By Chuck Giametta
What changes will make the 2021 Lexus NX different?
Probably very little – unless Lexus proves prognosticators wrong. An all-new version of this small, premium-crossover SUV is in the works. But will Lexus release it for model-year 2021, or as industry soothsayers insist, for model-year 2022? Either way, the second-generation NX will have new styling, more room, and probably a plug-in-hybrid option.
If the redesign doesn’t debut until model-year ‘22, the 2021 NX will be a virtual rerun of the 2020 — although it’ll surely cost more. It would continue to compete with premium-subcompact crossovers like the Cadillac XT4, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and BMW X1. By contrast, the next-generation NX will be priced and sized to rival premium-compact crossovers, such as the Mercedes GLC, BMX X3, and Audi Q5.
Should I wait for the 2021 Lexus NX or buy a 2020?
Wait to learn if the ’21 is the all-new NX. If it isn’t, and you like the current-generation design, buy a ’20. You’ll save a few bucks and won’t be saddled with a-last-of-its-kind model. If the ’21 is a carryover, it’ll probably repeat the 2020 lineup: NX 300 in base, F Sport, and Luxury trim, and the NX 300h hybrid in Base and Luxury grades. These holdovers would merit consideration for their pleasant road manners, competitive pricing, and Lexus’s reputation for reliability, resale value, and customer service.
Whether it arrives as a ’21 or ’22 model, the redesigned NX would get Lexus’s most up-to-date styling and features, along with more space for passengers and gear. It’ll still share its understructure with the RAV4 compact crossover from parent-company Toyota, but will transition to the larger, lighter, and more modern architecture that debuted with the redesigned 2019 RAV4.
Will 2021 Lexus NX styling be different?
If the ’21 NX is a carryover, it’ll repeat the 2020’s look, a relatively tame interpretation of the edgier styling found on Lexus’s smaller UX and larger RX crossovers. F Sports would again get their own grille pattern, larger exhaust opening, and other visual cues. Expect 17-, 18-, and 19-inch alloy wheels as standard or optional, depending on trim level.
If the 2021 NX is the redesigned model, it’ll be longer, wider, and perhaps lower than the current NX but continue with a version of the brand’s controversial “spindle” grille and Origami body sides.
A carryover NX would rerun the ‘20’s nicely appointed but overly busy cabin design. The next gen will likely adopt a less angular environment with a fully digital instrument cluster, again with gauges tailored for F Sport or hybrid duty. Expect infotainment displays larger than the current 8-inch monitor or available 10.3-inch navigation screen. We’d urge Lexus to replace the finicky center-console trackpad interface with buttons and a mouse-type wheel or knob.
Cut-above luxury décor should continue to set the NX apart from most competitors. Look for a continuation of Lexus’s convincing NuLuxe faux-leather upholstery as standard, with leather and real wood available, along with unique F Sport seats and finishes.
Like most premium-subcompact crossovers, the first-generation NX is adult-roomy in front but cramped in back. The redesigned replacement could have 30-percent more passenger volume and double the cargo space behind the rear seat, based on RAV4 specifications. Its hybrid version should no longer incur a cargo-space penalty, either, although that may not hold for a plug-in model. A power liftgate should continue as standard on Luxury-trim models and a $400 option ($550 with hands-free operation; $150 on Luxury) otherwise.
Any 2021 Lexus NX mechanical changes?
A carryover ’21 would be unaltered. The NX 300 would return a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine of 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’ll again team with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive would be standard. All-wheel drive (AWD) would be standard on the F Sport and optional otherwise.
The carryover NX 300h would again combine a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with electric-motor assist for a net 194 horsepower (Lexus doesn’t list torque). It would use a continuously variable automatic transmission and come with AWD, employing a second electric motor to automatically provide rear-wheel power as traction requires. This is no plug-in hybrid, instead recharging its battery via energy captured during braking and coasting. Despite an EV-mode setting, it can travel only a few miles on electricity alone.
