Lexus practically invented the luxury SUV category when it introduced the RX more than two decades ago, leading sales in the segment year after year. As the car grew in popularity, Lexus debuted the NX crossover in 2014, just in time to quench growing market and consumer thirst for luxury CUVs. It also leveraged Toyota’s dominance in hybrid powertrains to offer the NX 300h variant.
Since the introduction of the NX six years ago, there’s now much more competition, particularly among German rivals Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Even so, the Lexus NX 300h remains a formidable luxury crossover contender, offering the best fuel economy in the segment, top safety features, and the automaker’s legendary reliability, while the latest 2021 model gets a few new standard features and options, but also a slight price bump.
Lexus NX 300h Features, Pricing, and Design
The 2021 Lexus NX 300h is the tallest and most SUV-like five-seat compact luxury hybrid crossover in its class. It comes in two trims, both of which are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and electric drive motor combined with a two-speed continually variable transmission with sequential shifting to supply 194hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.
While perhaps showing its age, the exterior styling is distinctive and the interior lives up to the Lexus brand of refined elegance, with plenty of space, save for a small-for-the-segment cargo hold. For 2021, the NX 300h adds as standard features blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, updated low-profile wiper blades, power-folding and auto-dimming reverse-tilt mirrors, two new exterior colors, minor interior tweaks, and a more powerful Mark Levinson amplifier as an option.
The base NX 300h starts at $40,160 and includes 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and foglights, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, keyless ignition and entry, a rearview camera, a 4.2-inch multi-information display in the gauge cluster, and power-adjustable front seats clad in NuLuxe simulated leather. Standard multimedia features include an 8-inch display with a touch pad interface, two USB ports, Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a three-month SiriusXM trial, a three-month 4GB Wi-Fi hotspot subscription, a one-year Enform Remote access trial subscription with smartwatch and Alexa integration, and an eight-speaker sound system.
The NX 300h Luxury trim that we tested starts at $46,610 and adds a power tilt and telescoping steering column with a heated steering wheel, a power-tilt and slide moon roof, perforated leather-trimmed seats, heated and ventilated front seats, Linear Black Shadow wood trim, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
The Lexus’ Safety System+ 2.0 suite of driver assists includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane centering and steering assist, road sign recognition, and auto high beams. Active Cornering Assist, a new brake-based torque-vectoring system, and Lexus’ Enform Safety Connect telematics system, are also standard
We drove the Lexus NX 300h decked out in the new Nori Green Pearl paint. Added to the base trim was a $600 panoramic-view camera, $1,515 for triple-beam adaptive LED headlights, $535 for automated parking with auto braking, $150 for a kick-activated power liftgate, $165 for mud guards, $425 for a rear cargo mat and net, $275 for all-weather floor mats, $395 for roof-rack crossbars, and $1,060 for the 10.3-inch infotainment display with navigation, a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink. With these options and a destination charge of $1,025, the base price jumped to $52,855 on the final sticker.
Interface and Connectivity
The base trim NX 300h includes an 8-inch display, and our Luxury trim tester added the larger 10.3-inch split screen display as an option. Both trims include Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi hotspot, HD Radio, and have Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Living up to Lexus’ reputation, the NX 300h provides a comfortable, elegant, and quiet ride inside the cabin, which is an ideal setting for the optional—and exceptional—Mark Levinson speaker system. The voice-activated navigation system offers real-time traffic and weather information, 3D city views, and simulated views of approaching highway junctions. It also highlights nearby gas stations when you run low on fuel.
We found the large display layout and design easy to learn. However, the remote touch pad controller is distracting to use while driving, even when switching between screens or choosing a radio station. It requires you to align a glowing orange cursor on the screen with your finger on a matte black pad on the center console, out of the sight line of the driver.
Since we review many vehicles each year, we evaluate user experience based on how intuitively we can adapt to a new interface. Lexus thought smartphone-like ergonomics would transfer to the touch pad, but we found it a bit difficult to align your finger flicks and presses with the screen on the dash.
2021 Lexus NX 300h Performance
The all-wheel-drive NX 300h uses Lexus’ E-Four system to run the rear wheels with a second electric motor. Between the powertrain and regenerative braking, it provides best-in-class fuel efficiency at an estimated 31mph combined.
Driving in town, the NX 300h provides responsive steering and the parking assist comes in handy in crowded urban areas. When heading up mountain roads and taking on sharp curves, the car feels top-heavy. And while we appreciate the fewer trips to the pump, the hybrid powertrain’s acceleration on the highway feels sedate compared with others in its class.
We headed to the mountains in the NX 300h and found the cargo area behind the rear seats and the sloping roofline made our snow gear a tight fit. The 60/40 split seats don’t lay flat, making carrying equipment less convenient. If interior room outweighs fuel efficiency on your priority list, the Audi Q5 PHEV has more interior and cargo space than the Lexus.
A Standout Luxury CUV
With competition from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz heating up, Lexus will need to up its NX game in terms of performance and styling to remain competitive in the future. For now, however, the Lexus NX 300h remains a top option in the luxury CUV segment due to its best-in-class safety and fuel efficiency, while the minor additions to the 2021 model make it even more of a no-brainer.