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Model-year muddle: a redesigned Lexus NX is coming, but as a 2020 or 21?

2020 Lexus NX

What changes will make the 2020 Lexus NX different?

Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. A fully redesigned version of Lexus’s popular small crossover is in the works. But only the insiders at Toyota’s luxury division know whether it’ll debut for model-year 2020 or 2021.

What’s certain is that the second-generation NX will have new styling and a more modern understructure. It’ll probably have more passenger and cargo space, offer a hybrid model, and upgrade its safety and connectivity features. If the redesigned NX doesn’t debut until model-year 2021, the ’20 NX will carry over with minor feature tweaks at most, and slightly higher prices, for sure.

This five-seater debuted for the 2015 model year as Lexus’s entry-level crossover. It shares underskin engineering with the 2013-2018 Toyota RAV4 compact crossover. In the premium-crossover realm, however, the NX’s overall size – and its pricing — puts it squarely in the subcompact segment, where it competes with the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and X2, Cadillac XT4, Jaguar E-Pace, and Volvo XC40.

With its role as gateway to the brand’s SUV portfolio supplanted by the model-year 2019 introduction of the smaller, less expensive Lexus UX, the opportunity is ripe for the next-generation NX to grow in size and price and compete with true premium-compact crossovers such as the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Infiniti QX50, and Volvo XC60.

Issues of size and timing aside, Lexus will count on the redesigned NX to maintain strong sales. Thanks to its pleasant road manners, competitive pricing, and the Lexus brand’s sterling reputation for reliability, resale value, and customer service, the first-gen NX ranked No. 2 in sales among premium-subcompact crossovers for 2018 and into 2019.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Lexus NX. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we’ll reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Tough call, but we’d advise waiting for Lexus to confirm if the redesigned NX will come out as a 2020 model or a ‘21. If it doesn’t come out until model-year 2021, the 2020 NX will be a virtual rerun of the 2019 – and in that case, you probably should stick with the ’19. You’ll save a few bucks and almost certainly choose from a lineup that’ll carry over virtually unchanged for 2020.

That means an NX 300 in base and performance-themed F Sport trim levels with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Also common to both model years would be the NX 300h hybrid. It teams a gas four-cylinder engine with two electric motors, one to assist with acceleration, the other to furnish AWD by providing power to the rear axle as traction requires.

If the redesigned NX arrives as a 2020 model, it’d be well worth prioritizing over the first-generation 2019. You’d get Lexus’s most up-to-date styling and features, along with more room for passengers and gear. Those same motivations are worth considering even if the next-gen NX doesn’t arrive until model-year 2021.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, if the next-generation model bows for 2020; no if it doesn’t. Only Lexus knows what the redesigned NX will look like, but expect it to be longer, wider, and perhaps slightly lower than the current version. It’ll retain some version of the brand’s controversial front-end-defining “spindle” grille design, and likely repeat the radically creased body sides that also have become a Lexus signature.

The next-gen cabin is apt to incorporate more than a few touches cribbed from the newer UX. The first-generation’s rather conventional main instrument cluster will likely be replaced by a more compact design displaying a digital speedometer within a larger central tachometer. The dashboard should retain an analog clock, another Lexus signature, but we’d urge Lexus to change the infotainment interface from a finicky trackpad on the center console to some combination of buttons and a mouse-type wheel or knob. Support for Apple CarPlay should return, with Google Android Auto hopefully joining it. Expect Lexus to double down on the luxury décor that helps set the current NX apart from many of its more plebeian competitors.

The biggest change should be more passenger and cargo volume. The first-generation NX is commensurate with most premium-subcompact-crossover rivals, meaning decent space for front seaters but less-than-generous accommodations for rear occupants. Count on increases for both, with increase rear legroom an especially notable gain, thanks to a longer basic platform. Expect the seating to again air on the side of comfort over hold-you-fast bolstering, even in the performance-themed F Sport.

Cargo volume should also graduate to premium-compact-crossover dimensions, meaning about 27 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and around 63 cubic feet with them folded. The first-gen NX runs with the premium subcompact-crossover herd, at 17.7 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 54.6 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded (housing the NX 300h’s hybrid hardware helps reduce its volume to 16.8 and 53.7 cubic feet, respectively).

Any mechanical changes?

Yes if the revamped model debuts as a 2020; no if it does not. As with the current NX, the redesigned one will share its underskin platform with the RAV4, but it will be based on the redesigned RAV4 introduced for the 2019 model year. That means the next-gen NX will use a version of the increasingly ubiquitous Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), a modular design that allows engineers to create a variety of cars and crossovers, from the compact Prius hybrid car to the eight-passenger Highlander midsize crossover.

All TNGA vehicles we’ve evaluated provide a level of on-road sophistication not previously seen on Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Taut suspension and steering feel help them handle with surprising verve. Expect no less from the redesigned NX, which was already a reasonably sporty small crossover, particularly in F Sport guise.

