by Ian Wright
Affordable luxury is all the rage in the auto industry right now, and so is hybridization. The market demands comfort and quality along with an electrified drivetrain, and that's what the NX Hybrid provides. Lexus has matched a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with three electric motors to generate a total of 194 horsepower between all four wheels, and an EPA estimate of 31 mpg combined. The NX Hybrid is stylish, reasonably economical to run, and has a longer list of features and luxuries than it's inexpensive cousin, the RAV4 Hybrid. On paper, the NX Hybrid adds up, but it's getting long in the tooth and runs on the last generation of the RAV4's architecture. The question we're asking is: Does the math still work? We spent a few days with the car to find out.
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.
See trim levels and configurations:
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.
The NX Hybrid can be specified in a choice of seven colors, including low-key shades like Eminent White Pearl, Atomic Silver, Nebula Gray Pearl, and Caviar. These look good, but you can announce your arrival more boldly by going for Matador Red Mica, Blue Vortex Metallic, or Cadmium Orange. All colors are standard besides Cadmium Orange, which adds $595 to the base price. As with other Lexus hybrids, the logo gets a blue background to let everyone know you've made a more efficient choice.
The Lexus NX Hybrid's powertrain pairs a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with three electric motors for a total system output of 194 horsepower. On its own, the gas engine delivers 154 hp and 152 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels and will see the NX Hybrid complete the 0-60 run in a leisurely 9.1 seconds before running into a limited top speed at 112 mph. This is around two seconds slower than the turbocharged NX 300 takes for the same sprint, but underlines the hybrid's preference for efficiency over performance. The cheaper Toyota RAV4 Hybrid may not be as luxurious, but it's tangibly quicker than the NX 300h, while the plug-in RAV4 Prime simply decimates the Lexus.
Power in the NX 300h comes from a combination of an Atkinson cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and three electric motors, which together produce 194 hp. On its own, the four-pot manages modest outputs of 154 hp and 152 lb-ft. There are three electric motors: one functioning as an engine starter and generator, a front electric motor with 141 hp, and a rear motor with 67 hp - the latter powers only the rear wheels and helps to achieve optimal traction. The battery is a sealed nickel-metal hydride type. As in other hybrids from the Toyota family, this one uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT); a full-time AWD system is fitted, with FWD not available on the hybrid. If you want to enjoy silent driving in EV mode, the NX 300h will only allow you to do so for one mile at a time.
While the NX Hybrid is a smooth and quiet ride, it doesn't offer much for those that like to hustle. The initial thrust of torque from the electric motors providing an assist runs out quickly, and getting up to freeway speeds becomes a chore. Around town, that initial torque is useful for zipping around, and the NX is at home at lower speed and the stop-start of city life. However, once you start to exercise the CVT transmission, exactly how much work it's doing to keep the mpg down becomes apparent. The brakes are inconsistent and hard to modulate initially, but once they're engaged, the switch from regenerative to standard braking is close to seamless.
Sport mode is, at best, optimistic. The steering is too light for enthusiastic driving, although it's a blessing in tight spots, and traction control remains in its nanny state. The chassis is surprisingly agile for a 4,200-pound vehicle, which is good to know for emergency maneuvering.
Around town is where we enjoyed the NX most, as the suspension is more than adept at dealing with bumps and broken surfaces without spilling lattes. There's little wind noise, even at full freeway speed, and the engine doesn't become intrusive until it's pushed 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 cycles, beating out many compact crossovers, 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.
We found ourselves hovering at 30 mpg through a week with the NX Hybrid, which is great for comparing to the EPA figures, but not particularly strong compared to its non-hybrid competition.
While the NX Hybrid may be a bit disappointing relative to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid in terms of performance, you can tell that this is a Lexus when you step inside. The materials are of a high standard and there are many standard features, although the plethora of buttons on the center console and the complex infotainment system do detract from usability. Space utilization also isn't the greatest and those at the back will feel the pinch. All models come with power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and the Lexus Safety System + 2.0 with technologies like lane tracing assist and road sign assist. The top-spec Luxury trim also has a standard memory seating system, heated/ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
The NX isn't a large vehicle, but there's enough seating for five people, although the front passenger gets the best part of the deal. The 36.1 inches of legroom in the back is enough for most people unless you have the same passengers in the back of the car every day. The people in the front get to enjoy 42.8 inches of legroom.
