2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport
Looking For Just The Right Mix
What I was expecting was luxury with a sporting flair. The Lexus had some of that, but the driving experience seemed somehow to fall into a gap that left neither “sport” nor “luxury” top of mind.
By Brian Kennedy
Wed, Aug 11, 2021 01:58 PM PST
This is where the categories get all mushed together: I know that Porsche and Jaguar, amongst other sportscar scions, make SUVs. I’m not entirely clear on why they do it, aside from that “It helps the bottom line and allows for us to continue to sell 775-horsepower supercars that nobody on the planet really needs.” And I’m quite OK with that. My cars all have V8s, and nary a one of them is built for economy.
So I suppose, were I to find myself in the market for an SUV-type thing, I’d want to retain some of the feel of a Mustang, and that might lead me to grab a sportscar-branded SUV, like those aforementioned nameplates (but never a Mach E, on principle).
But what if I faced the opposite dilemma: if I wanted a luxury nameplate, would I sport it up? If I did, would it make sense to tone it back down by getting it as a hybrid? Is there any such thing as a luxury sports go-fast hybrid, or is that just too much category crossing altogether?
It was my job to figure a way through this boondoggle while driving the 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport.
What Is A Lexus NX 300h F Sport, Really?
What I was expecting was luxury with a sporting flair. The Lexus had some of that. Nice leather-trimmed and blue-stitching-accented sports seats and steering wheel gave a good immediate impression, for example. The seats have the perfect amount of sporty hugginess should you decide to take a corner a little fast. But having said that, on the road, the driving experience of this car seemed somehow to fall into a gap that left neither “sport” nor “luxury” top of mind, as I’ll detail below.
The Lexus NX Interior
The Updated Touchpad (Thank you, Lexus!)
But let’s start inside, with the touchpad. Last time I drove one of these Lexus vehicles, the touchpad - controlling dashboard displays, radio, and so forth - was so awful I swore readers off ever buying the car, or at the very least, demanded that they swear out a statement saying that they would absolutely, positively not smash the thing to smithereens and expect warranty coverage for it. Awful, useless device.
It’s still there, but the one on this 2021 model actually works pretty well. Maybe Lexus has sorted the “haptics” - maybe they have Apple phones and realized that that’s a "thing". Anyway, it was good to see that frustration point settled down to useful status.
Controls And Driving Modes
While we’re inside the car, how’s the functionality? There are a number of sets of controls scattered from dashboard to steering wheel. The most useful are the old-fashioned ones: a wheel to dial up a mode (sport and sport plus, normal, custom, or eco), actual radio knobs, and little toggles for the AC. All very touch-friendly and high-quality.
Everything is tidy and well-designed, with some clever engineering thrown in, like the tachometer that shows RPM in sport mode but switches to display power source and usage when you’re in normal-drive or eco-drive modes. This tells you whether you’re making electricity or using it, and also whether you’re burning gas so you can guilt yourself into not using the lead foot. But if you’re into that, why are you buying an F Sport? Going at a sporty clip inherently uses more fuel.
Sticking to the cabin, you can configure the dash lots of ways. Want to know the history of your fuel use? There are bar graphs for that. Want to know where the energy is coming from/going to? There’s a big display for that, and another one that can exist simultaneously with navigation and radio information. The radio info can also live in the center of the speedo display, as can a fuel economy slider bar display. I suspect that most of this goes unused by owners soon after they put one of these cars on the road, but it’s all well-designed and fun to use in any event.
Moving to the exterior, one notes that, as is the trend these days, the sheet metal is edgy - to the extreme. I don’t particularly see the point, but that’s what everyone’s doing, so you’re probably not going to have many alternatives in the marketplace (except a VW, but that’s the opposite - so boring looking). At least people will know that you’ve got the latest iteration of the Lexus, rather than the just-past model.
The styling of the exterior is mirrored inside in one unfortunate way: the rear window is small and the rear headrests large, so you’re not going to see a whole lot out that back area. But do you need that when you’ve got those little mirror nannies telling you when a car’s in your blind spot and also super-sensitive parking sensors that beep-beep to warn you you’re going to make a mistake in backing up or pulling into a blind parking spot?
As far as the driving itself goes, the Lexus is rather lethargic in the eco and normal drive modes, and not quiet. In sport, it snaps off shifts and is reasonably quick, but honestly, if they’re going to sell this as a sporty model, more oomph would be appreciated.
No matter the drive mode, the Lexus is a little buzzy, and not as mechanically refined as I expected it to be. I wasn’t hoping for a floating couch, but the car leaves me wanting a little more sense of being vault-like, keeping me insulated from road noise and the hubbub of SoCal traffic.
No matter the mode, NX 300h actually makes a lot of odd sounds. When you back up, it seems like the sound you hear is what would accompany levitation. But the car stays on the ground. This must be something that has bugged owners, because in the car’s guidebook, there’s a whole page that explains that you’re going to hear weird stuff and that you should just understand that that’s normal. It’s titled “Sounds and vibrations specific to a hybrid vehicle” and there are nine bullet points listed - covering every possibility... In other words, “Don’t Lemon-Law us”.
Around town and on the freeway, the car attracted little attention - probably a good thing - and did its job. But in some measure it was neither fish nor fowl - not sporty enough to really deserve the name, and not luxurious enough to adequately represent a premium brand.
Whether there’s a need for a sporty hybrid SUV is one question. How to get this one closer to being the one that would part customers from mid-$40K dollars is another. For me, the choice would come down to this: Would I buy the F Sport version of the Lexus NX 300h? Or would I go cush and find a more lux-oriented version fitting the nameplate? (Or finally, would it make sense to go down-market and just get the Toyota RAV4 and save some big dollars?)
I’m not sure, but the fact that I’d be inclined to want a sporty version - and not be entirely convinced by this one’s sporting pretentions - suggests that there’s room to develop this platform some more.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.