The new platform combined with what’s apt to be expanded use of aluminum and ultra-high-strength steel should reduce the NX’s weight — a good thing since the first-gen tips the scales at 3,940-4,180 pounds, which is more in line with class-above premium-compact crossovers.

Less weight should also help the next NX feel faster. That’s good, too, given what probably will be mostly carryover drivetrains. Expect the redesigned NX 300 and NX 300 F Sport to again use a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with around 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Look for the NX 300 to again be available with front-drive or AWD, while the F Sport remains AWD only. For both, Lexus is likely replace the first-generation’s six-speed automatic transmission with a more efficient eight-speed automatic.

The redesigned NX 300h hybrid would probably continue to team a non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with the aforementioned twin electric motors. Combined system output would remain around 194 horsepower. Toyota does not provide combined torque ratings for its gas/electric vehicles. The sole transmission would again be a continuously variable automatic (CVT) and AWD would again be provided by a dedicated electric motor. This would not be a plug-in hybrid, instead recharging its onboard battery via energy captured during braking and coasting. It wouldn’t be able to travel more than a couple miles on electricity alone.

Overall, anything Lexus would do to improve the next-generation NX’s acceleration from below the class average would be welcome.

Will fuel economy improve?

Probably, but only if the redesign comes for model-year 2020. Despite a larger physical footprint and mostly similar drivetrains, the next-generation NX should score higher EPA ratings than the outgoing model; figure at least 1-3 mpg across the board.

If the 2020 NX is a repeat of the 2019, its ratings probably won’t change. That means the ’20 NX 300 would again rate 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/28/24 with AWD. The 2020 NX 300 F Sport would again rate 22/27/24 mpg, the difference attributed in part to the reduced rolling resistance of its lower profile performance tires. Expect a carryover 2020 NX 300h to again rate 33/30/31 mpg.

Hybrid models would use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline while Lexus would require premium-grade 91-octane fuel for the turbocharged NX 300s.

Will there be new features?

Probably not on a carryover NX, while a redesigned model would almost certainly have some new kit. We certainly wouldn’t expect Lexus to remove any amenities. Likely returning as standard regardless of which vehicle debuts for ’20 are dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa integration, Lexus’ “NuLuxe” leatherette upholstery, and Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect telematics.

Also standard would be the Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+) assistance suite, which includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, automatic steering correction to keep you in your lane, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive radar cruise control. A redesigned NX would almost certainly include the updated LSS+ 2.0, which includes the above plus traffic-sign recognition, and trace control designed to keep the vehicle centered in its lane on gently curved highways.

The NX 300 F Sport would add firmer suspension tuning, sport-themed drive modes, steering-wheel paddle shifters, and unique interior and exterior trim.

Some currently optional features, such as blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, heated front seats, a hands-free power liftgate, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, might move to the standard list on the redesigned NX.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Yes, although year-over-year price inflation probably will be minimal if the first-generation NX carries over for 2020. For reference, here are model-year ’19 base prices, including Lexus’s $995 destination fee.

With front-wheel drive, the 2019 NX 300 starts at $37,480 while the F Sport checks in at $39,720. AWD versions start at $38,880 and $41,120, respectively. The NX 300h, which is AWD only, checks in at $39,830. We predict a more substantial price hike if Lexus opts to launch the redesigned model for ’20. This would give the new NX more breathing room away from the smaller, less costly UX.

Assuming no changes to standard equipment, the most desirable options would come in packages. Again, the prices we list are for 2019 models. The $980 Comfort Package adds auto-dimming exterior mirrors, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and heated and ventilated front seats. The $3,270 Premium Package includes these items plus upgraded exterior lighting and wheels, driver-seat memory, and a power sunroof. The $4,705 Luxury Package is the Comfort and Premium packages plus a heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel with power tilt and telescopic adjustment, authentic wood interior inlays, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

The sunroof and heated steering wheel might return as standalone options for $1,100 and $150, respectively. Other individual extras may include a surround-view camera ($800), hands-free parallel park assist with front- and rear-obstacle detection ($535), and power-folding rear seatbacks ($400).

When does it come out?

Should Lexus be planning a model-year 2020 launch of the redesigned NX, plan to see a worldwide debut at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Production would start shortly thereafter, with examples hitting showrooms in the first quarter of 2020. If the redesigned NX is a 2021 model, look for a release date in fall 2020.

If the 2020 Lexus NX continues as a first-generation design, look for a release date in fall 2019.

Best competitors

Acura RDX; Alfa Romeo Stelvio; Audi Q3 and Q5; BMW X1, X2, X3, and X4; Buick Envision; Cadillac XT4 and XT5; Infiniti QX50; Jaguar E-Pace and F-Pace; Lincoln Corsair; Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLC; Volvo XC40 and XC60

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]