The F Sport adds Sport+ to the standard drive mode’s Eco/Normal/Sport selections and does steer and handle a bit sharper than other NXs (at the expense of some ride quality). Overall, the first gen favors comfort over handling, but stands out for neither. The redesigned NX 300 and NX 300h will likely retain little-changed powertrains, although the gas-only model will probably get a more efficient eight-speed automatic transmission. Performance ought to improve from merely class-average, though, because their more modern architecture will help reduce weight by several hundred pounds.
Expect the redesigned NX to crib from the 2021 RAV4 Prime a plug-in-hybrid-powertrain that teams a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric-motor power, and AWD. The combo nets 302 horsepower in the RAV4 Prime. It’ll draw an initial charge from the grid – the Prime can drive an EPA-estimated 39 miles on its plug-in charge – then revert to conventional-hybrid operation. If the yet-to-be-named NX plug-in matches the RAV4 Prime’s 5.8 seconds 0-60 mph, it’d at least run with the premium-compact-crossover pack.
Will 2021 Lexus NX fuel economy improve?
Only if it’s the redesigned model, which should increase EPA ratings 1-3 mpg for the carryover powertrains and score an impressive 90-mpg-e for the plug-in hybrid. (Mpg-e is the EPA’s miles-per-gallon-of-gas equivalent for electric vehicles.)
If the 2021 NX is not redesigned, it’s EPA ratings should repeat those of the ’20 NX. The NX 300 would again rate 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/28/24 with AWD. The ‘21 NX 300 F Sport would again rate 22/27/24 mpg.
Expect a carryover NX 300h to again rate 33/30/31 mpg. Lexus would again require premium-grade 91-octane fuel for the NX 300.
Will the 2021 Lexus NX get new features?
There’s not a whole lot to add, although a redesigned NX would probably introduce amenities like a panoramic moonroof and enhanced driver-assistance features. As with the outgoing model, standard equipment would include dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, power tilt/telescoping steering column, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Amazon Alexa integration, and Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect telematics.
Also standard would be the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. This includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and automatic highbeam headlights. A next-gen NX could add autonomous braking with bicyclist and low-light detection. To the current system’s lane-maintaining automatic steering it could add lane-change assist to determine if a safe lane change can be made and then actively steer the NX into the next lane.
We’d also urge Lexus to make blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection standard. For model-year ’20, those important driver assists were part of the $980 Comfort Package for base and hybrid models. They also were included with the $4,705 package that created the Luxury trim level and with the F Sport Premium and Comfort packages, at $2,865 and $1,1140, respectively. Features such as driver-seat memory, power moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats, and wood interior trim for the Luxury grade, were variously included in these packages, as well.
Will 2021 Lexus NX prices be different?
Increases would be modest – say $400 or so — if the first-generation NX carries over for 2021. They’ll be more substantial for the redesigned model, whenever it arrives, to account for its likely transition to the pricier premium-compact-crossover class.
For reference, here are model-year ’20 base prices, including Lexus’s $1,025 destination fee.
With front-wheel drive, the 2020 NX 300 started at $37,895, the Luxury trim at $44,985. AWD versions were priced from $39,295 and $46,385, respectively. With AWD standard, the ’20 F Sport started at $41,535. Lexus also offered a Black Line Edition for 2020, essentially a fully loaded NX 300 at a $7,840 premium.
The AWD-only 2020 NX 300h was priced from $40,445, or from $47,535 in Luxury trim. A plug-in hybrid would likely demand a $3,000 premium over whatever base price Lexus assigns to the redesigned conventional NX hybrid.
When does the 2021 Lexus NX come out?
Production disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic almost certainly will affect every automaker’s release-date schedule. The crisis could well result in condensed or stretched model-year designations, too, and that could influence whether the ’21 NX is a carryover or the redesigned version. Best guess for a 2021 NX release date is no earlier than third quarter 2020.