HIGHS Chiseled styling, proper SUV seating height, spacious interior.
LOWS Fussy infotainment controller, middle-of-the-pack acceleration, starting to show its age.
VERDICT If you're shopping small luxury crossovers, the Lexus NX stands out for looking and driving the most like a SUV—for better and for worse.
If you're shopping for a small luxury SUV and finding most of the offerings to be more like hatchback cars than truly trucky, the 2021 Lexus NX may tick the right boxes. While rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA-class and Lexus's own UX merely give the illusion of being an SUV, the NX has the ride height and overall driving experience of the real thing. The NX knows how to pamper its occupants too, with a spacious cabin and an overall sense of luxury, even though it's been around for a while compared to newer, more modern rivals such as the Cadillac XT4 and Volvo XC40. Cargo space is plentiful, and Lexus offers an optional hybrid powertrain for those seeking maximum fuel efficiency—just don't expect sporty handling from any NX model.
What's New for 2021?
Even though the subcompact NX is on the far side of the age curve, Lexus hasn't made any major changes to it for 2021. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is now standard, as are power-folding exterior mirrors with an auto-dimming function. Inside, Lexus has tweaked the NX's steering wheel and tachometer designs. Opting for the upgraded Mark Levinson stereo system now includes a Mark Levinson-branded amplifier. And a new color joins the options sheet: Nori Green Pearl.
Not only does the NX300 F Sport look the coolest, it's also the best to drive, with a standard adaptive suspension and G-force and turbo-boost gauges. We think its extra attitude is worth the upgrade, plus it adds the most comfortable and supportive sport seats in the segment. Nonhybrid models come standard with front-wheel drive, so if you want all-wheel drive, plan to add $1400 to the bottom line.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
While its acceleration won't blow the doors off any stoplight challengers, the 2021 NX should offer enough power for the casual driver. The NX300 (formerly known as the NX200t) comes with a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a six-speed automatic, and front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is also available. In our testing of an all-wheel-drive F Sport model, it performed a class-average 6.9-second zero-to-60-mph time. The Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic managed to sprint to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, making the NX seem positively sluggish. It's a different story on the road. The NX doesn't feel lethargic pulling into traffic, the engine's power delivery is linear and predictable, and once the turbo kicks in, it's even peppier. The hybrid powertrain provides even less pep, but its fuel economy is measurably improved. While the NX isn't as fun on a twisty road as the BMW X1 or the GLA250, its light steering makes it easy to pilot around town. Its center of gravity is higher than in either of those competitors, lending it a top-heavy feel when cornering.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Being the tallest and most SUV-like crossover in this segment means the gas-powered NX isn't as efficient as its lower-slung rivals. The hybrid powertrain nets considerable gains at the pump, but its acceleration performance is hindered by its weaker horsepower output. The nonhybrid NX managed 27 mpg in our real-world highway fuel-economy test. However, the GLA250 was more efficient with a 34-mpg result. The NX300h hybrid managed 32 mpg in the same test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The NX's high-quality interior is a retreat and its front seats are among the most comfortable, but it's beginning to show its age against newer, more contemporary rivals such as the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLB-class. Its passenger space may not be as roomy as in some rivals and its exterior styling comes with large blind spots. With less headroom than the X1, the Lexus NX might feel tight for passengers in both the front and back seats. Legroom is a different story, where the Lexus delivers 42.8 inches of stretch-out space for front-seat occupants. Rear-seat legroom is also above average for the class. Second-row seats split and fold in a 60/40 configuration, but when they are flipped down, they don't lie flat. The rear seats offer recline adjustability and can be optioned with a power-folding feature throughout the lineup. With the rear seats folded, the NX has room for 18 carry-on suitcases.