2020 Lexus NX Review
Lexus builds some of the most popular luxury vehicles sold in America. At the top of the list, the Lexus RX leads among premium SUVs, while the smaller and more affordable Lexus NX ranked fifth in sales in 2018.
Stiff competition exists in the NX’s price and size class. In addition to the Lexus, the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class are all clustered in the annual sales bracket between 60,000 and 70,000 units. Each of them, except for the BMW, is more popular than the NX.
For the 2020 model year, Lexus gives compact premium SUV buyers more reasons to choose the NX. The company’s next-generation Lexus Safety System 2.0 (LSS 2.0) driving assistance and collision avoidance technology is standard, and the NX is available with a premium Mark Levinson audio system for the first time. Lexus added Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility to the NX during the 2019 model year.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 Lexus NX 300 F Sport with front-wheel drive. It was equipped with Premium and Navigation packages, as well as parking assist sensors, a power tailgate, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a carpet cargo mat, a rear bumper protector, forged aluminum wheels with wheel locks, and remote key gloves. With the $1,025 destination charge, the price came to $47,564. All-wheel drive would’ve added another $1,400 to that tally.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Lexus NX, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
This SUV is popular with women. J.D. Power data shows that 57% of Lexus NX owners are female, compared to 43% of all compact premium SUVs. Lexus NX owners enjoy a median annual household income of $133,108 (vs. $167,283), and 35% of them identify as Practical Buyers followed by 30% who are Performance Buyers.
Lexus NX owners are slightly younger than a typical compact premium SUV buyer, with a median age of 57 (vs. 59 for the segment). Notably, 24% of Lexus NX owners identify as members of Generation Y and Z. At the segment level, only 14% do.
Surprisingly, 35% of Lexus NX owners claim they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (vs. 27% for the segment). This preference, however, is evidently overridden by strong agreement that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (72% vs. 58%) followed by strong agreement that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (64% vs. 46%).
Similarly, 61% of Lexus NX owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 44%). Yet, at the same time, Lexus NX owners are only moderately more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (63% vs. 58%). For reference, Lexus charges $2,350 more for the NX 300h hybrid compared to a standard NX 300.
Performance is not as important to Lexus NX owners. Nevertheless, 90% agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs. 94% for the segment). Also, as expressive as the Lexus NX’s styling is, 35% of owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 26%).
Buyers say their favorite things about the NX are (in descending order) the seats, exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, and engine/transmission. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the NX are (in descending order) the climate control system, visibility and safety, storage and space, the infotainment system, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Lexus NX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.
One glance at the 2020 NX identifies this SUV as a Lexus. From the jutting spindle-shaped grille and L-shaped running lights to the angular bodylines and tapered taillights, the NX is a rolling showcase of modern Lexus design cues.
In Atomic Silver with optional 18-inch forged aluminum wheels, the NX 300 F Sport proved appealing. Note that the NX comes with scratch-resistant paint, an unusual fun fact about this SUV.
Lexus says the NX 300 F Sport has a “race-inspired” interior. That’s up to you to decide. Know, however, that the Arctic White NuLuxe simulated leather looks and feels terrific. You won’t miss real cowhides.
Materials are, for the most part, worthy of the Lexus NX’s price tag. Note that there is a removable vanity mirror built into the center console, another unusual fun fact about this SUV. Perhaps this is in consideration of the vehicle’s primary buyers?
Lexus gives the NX a roomy interior. The F Sport trim level’s front seats are snug, but comfortable, especially when the SUV is equipped with the available seat ventilation system.
Rear seat accommodations are surprisingly roomy in terms of leg and foot space, and the seatback reclines for napping. Lexus supplies air conditioning vents for rear passengers, but not USB charging ports.
Climate Control System
In part because the climate controls are separated from the onerous Remote Touchpad infotainment interface, they work well and the system quickly warms or cools the cabin. You can adjust the temperature setting via the impressive voice recognition system.
The good news is that with the voice recognition system, knobs for adjusting stereo volume and tuning between stations, separate climate controls, and access to driver assistance technologies through the instrumentation, your interaction with the Lexus NX’s infotainment system display is limited.
The bad news is that the Lexus Remote Touchpad interface remains detestable. The problem is two-fold. First, it lacks accuracy. Second, because it lacks accuracy, it becomes a distraction as the driver attempts to correct inputs. My advice is to go through the owner’s manual, set up the infotainment system’s settings to your preferences, and then limit your interaction as much as is possible.
