By on April 16, 2019

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

2019 Lexus NX 300 AWD

2.0-liter turbocharged four (235 hp @ 4,800 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

27 city / 33 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.6 city / 8.5 highway / 9.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

20.3 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $38,910 US / $46,225 CAD

As Tested: $46,000 US / $58,975 CAD

Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,175 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

“Ask the man who owns one,” Packard once implored readers from the glossy depths of various Depression-era magazines. While clearly not interested in courting the female buyer (I hope they’re dragged on Twitter for this insensitive tagline), Packard’s core message still holds up today.

No one loves poo-pooing other people’s buying decisions quite like auto journos, but each and every buyer has their own reasons for choosing the way they did. Shocking though it may be to some, buyers often walk (okay, drive) away quite pleased with their purchase — even with crossovers plucked from a homogenous pool of now limitless depth.

And, barring quality headaches down the road, their feelings might stay that way, too.

While I never held any deep dislike for Lexus’ compact NX, aside from the fact that its nose is undoubtedly the most prominent — and unprotected — in the industry, desire or even “interest” were never needles that budged off the baseline. What could change this perception? Driving one.

For some, the NX’s… um… bold styling may be too great a hurdle to cross. Lexus was certainly out to get noticed when it debuted this thing for the 2015 model year. I consider myself a member of the camp that offers Lexus lukewarm applause for at least making its vehicles identifiable; bucking the now waning trend of building blander and blander boxes for fear of offending buyers (at the risk of stimulating no one).

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Yes, the NX snouts its way into traffic like an early ’70s Pontiac, only with a greater likelihood of steep repair bills should a driver in front stomp the brakes unexpectedly. Its body is a cornucopia of oblique creases — from the signature spindle grille and headlamp eyeliner, all the way back to taillights that look either like earrings or pendants from the 1980s, or maybe a deformed Pontiac badge.

This NX isn’t a hybrid (see Chris’ review of that model here), meaning a single propulsion source rests under the hood. Surprise — it’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, as we’re all turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders these days. All my friends are, too. And while a turbo four boasting 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft is substantial power in a sedan, its ability to motivate this 4,050-pound crossover fell into the category of adequate. Decent, perhaps. Unfortunately, the turbo/automatic setup also delivers a hefty dose of lag, though things become more enjoyable when underway. The six-speed automatic stays mainly in the background.

This tester’s cabin broke up the often dour crossover ambiance with high-contrast, two-tone, soft-touch surfaces punctuated by somewhat convincing metallic-like trim, though the driver’s chair was docked a few points for insufficient lumbar support. It’s adjustable, but the lower seatback is just too concave for my creaky frame. Spinal implosions loomed, yet never pounced. Legroom was ample and armrests, well, those can only be described as pillowy.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Out back, headroom and legroom doesn’t feel pinched, but the NX shows its age with a single 120 volt/110-watt outlet — no USB ports in sight. If carrying connected passengers is in the cards, this could pose a problem. Folding that split rear seatback won’t, however. Not only are there power switches for the 60/40 seatback in the decently-sized rear cargo hold, there’s a set up front, accessible to the driver.

Sadly, those backseat occupants won’t be able to lend assistance as the driver struggles with Lexus’ touchpad controller. Like a crude ICBM, overshooting the target on the optional 10.3-inch iPad infotainment screen is this bit of hardware’s forte, at least until a delicate touch becomes old hat. It’s a common gripe of Lexus products; I’m adding my name to a long list of detractors.

Overall, the cold March week spent in the NX would have ended in a snooze had I not endeavored to take the thing a few inches off the beaten path. Sure, the steering boasts typical Lexus execution (meaning: quite firm, with a solid, reassuring on-center feel), and the suspension did seem to offer a good compromise of road isolation and athleticism, but doing the urban runabout thing is a drag. I headed for the hills, which, due to Mother Nature’s wrath, were as icy and rough as a scorned wife.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Let’s get one thing straight before the adventure begins: the NX 300 has the most lackluster “sport” mode I’ve yet encountered. When engaged, I felt no discernable boost to steering firmness. Pedal weight decreased only mildly, and the six-speed auto saw no reason to remain in a lower gear. I flicked that dial at differing speeds, and never caught a downshift. “Normal” or “eco” it was, then.

North of my city lies a narrow, riverside road dating to the pioneer era. The land below it is not original land. It’s quarry fill laid atop a bed of unstable Leda (“quick”) clay, sitting immediately adjacent to a fast-moving river that’s prone to flooding. Each year, the road slides ever so slightly towards the river, but never in a uniform fashion. It’s so broken, bent and uneven, I wouldn’t take my daily driver down there in July.

For you, B&B, I opened the NX up and let its legs do the talking. The result? I walked away impressed, as this denizen of upper-middle class neighborhoods everywhere handled the suspension torture test with grace, even clearing a severe trough (one I would have braked for, had I the time) and subsequent, abrupt rise without the front MacPhersons bottoming out. For a second, I was sure there’d be pain.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Not bad, I thought, turning from a road that could turn into black water in a second and into an old, semi-abandoned industrial area. The NX’s all-wheel drive system had already proven itself in an impromptu hill climb test (the icy graveyard behind my house), but I was eager to up the challenge. A real hill presented itself, on which multiple rainstorns had created a glass-like ramp of solid ice. Down we went, the 18-inch mud & snows doing their best to keep the descent controlled. After reaching the bottom of the dead-end path, the real test began. As the NX comes with an AWD lock button, the grippy rubber and 50:50 torque split would either get us back to the top, or I’d spend the afternoon in search of a Frenchman with a winch.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to bone up on another language. Both NX and driver made it up the hill and out of the area on the first try. Good thing, too, as someone was poking around in the abandoned building immediately adjacent to the path. I have enough friends, thank you very much.

Suffice it to say my opinion of the NX changed that afternoon. Having proven itself in wilder climes than just gentrified streets, a newfound respect blossomed in our relationship. The NX drives well, handles well, feels well put together, is reasonably quiet at speed, and won’t flake out when the going gets rough. The only two considerations that might nip a fledgling romance in the bud, however, are looks and content.

For an AWD compact crossover that starts at $38,910 (U.S., after destination), you’d think Lexus could include features like Apple CarPlay, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard kit. Or maybe heated seats. Or a power tilt and telescoping wheel. Or perhaps that rear-seat plug-in point. As it is, buyers will have to pony up extra to bring these goodies (and more) on board.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

This Canadian tester lumped the contents of every available package together in a $12,750 Executive mega-package. Ouch. It’s everything you want (minus some rear seat USB ports not available to anyone), but man, the “value” element found in most premium vehicles disappears after checking that box.

Lexus has a good thing going with the NX, attracting more buyers with each passing year. Last year saw a 4.6 percent U.S. volume increase, but danger looms on the horizon. Acura’s redesigned RDX, a direct NX rival, is a hit, and its newfound on-road prowess and 10-speed automatic make the Lexus look antiquated in comparison, all virtues aside. There’s a new Lincoln Corsair (née MKC) coming this year, too, and Cadillac’s XT4 just hit the market.

Having read the writing on the wall, Lexus has a revamped NX waiting to defend its claim in the premium compact crossover space. Expect that model’s appearance sometime next year.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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29 Comments on “2019 Lexus NX 300 AWD Review – Second Impressions...”

  • avatar

    Your impressions of the NX were much more positive than I’d expect! At this all-in options pricing though, this one no longer makes sense; you’re well into the next size up for the ask.

    Lexus is always proving you have to be careful with what options you pick; the amount of a la carte available surprises me.

  • avatar

    It’s interesting that the seats were described as a weak point here. Several commenters had previously described them as some of the best available in the USA.

    Is this just a case of different shaped people, or did the seats get worse, or do you have to check a special option box to get comfort?

  • avatar

    This is a lot of money for a very nice RAV-4

  • avatar

    This was a very nicely written review. I’d like to see more of this from Steph.

  • avatar

    These “bottom feeder” CUVs and sedans from luxury manufacturers like Lexus feel like the ultimate cynical cash grabs.

    “Madam let me show you a half dozen feature packed compact CUVs.”

    “Where’s the Lexus?”

    “Miss here’s one that has all the same features and is several thousand dollars cheaper.”

    “But it’s not a Lexus…”

    • 0 avatar

      This is my relative. Lexus. Lexus. She checked Acura and still went Lexus. And she was right about dumping RDX.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the RDX might be a bit larger than this, just from my visual takes.

        Also, I was decently pleased with the RDX. It was zippy and felt sporting and confident in aggressive driving.

        Fails included the red-only gauge coloring present on the top-trim A-Spec. And the giant driving mode button on the center stack, which took up lots of room but did only one thing.

    • 0 avatar

      A baby Lexus CUV is the official status symbol of young single women, the same way a midsize Lexus CUV is the official status symbol of middle-aged Asian women, and a midsize Lexus hybrid sedan is the official status symbol of retired white women. It’s puzzling why Lexus spends money they’ll never recover going hard after the penis-havers with the F-sport whatever; they’ve got a niche.

      I’m always thrown for a loop by luxury nameplates with strippo trim levels. We bought our Volvo XC60 used. When we shopped for it we found one that was loaded up as expected, one that was an ace-of-base ex-rental with a dour charcoal cloth interior and zero frills, and variety of other build-your-own option combos. You’d think the “safety brand” would have blind spot monitoring standard? No. At least a rear view camera before they became mandatory? No. Foglights? Not in front, no. The one we bought has none of that. But it does have a buttercream leather and polished walnut interior, beepy sensors that are way less helpful than a camera would be in stopping you from backing into a wall, and a radar gizmo that will politely stop the car if you’re about to run over a pedestrian. Let’s not discuss how I know those last two things.

  • avatar

    “Or maybe heated seats”

    $39K and no heated seats? Say what?

  • avatar

    NX 300—the perfect car to throw out as a recommendation for the (non-petrol head) empty nester females in your circle.

    your mileage may vary

  • avatar

    Sister has one of these. Driven it pretty extensively and my review is not nearly as positive as this one. Granted, hers is a 2016 200t, not this face lifted model. but I can’t imagine the changes are that drastic.

    Good: Excellent interior. Looks great, feels great. One of the best in class in my opinion. Lots of space for passengers front and rear. Seats maybe a bit narrow if you’re a wide person. Drivetrain is peppy and gets the job done. I think it looks distinctive for a small CUV, good or bad.

    Bad: Turbo lag, as mentioned. MPG is GOD AWFUL, extra so considering it is a small CUV with a small turbo engine. Drove it from Michigan to Washington for her and I showed 21mpg on the computer. With premium fuel. I’ve driven Suburbans cross country before and pushed nearly 24mpg hauling furniture in that V8 monster. Lexus would have been better using the 3.5L V6. Smoother, more premium, and I bet better real world MPG.

    Cargo space is pretty small behind the rear seats. There is somehow torque steer, despite it having AWD. The suspension is rock hard and somehow manages to handle poorly and ride poorly at the same time. To me it feels like Toyota/Lexus just decided that they wanted a “sporty” CUV so they threw stiffer suspension components on and called it a day. A friend has the Q5 Audi and his car manages to ride far far better and yet still go around corners better as well. The Lexus feels kinda tippy and darty in my opinion.

    6 speed automatic is fine, but sometimes it feels/acts like a CVT. Like it hits 2nd or 3rd gear sometimes and kinda hangs revs in one spot despite acceleration. I don’t know how it does that, lockup control or something? But I don’t like it, especially when transmissions like the excellent ZF 8 speed exist. I’ve noticed this on new Toyota and Lexus 8 speed autos too, so I think its normal and a Toyota/Lexus thing. But it feels mushy and not responsive.

    The infotainment is the worst in the business. I have not experienced an interface in any other brand of vehicle as terrible as Lexus. Ford, Honda, Toyota, FCA, BMW, Audi, VW, Mazda are all miles better. As this article says, you constantly overshoot your target. It seems like you have to go to the main menu for everything, then stare at the screen while you try to move your finger just right to get it on target. It is infuriating to use. I find I just don’t generally even want to bother trying to change a radio station it is that bad. The joystick in some Lexus models might be a tad better, but still terrible to use. They should copy BMW or Audi and be done with it.

    Bottom line: You buy this because it is a Lexus and it is well made and will last forever, the dealership treats you like a king, and the car is a nice place to spend time. You overlook the lack of polish and finish around the edges where other car companies get those details right.

    I get it. It is the right luxury car for a lot of people. Even me, I am very drawn to Lexus for the lack of headaches in owning one, but IMHO the cars themselves are just not quite done to 100%, and if you like to drive and don’t just zone out behind the wheel you notice it and it bugs you.

    If Lexus could get those details right, they would be unstoppable. If BMW or Audi, etc could get the reliability and experience right, they’d be unstoppable.

    Perfection is still being pursued here :D

    • 0 avatar

      21 mpg? Something’s amiss with either your driving style–it doesn’t sound like it, given your Suburban example–or your sister’s particular vehicle. My parents have a ’15 NX 200t, and I’ve borrowed it for a couple of road trips. I get low 28’s to low 31’s on the highway (measured, not computer).

      I agree with several of the insights in this thread. I’ll post more if I have time later today.

  • avatar

    “This NX isn’t a hybrid (see Chris’ review of that model here), meaning a single propulsion source rests under the hood.”

    To be fair, even hybrids have one and only one propulsion source: the energy extracted from gasoline.


    • 0 avatar

      I mean, TECHNICALLY, Hybrid Synergy Drive vehicles derive some small fraction of their energy from regenerative braking, which does not come from gasoline. Especially if they’re going downhill. With a tailwind. Or whatever.

  • avatar

    Yet ANOTHER small compact crossover review that makes me appreciate my ’19 Mazda CX-5 Signature just that much more.
    How about a comparison test between the 2 talking power, steering, handling, power, transmission operation, power, price and what comes standard on the Signature, interior and exterior design,fuel economy(I’m showing 23.5 to 29.8 highway 70 mph), power…

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m glad it has some off road capability.I remember a youtube video of an ice drag race between Rav4 , Forester and possibly a Rogue. The Rav 4 won quite easily despite the Forester having the Xmode thingy setting
    We never really looked at the NX . If I’d known it was only 10% Rav4 I might have. I don’t mind the styling, it’s growing on me the more I see.
    The Turbo CX5 wasn’t out , but I’d choose that mainly because of it being happy with 87 octane.
    I’m sure the TNG based NX will be coming out soon. So at least it will have more USBs and more transmission gears (personally I don’t consider more gears an upgrade) and better MPGs

  • avatar

    The NX’s nose is ugly, but how exactly is it more vulnerable to damage than the vast majority of other cars and CUVs on the market? Painted bumper covers are no less and perhaps even more prone to incurring damage. The industry ditched effective bumpers and side rub strips years ago; it’s illogical and unfair to single out the NX.

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