Small SUV is very average
THE GOOD
  • Excellent, proven powertrain
  • Driving feel
  • Standard safety tech, good crash test ratings
THE BAD
  • Terrible trackpad interface
  • Fuel economy
  • Doesn’t feel as luxurious as it should
2020 Lexus NX 300 Review

The 2020 Lexus NX is the automotive equivalent of a meal replacement drink.

While they are popular, convenient, and provide enough sustenance to keep stomachs from rumbling, they’re not something I would crave – largely because there are tastier, healthier, and more memorable ways to stay fed. Similarly, the NX 300 is a completely fine crossover that will happily handle the commute, but there are plenty of other options out there that are more efficient, more user-friendly, and better equipped.

Style: 6/10

The NX isn’t exactly elegant-looking from at least a few different angles. Its most obvious stylistic flaw is its weak chin and strange front end that makes it look like it has an overbite. I don’t even mind the large grille, but it can look awkward when seen from the side or from above. From all other angles, however, it looks good, with its dramatic creases aligning well with the rest of the Lexus lineup. This popular small SUV is also ubiquitous and you’ll see them everywhere you drive, so if you want something higher-end but don’t want anything that stands out too much, the NX could be a good pick.

Inside, the style is a bit dated, as evidenced by the CD player in the dashboard. A lot of hard plastic is used throughout, and there are many layers and buttons reminiscent of popular design from a decade ago, which makes sense given the NX first came out in 2014 and has seen just one facelift since.

Safety: 8/10

The Lexus NX has been awarded as a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is the highest rating available. The crossover got top marks in all its crash tests and for its crash prevention technology.

The NX comes standard with Lexus’ full suite of driver-assistance technology, including full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and pre-collision braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Two of the most useful safety features, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, are part of pricey packages but they should really be standard.

The lane-keep assist feels too aggressive and instead of gently keeping you in the middle of the lane, the NX bobs between the lines, while the steering wheel is always fighting you – even when you’re centred.

The adaptive cruise control also keeps a bit too much space between you and the car in front, leaving other motorists too much of a gap to cut you off, but luckily the NX responds quickly when it happens with smooth and natural-feeling braking.

Features: 6/10

The NX doesn’t have any special features that are worth bragging about, but it includes most of the basics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats, LED headlamps, and 17-inch wheels are all standard. Ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, driver’s seat memory, a power tailgate, a larger 10.3-inch display screen, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, 360-degree parking camera, and more are all part of options packages that range from $3,950 all the way up to $13,250. Some of these features should definitely be standard and a lot of them can be found in more affordable, non-luxury SUVs.

User-Friendliness: 5/10

Unfortunately, the infotainment interface in the Lexus NX is one of the least user-friendly systems on the market. Instead of using a touchscreen, Lexus uses a small trackpad that’s very similar to ones you’d find on an older laptop, except the cursor is far more finicky and erratic. While difficult and frustrating to use while parked, it’s nearly impossible to use safely while in motion. Even supposed simple tasks like changing the radio station or typing an address into the navigation are enough to send me flying into a blind rage. [No one likes an angry Jodi. – Ed.]

There are some physical buttons for the audio system, but they’re tucked behind the gear selector, requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road for too long to use them, making them basically useless. The terrible touchpad is made worse by the fact that the system’s menu structure is convoluted and the graphics look dated. And before you ask if the system gets easier to use over time – it doesn’t. Despite two weeks trying to master the system (previously in the Lexus ES), it only gets more frustrating. It just isn’t intuitive at all.

Although the NX has Apple CarPlay and, finally, Android Auto compatibility, drivers have to interact with either system using the touchpad, which takes away a lot of the convenience smartphone mirroring is supposed to have. Luckily, Lexus includes analog buttons for the climate control system.

Practicality: 7/10

The trunk space behind the rear seats holds 500 L of cargo and 1,546 L with the second row folded flat, leaving the NX with less space than major rivals like the BMW X3. In the front, there aren’t many storage cubbies to stash items like phones and keys, so you end up using the cupholders. There is a very puzzling small compartment near the touchpad where the lid comes off completely to reveal a mirror, which strikes me as incredibly useless.