Highlights of the infotainment system include an available 10.3-inch display with split-screen capability, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, and Lexus Enform Wi-Fi with a free 1-year/4-GB trial period. Additional Lexus Enform services are available, too, and the system is smartwatch compatible.
Storage and Space
According to Lexus, the NX supplies just 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. That’s not much for an SUV, and the reality is that you’ll use no more than 13.3 cubes unless you regularly pack the trunk to the roof. Maximum volume with the rear seat folded down measures 54.6 cu.-ft., which is similarly undersized.
In the cabin, practical storage space is hard to come by. Aside from the glove compartment and the center storage bin under the armrest, it is limited.
Visibility and Safety
Relatively thin windshield pillars, door-mounted side mirrors, and front quarter window glass all contribute to excellent forward visibility. Add the available front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and top-down surround-view camera, and it’s easy to maneuver a Lexus NX.
For 2020, Lexus Safety System 2.0 is standard. It adds low-light pedestrian detection, daytime cyclist detection, road sign recognition, and lane centering assist systems to the company’s previous suite of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).
In use, LSS 2.0 works with refinement and precision. Distance maintenance is smooth rather than inconsistent, the technology reacts to changes in traffic ahead in a gradual rather than sudden fashion, and the new lane-centering technology operates in a subtle fashion. As a result, a driver is encouraged to use LSS 2.0 features rather than turn them off.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not assessed the 2020 Lexus NX, but in 2019 the SUV earned top marks across the board. It was not eligible for a “Top Safety Pick” rating because the IIHS had not assessed small overlap, passenger’s side protection levels.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing, the 2020 NX earns a 5-star overall crash protection rating.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard in the Lexus NX 300. It makes 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, which is delivered to the front or all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Lexus says the NX 300 accelerates to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds.
This engine is perfectly paired to this SUV. It feels quicker than the claimed acceleration time suggests and sounds good as it gathers speed. The 6-speed automatic is delightful, shifting imperceptibly in urban situations while supplying quick, decisive gear changes when driving the NX with enthusiasm.
According to the EPA, the Lexus NX 300 with front-wheel drive should get 25 mpg in combined driving. My test vehicle returned 23.1 mpg, a result reflective of running the SUV up a mountain in Sport mode while using the transmission’s steering wheel shift paddles.
Based on the test result and the SUV’s 15.9-gallon fuel tank, NX owners can expect to travel 367 miles between visits to the gas station.
Optimistically, the NX 300 F Sport’s instrumentation includes driver information displays related to performance data, maximum g-force, and turbocharger boost. This SUV might look racy, but it really isn’t this kind of a vehicle.
It is, however, rewarding to drive within certain limitations.
In town, the NX filters road anomalies for a smoother, quieter ride. On the freeway, this SUV is fairly hushed, too. On twisty roads, it grips and sticks better than expected, but understeer arrives fairly early and the test vehicle’s performance rubber howls more than is preferable.
Believe it or not, you can hustle the NX F Sport. Know, however, that it responds best to smooth, considered driver inputs. Drive hard in a misguided effort to score maximum performance data numbers, and this Lexus is less satisfying. But this is in keeping with this vehicle’s mission.
The steering feels heavier in Sport mode, but regardless of the driving mode it feels consistently weighted throughout the range of motion. I can’t complain about any lack of sharpness or accuracy, but the thick-rimmed steering wheel isn’t a scalpel in your hands, either.
During a punishing run down a mountain road, the brakes did not fade despite sunny weather and temperature of about 70 degrees. Like the NX’s steering, brake pedal feel and response is perfection for the average person, proving exceptionally easy to modulate for smooth, unfettered driving. For an enthusiast driver, there’s not an overabundance of bite here.
It is worth noting that an adaptive variable suspension is optional for the Lexus NX. However, the test vehicle did not include this upgrade.
There is much to like about the 2020 Lexus NX. Aside from its small cargo area and frustrating Remote Trackpad infotainment system interface, it is a comfortable, safe, quiet, and rewarding vehicle to drive. Add the automaker’s reputation for reliability, and it’s easy to understand why the Lexus NX is one of the most popular luxury vehicles in America.