2021 Lexus NX: Still a Compact Crossover Competitor

Lexus has expanded its lineup, the Lexus NX compact crossover is the new in town.

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Lexus has expanded its lineup, the Lexus NX compact crossover is the new in town.

Sleek, sloping roofs look like new competitors. Though the 2021 Lexus NX is near the end of its product cycle it looks good and drives well.

BMN NX was the third best-selling small luxury crossover in America in 2020; it competes with Acura, RDX, Infiniti QX50 and Volvo XC40, according to motor intelligence.

The 2021 Lexus NX is comfortable, refined and stylish with a generous helping of safety technology; it succeeds on the same virtues that made the RX a long-running best-seller in the midsize category.

The 2021 Lexus NX is presented three trims across two power trains for 2021. The non-hybrid models come in base (starting at $38,635 including destination charges), F-Sport ($40,735) and Luxury ($45,085) trims. Hybrid models are a little more expensive and offered in the Base ($41,185) and Luxury ($47,635) trims. For 2021, hybrid buyers who like the F-Sport’s look can get it on the new Hybrid F-Sport Black Line limited edition ($47,935).

The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with standard front-wheel drive. The NX Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motors that produce 194 system horsepower, driven through a continuously variable transmission. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 addition on the regular NXs but standard on the hybrid.

The NX feature’s Lexus’s scandalous spindle grille, but its angularity works well. The mid-level F-sport trim gets different spoilers and visual add-ons that highlight the look, and an adaptive suspension is available.

The regular NX’s 235 horsepower provide more acceleration for whizzing around town. Zero to 60 takes around seven seconds, which is par for the course in the NX’s class. With this engine the NX returns 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. All-wheel drive reduces mileage to 22/28/24. That puts it right between Acura’s RDX and Volvo’s XC40. The all-wheel drive version of the F-Sport, whose “performance” additions are mostly cosmetic, sacrifices 1 mpg in its highway rating.

The CVT matches well and keeps the engine from whining or droning away on the highway, and the hybrid returns 33 mpg city, 30 highways and 31 combined, near the top of the class. The hybrid powertrain is less powerful, both on paper and in practice, but it’s not unbearably slow

The NX’s interior is good looking and made of very nice materials. Moreover light steering and decent suspension dynamics make the NX enjoyable to drive, but it’s neither the fastest nor the best canyon-carver in its class.

The NX’s cabin is calm and beautiful, with premium materials that are attractive. The front seats are on par with rivals’ and there’s plenty of legrooms but the vehicle’s stylish sloping roof cuts into headroom across the board. Overall, rear seating space is moderate for the class, but that’s how the space is used that matters. The door follows the roof line of the car making it convenient for a passenger to enter.

The cargo space is a similar tale. Regular NX’s have 17.7 cubic-feet of space behind the rear seats and 54.6 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded, while hybrids have about 1 cubic-foot less in each dimension. Hybrids have about 1 cubic-foot less in each dimension. With the seats folded the NX has a good amount of cargo space compared with most of its competitors; however it is difficult to put things behind the rear seats due to a shortage of space. The infotainment screen is controlled by a touchpad on the center console, seen here beneath the shifter; the dashboard is accessible except for real drag.

The automaker’s infotainment software has become less confusing in recent years, but it’s still miles behind the competition. Thankfully, Apple Car Play and Android Auto can “cover it up,” providing a more intuitive interface. The standard 8-inch infotainment screen, a 10.3-inch unit is optional, is mounted high on the dash and uses a less-than-intuitive touchpad on the console for control. It’s difficult to adapt to after years of using touchscreens and hard use when the vehicle is in motion. It is, however, comprehensive. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa and a Wi-Fi hotspot are standard. Unlike some of the NX’s competitors, Navigation is optional on all models and also operates from the touchpad.

The national Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety get a high score earning five star overalls.

It has a large slate of safety tech. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts are newly standard for 2021, but all NXs also come with forward pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure warning with steering assist, road sign assist and adaptive cruise control. Some of these features can cost quite a bit extra in competitors.

The NX is handsome, easy to live with and efficient. The low roof limits space behind the rear seats, but it’s spacious. The first-generation NX is on its way out, with a new model due in 2022. But that doesn’t stop it from being a convincing and luxurious choice. It’s a benefit for NX buyers because it’s got the space and utility of a larger crossover without sacrificing fuel economy.