rear seats up. The more powerful engine will deliver a more engaging and enjoyable driving experience, but it drinks premium fuel and gets fewer mpg than the NX… ouch. While it touts itself as an SUV for the economy-minded buyer, the RX is certainly not as green or affordable as its smaller sibling. It is, however, vastly more luxurious, more accommodating of rear-seat occupants, and is one of the best mid-size SUVs around. If you're looking for luxury with a hint of hybridization, the RX is well worth the extra outlay.