Comfort: 7/10

A Lexus is supposed to be comfortable before anything else, but a few passengers noted that the dashboard seems to seriously impede front seat space. One taller passenger was constantly bashing his knee on the dash panel while entering the NX, a by-product of the tight space in the front of the cabin. Leg- and headroom in the back is decent but not great, so taller passengers won’t be super comfortable for longer drives. Heated rear seats are also not available.

Of course, being a Lexus, the suspension is tuned for comfort and the cabin is incredibly quiet. One small item of note: this Lexus beeps in a way that makes everything seem like an emergency. Any beeping, whether from the parking sensors, lane-departure warning, or even just opening the trunk, is a high-pitched noise that is very loud and jarring, which takes away from the luxury experience. Opening and closing the trunk should not sound like an emergency, and the beeping is so annoying that I turned off most of the safety tech, which defeats the purpose of having it in the first place.

Powertrain: 9/10

The Lexus NX is powered by a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque; it comes standard with all-wheel drive in Canada and gets power to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. I was surprised by the amount of pick-up this crossover possesses, as passing slower motorists and getting up to highway speeds happens quickly and without too much drama. The powertrain is proven, so it’s smooth and works entirely as expected, with the transmission firing off shifts when expected and helping with the NX’s responsiveness. The powertrain simply works invisibly in the background – exactly as it should.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The NX is geared more towards comfort than sport, so it glides over rough roads well and keeps occupants comfortable and not bouncing around. Even though it’s tuned for comfort, the NX remains composed and doesn’t feel sloppy – say, when taking an on-ramp a little faster than usual, which is much appreciated. The steering also feels weighty and responsive, and the NX is nimble and very easy to park despite its smallish windows. In general, the NX feels confidence-inspiring to drive.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

For such a small crossover, the Lexus NX 300’s fuel economy isn’t particularly impressive. Rated to get 10.7 L/100 km in the city, 8.5 on the highway, and 9.8 combined, I was averaging 10.0 L/100 km after a week of testing that was done with a heavier dose of highway driving.

Although my testing was during a very hot and muggy week with more full-blast air conditioning and idling than normal, that as-tested fuel economy isn’t great – especially considering I drove it in Eco mode most of the time. For comparison, the week after this NX 300, I was testing the Ford Edge ST, a slightly larger performance SUV that I drove much more aggressively, and it was getting the same fuel economy as the smaller Lexus. The hybrid version of the NX is rated to get a combined 7.5 L/100 km, which isn’t great even by hybrid standards.

Value: 6/10

For being so average and lacking so many features, the NX’s price is tough to justify. Starting at $44,350, there’s not much it has going for it except a proven powertrain, which for some drivers might be worth its weight in gold, but there’s really no other flash to make the price feel worth it. My tester rang in at $52,925 before taxes and it didn’t feel like a vehicle that should cost that much.

The Verdict

The 2020 Lexus NX 300 is an entirely competent small SUV that is unremarkable in many ways but will make a lot of people happy. It doesn’t excel in any particular area but does most things well enough, and overall, it’s very average.

Although the NX 300 misses the mark on a few details that combine to tarnish parts of the experience, it’s still worthy of consideration if you’re able to put up with the awful trackpad. If I were in the market for the NX, I would opt for the hybrid version over this gas-powered one, though I prefer the smaller Lexus UX 250h if you’re able to sacrifice some space.

If I were cross-shopping between brands, however, the NX isn’t the best and brightest; it’s just good enough. Overall, the NX doesn’t live up to the high standards for luxury vehicles that Lexus has established for itself. It’s not a good look when some models from non-luxury brands are more efficient, have better interiors, include more tech, and feel more upscale.

Small SUV is very average 8/6/2020 6:25:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Lexus NX 300
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $44,350
Peak Horsepower 235 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,075
Fuel Economy 10.7 / 8.5 / 9.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $52,925
Cargo Space 500 / 1,546 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$6,400 – Black Line Edition, $6,400