The low roof leaves just 38.1 inches of headroom in the back and 38.2 in the front without a sunroof. However, it's enough for everyone but the tallest of people. The sloping roof doesn't help with blind spots, but visibility out the front is excellent.
The base NX 300h has standard synthetic leather upholstery called NuLuxe, which can be had in four colors, each accompanied by Dark Umber trim. These are Creme, Glazed Caramel, Black, and Rioja Red. For access to perforated leather upholstery in Creme or Black with wood trim, you'll need to upgrade to the NX 300h Luxury. On the latter trim, perforated leather is standard, but your color choices are restricted to the two just mentioned. Both trims have a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
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.
Out of the box, the NX Hybrid comes with a feature-packed infotainment system using an eight-inch display screen. Android Auto is now a standard feature alongside Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa. An eight-speaker audio system is also included, and stepping up to the NX 300h Luxury changes that to a luxury speaker system. Going to the higher trim level also adds the Navigation Package while enlarging the display screen to 10.3 inches. Optional for the luxury trim level is a Mark Levinson 14-speaker system, thoroughly recommended for audiophiles.
Of course, we couldn't cover a Lexus without complaining about the awkward use of a laptop-style trackpad used to control the infotainment system. It's awful, and it's long past time for Lexus to rethink it.
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 2020 Lexus NX Hybrid holds a full five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, although its frontal crash score is four stars, not the maximum five. According to the IIHS, the 2020 NX was deemed safe enough for a Top Safety Pick+ award, the highest recognition in terms of safety, and reflected in a spread of maximum Good ratings for every crashworthiness test.
For 2020, the standard Lexus Safety System + 2.0 has bolstered the luxury SUV's safety offering. 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, lane tracing assist, a rearview camera with dynamic gridlines, and road-sign recognition. Rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring, intuitive parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert are also available.
When the NX Hybrid debuted in 2015, it was a solid pick for a relatively affordable small luxury crossover. The drivetrain hasn't aged particularly well as technology has accelerated, making the fuel economy figures uninspiring. That makes it a difficult car to recommend despite the excellent safety features, luxury features, and general usefulness of the NX Hybrid. Those that love the styling and feel like the idea of a hybrid NX should probably wait for the next generation. Toyota is leading the way in hybrid technology, and when the NX catches up, we suspect it's going to be a surefire winner. Hopefully, Lexus will have reconsidered the touchpad input system for the infotainment as well.
Quite a bit pricier than your standard compact crossover, the Lexus NX Hybrid has a starting MSRP of $39,420. 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 $46,510. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Lexus' $1,025 destination charge.
The Lexus NX Hybrid is offered in a choice of two trims: the NX 300h and the NX 300h Luxury. Both are powered by the same 194-horsepower hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with three electric motors. A CVT transmission and all-wheel drive are equipped as standard.
The base NX 300h comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-speaker sound system, an eight-inch color display for infotainment, NuLuxe synthetic leather upholstery, and the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 with features like pedestrian detection and lane tracing assist. A concealed exhaust and an EV drive mode distinguish the hybrid from conventionally-powered NX models.
The NX 300h Luxury includes all of these features along with seats upholstered in perforated leather, a heated steering wheel, wood interior trim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, blind-spot monitoring, and a power moonroof.
On the base NX 300h, more packages are offered as this trim isn't as lavishly equipped as the Luxury. For $980, the Comfort Package adds heated/ventilated front seats, blind-spot monitoring, and auto-dimming exterior mirrors. Frustratingly, Lexus forces you to combine multiple extras if all you wanted was one specific package, so the Comfort Pack can only be specced when adding an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror for another $150. For $3,270, the Premium Package adds upscale features like a power moonroof, heated/ventilated front seats with memory, and rear cross-traffic alert. For $2,920, navigation and the powerful Mark Levinson audio system can be equipped, but this requires adding other extras like the Premium Package. Interesting standalone options are a panoramic view monitor at $800 and a power moonroof at $1,100, but yet again, both need to be bundled with other expensive extras.
On the NX 300h Luxury, the only major upgrade (besides the standalone options) comes via the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package at $1,060.
The sensible side of our brain says that going with the base model is a winner for those who want to commit to the NX Hybrid. It fits the economy model but comes packed with a decent array of features as standard. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in the driver's seat in the city, it's worth considering going with the Luxury trim and adding the Mark Levinson sound system. You may as well be as comfortable as possible, and the added navigation features, including Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation and Destination Assist are useful. We're also fans of pedestrian detection being added to cars that will mainly live in the city.
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.
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