The Lexus NX is the luxury compact SUV that is both inviting and polarizing. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it inviting.
The good news is that it is still with us. It’s debut in 2014 helped put Lexus at par with other luxury compact SUVs at the time. Although it is due for an all-new model soon, the current NX is familiar enough to warrant another look.
There is a twist – sort of. You see, Lexus has found massive equity in the F Sport trim featured across most of its lineup. The F Sport gives you a distinctive sporty look on the outside and some attitude inside. Sometimes, an F Sport model will add some performance bits, such as suspension upgrades and some better exhaust note.
The good news is that you can still get the NX 300 F Sport with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. However, if you want the more efficient NX 300h in an F Sport trim – forget it.
That is, unless you’re willing to become one of a thousand lucky owners of the vehicle I am reviewing here – the 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line special edition.
This special vehicle combines the best attributes of Lexus. That’s a good thing, because I always felt that the NX offers a different – sometimes even better – experience than most vehicle in its class.
First, it starts with having the only parallel, non-plug-in hybrid in the segment. Let me emphasize the fact that this tried, tested, and true gasoline-electric driveline is among the best in the business. You start with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, add two electric motors, an electric continuously variable transmission, and all-wheel-drive. The result is 194 combined horsepower that is more than competent going anywhere.
I always enjoyed this driveline. The NX 300h gobbles up miles without any drama. In a previous turn, I found myself cutting through rural South Central Minnesota with ease.
The mission for this special edition NX 300h F Sport is to survive a cold snap. We’re talking overnight air temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit and highs that reached zero degrees Fahrenheit or slightly more. These were not exactly ideal conditions for any vehicle with batteries on board.
However, what Lexus (and Toyota) learned from their hybrid vehicles is that they have been engineered to handle these extreme temperatures – and even worse – without fail. I can confirm this. The hybrid system worked, even with the heated seats and steering wheel on at full.
Since every V&R review has to report fuel economy, the NX 300h F Sport Black Line turned an average of 25.1 MPG. In the past, I have turned much better fuel economy than that – anything over 32 MPG is at least good enough. That consumption figure is all due to the extraordinary temperatures we experienced here in Minnesota – mainly below or at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
When facing sub-zero temperatures and wind chills, stability becomes a bigger concern. Even the most luxurious vehicles – big and small – will get challenged in these conditions. The combination of the NX’s sharp aerodynamic design and its overall profile helped in ensuring that this tester was stable in the face of a somewhat typical Minnesota winter.
In the past, I praised the vehicle-specified Yokohama Geolandar tires for its quiet ride and decent grip. They delivered even on iced and caked roads as well. Of course, I would opt for winter tires…that’s based on 20 winters in the Upper Midwest. Even a guy from the San Fernando Valley is convinced of this!
Ride quality is very good. Very absorbent and manages rougher tarmac with ease. Where this particular NX 300h F Sport Black Line special edition stood out was its handling. Corner was near flat and maneuvers were pretty sharp. It also handled iced over conditions very well from its all-wheel-drive system, as well as the Yokohama Geolandar tires this vehicle rode on.
The thick steering wheel lent itself to a good electric rack and good on-center feel. Although, I found myself fighting the Lane Keeping Assist, which is both helpful and annoying. Turns were tight, thanks to the NX’s shorter stature – compared to…ahem…the Germans and others in competition with this SUV!
The brakes worked extremely well, with a solid pedal feel and strong stops in normal, panic, and winter situations.
My command of the NX is helped by a special F Sport interior. While the instrument binnacle sat below my primary sight line, which created a lower cowl than I would like, the seating position I came up with was equally relaxing and interactive. The instrumentation offers plenty of information, especially on the screen in-between the two large dials. Controls are of Lexus quality and logic, especially the climate controls found on the high center stack and on the console.
Infotainment starts from the track pad on the center console, leading to the 8-inch color screen. This system also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, through a USB connection. Eight speakers emit good sound throughout the cabin. To be honest, I would rather have the larger 10.3-inch wide screen, along with the 10-speaker – or, even the 14-speaker Mark Levinson – audio system for this special edition.
This special edition also wears black leather upholstery with blue contrast stitching. A tastefully done interior, I might add.
The front seats themselves are heavily bolstered. I am OK with the seatback bolstering, but I felt it was a bit too wide the cushion bolsters. Yet, these seats feel good to the touch and do support me on longer drives. Rear seat passengers get decent room for two adults or even three children. Cargo space is ample, starting with 16.8 cubic feet behind the second row of seats. Fold down those rear seats, and you can load up to 53.7 cubic feet.
This brings me to the exterior. It is very distinctive and still stands out in a crowd. With the entire body starting from the Spindle Grille rearward, this is an exercise on aerodynamics and form-following-function. The rear is accentuated by a fastback-like roofline with creased shaped from the taillamps downward.
If you add the F Sport trim, you lose one of my favorite aspects of the NX – the approach angle. Where the front clip folds backward below the bumper line, the F Sport grille flattens it out downward to create an aero effect.
To be honest, it looks cool. Even cooler are the darker shades of chrome and blacked out areas that add to the Black Line package. To be honest, I would never know the difference between this special edition and an NX F Sport – except for the beautiful Grecian Water blue color. That paint color is exclusive to the Black Line special edition.
This special Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line tester came with a sticker price of $47,835. That is not bad, yet I would suggest upgrading the infotainment set-up to the wider screen and more speakers to get more value from that sticker price alone. Then again, I am nitpicking, as usual.
However, if you are one of the 1,000 customers of this special edition, you will receive two pieces of Zero Halliburton luggage in black to go with your NX 300h F Sport Black Line. Those items are shipped separately to your home, after you took delivery of your SUV.
Without the luggage and the F Sport trim, the Lexus NX 300h alone is a unique offering, considering that it is the only non-plug-in hybrid in its class. It is also a proven driveline, which makes this a great choice in its class. Hybrid NX models start from $40,160.
Sometimes, I wonder if getting a special edition is really worth it. If you like what the Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line offers you, then why not become one of the few to own it. However, there are other ways to get a nice, well-equipped luxury/premium compact SUV with an electrified driveline and a sharp design. That vehicle is called the Lexus NX 300h. Maybe you should check it out sometime…
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern