2021 Lexus NX 300h Road Test and Review

Ron Sessions
by Ron Sessions
April 14, 2021
6 min. Reading Time
2021 Lexus NX 300h ・  Photo by Ron Sessions

2021 Lexus NX 300h ・ Photo by Ron Sessions

The 2021 Lexus NX 300 is the maker's second best-selling crossover SUV. With seating for five passengers, the compact luxury NX 300 is available with a choice of a conventional gas-turbo powertrain or the subject of this review, a hybrid gas-electric one. Front-wheel drive is standard with the conventional NX 300, and all-wheel drive is optional. But the hybrid version, dubbed the NX 300h, comes with standard AWD.

The Lexus NX competes in the compact premium SUV segment along with the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Infiniti QX50, Lincoln Corsair, and Cadillac XT4.

Including the $1,025 destination charge, the 2020 Lexus NX 300h starts at $41,185, with the NX 300h all-boxes-checked Luxury trim coming in at $47,635, and the performance-flavored F Sport Black Line at $47,935.

Hybrid Drive

The Lexus NX 300h is powered by an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with electric motor/generators. Under the hood, one motor/generator functions as an engine starter, generator, and engine speed regulator, and the second drives the front wheels and delivers regenerative braking to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride hybrid battery. At the rear, a third drives the rear wheels and helps with traction and stability control. Together, the gas engine and electric motors muster a combined 194 horsepower, meted out by an electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission. F Sport models include steering-wheel shift paddles to access simulated gear ratios.

With just 194 horsepower to move two-plus tons of luxury SUV, performance is leisurely. The NX 300h can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in just under 9 seconds, quicker than a base Prius but about 2 seconds slower than the conventionally powered 235-hp gas-turbo NX 300. However, overall driveability of the NX hybrid is pleasant with a smooth electric drive-off feel from a stop and seamless blending of the gasoline and electric power sources. The engine does drone on, though, under heavy acceleration.

The EPA estimates for the 2021 NX 300h AWD are 33 mpg city/30 mpg highway/31 mpg combined. During a week of both local and highway driving over 130 miles, the NX 300h test vehicle displayed an average 31.6 mpg in the dash-gauge trip computer.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Lexus Luxury

Despite its 7-year-old design, the NX 300’s cabin is aging gracefully. Materials are the usual top-notch Lexus fare with superb fit and finish. The large center console, however, offers only limited storage for small items; its hard edges can be uncomfortable against the knees of the driver and front passenger.

Among the best in the compact luxury SUV segment are the UX 300h’s front seats which offer excellent comfort and support. Seat coverings are a perforated NuLuxe synthetic material in base and F Sport trims and buttery leather with heat and ventilation on Luxury trim. The shifter and steering wheel of all trims are leather-wrapped, the latter with standard power tilt and telescoping functionality. The Luxury and F Sport trims bring a power sliding moonroof, a heated steering wheel, and memory functions for the driver’s seat, side mirrors and steering-wheel position. Headroom is tight, though, with the moonroof.

All models offer keyless access, push button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, plus a retro analog clock set prominently in the center of the dash. The standard driver display is a smallish 4.2-inch color LCD nestled between the analog speedometer and same-size hybrid system status gauge.

F Sport models upgrade to a black headliner, front buckets with more aggressive lateral bolstering, paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, and blue accent stitching on the doors, console, and seats.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Lexus Multimedia System

Beginning to show its age with quirky console-mounted remote controller and a standard CD player, the next-generation NX is likely to move to a new system for 2022. The 2021 NX comes with a standard 8-inch landscape-format infotainment screen on the dash, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring as well as Amazon Alexa functionality. With Luxury trim, the infotainment screen grows to 10.3 inches and includes voice-activated imbedded navigation with predictive traffic data, available detour routing, a nearby fuel station locator, and arrival-time calculation.

Standard with base and F Sport trims is an 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with a three-month sucscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. The Luxury trim upgrades to a 10-speaker system incorporating a center-dash midrange speaker and a liftgate-mounted subwoofer. Optional on all trims is a 14-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound system.

Connected services include standard Lexus Enform in-car Wi-Fi for up to five in-car devices with a free 3-month, 4GB trial period. Other standard services include 3 years of Lexus Enform Remote that works with Amazon Alexa and Hey Google for such tasks as starting the engine and scheduling service, as well as 3 years of Lexus Enform Safety Connect. Optional destination assist with a live operator is also available.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Remote Infotainment Controller

A substantial amount of console space is lost to the NX 300h’s remote-touch infotainment-system interface. The helicopter landing pad-like touchpad works like a smartphone screen with flick, pinch, swipe and tapping motions and provides a haptic buzz when the screen’s cursor is moved. This system isn’t as intuitive as a simple touchscreen and requires some practice to master. The touchpad can recognize letters and numbers when typing in a search. Shortcut buttons along the top edge of the touchpad can be used to access functions like the home screen, a basic menu, or the go-back function. The infotainment system can also be accessed via voice commands and steering wheel controls.

Analog knobs for audio system volume and tuning are located on the center of the dash, but are inconveniently recessed in a nook behind the shifter.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Drive Modes

A drive mode select knob located on the center console next to the shifter gives the driver the ability to custom tailor certain aspects of the driving experience. On the NX 300h hybrid, depressing the knob engages the default Normal mode, which balances performance and fuel efficiency and maintains relatively light steering effort. Twisting the knob to select the Sport mode produces snappy throttle response on the gas and firms up steering effort. Twisting the knob in the opposite direction activates the Eco setting which moderates throttle response and limits air conditioning operation to improve fuel economy.

Pushing the EV mode button adjacent to the drive mode select knob allows the NX 300h to drive short distances at 25 mph or less solely on electric power, provided the driver doesn’t press too hard on the pedal.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Back Seat

Lexus crossover SUV shoppers who need ample room for adults in the back seat need to move up from the tiny UX to the compact NX. Although rear-seat headroom is tighter than in most other compact premium SUVs, the NX’s rear seat legroom is generous enough to handle folks over 6 feet tall.

The back seat is split 60/40; one can be folded down to accommodate longer cargo items while the other is open for passengers. A power folding feature for the rear seats is optional. The rear seats also recline for cat naps and gazing through the moonroof. There is also a fold-down center armrest with a pair of cup holders between the rear seats.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Ample Cargo Space

Convenient cargo space is one of the reasons buyers choose crossover SUVs over sedans, and the Lexus NX does not disappoint. There’s an ample 16.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, plenty of space for four or five luggages. Lower the rear seat (it doesn’t fold completely flat) and cargo space opens up to a capacious 53.7 cubic feet, normal for the segment. Extra hidden storage space is located under the rear cargo floor to stash small items such as a laptop or purse.

A hands-free liftgate, standard with the F Sport trim, opens with a foot wave under the rear bumper if the person accessing the cargo area has the keyless remote in a pocket or purse with them.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

Safety and Driver-Assistance Tech

As with other crossover suvs in the Lexus lineup, the 2021 NX 300h offers an extensive roster of safety and driver-assistance technology. In addition to 8 airbags and a backup camera, the 2020 Lexus UX 250h comes with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. Standard driver-assistance features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert systems, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, automatic high-beam control, and road sign assist. A 360-degree surround-view monitor that provides an overhead view of the NX and its immediate surroundings is optional with the base NX 300h and 300h with Luxury trim.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2021 Lexus NX 300h five out of five stars overall for crash performance. Also, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the 2021 Lexus NX 300 its highest Top Safety Pick+ rating with Good scores in all measured crash metrics.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions


Arguably the best-looking and well-proportioned of the Lexus's three crossover suvs, the 2021 NX 300h is roomy enough to entice buyers who are prioritizing passenger and cargo-carrying capabilities.This SUV is sufficiently stylish, inside and out. While the NX 300h’s performance and handling doesn’t quite match the more engaging driving experience of its European rivals, the compact Lexus crossover does deliver the expected slightly elevated seat height and cabin amenities expected of the class. The F Sport trim (shown in all photos) adds a sporty touch with sport suspension and larger 225/60R18 tires, as well as cosmetic enhancements such as a mesh grille and body-color fender flares.

Mostly unchanged since its 2015 introduction, the current NX 300 will be replaced by an all-new version for 2022. It’s expected the 2022 NX will move to the new Toyota/Lexus global platform, upgrading infotainment and driver-assistance systems to the brand’s latest. Also expected are improvements in acceleration and fuel economy along the lines of the 2021 Toyota Venza, Sienna, and RAV4 Prime as Lexus moves to increase its electrification initiative.

 Photo by Ron Sessions

Photo by Ron Sessions

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