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Hybrid economy and all-wheek-drive keeps the last generation luxury company SUV competitive in the hot market. segment

COURTESY LEXUS - The 2021 Lexus NX 300h is still a sharp looking and driving luxury compact crossover six years after it was first introduced.Most vehicles at the end of their production cycle look and feel old. Not so the 2020 Lexus NX 300. Although it will be replaced by a new version this fall, the compact luxury crossover seems nearly as fresh as when it was first introduced six years ago — forever in today's fast-changing automotive times.

One reason is because of the aggressive exterior styling that Lexus pioneered. The sharp creases and huge spindle grill were polarizing at the time when they first debuted but are now largely contemporary. That's partly so other companies have adopted similar designs, including Toyota — Lexus' parent company — which has restyled many of its new newer vehicles along the same lines.

The interior also holds up because of the high quality materials. The design is complex compared to other models that strive for a cleaner look, but I personally like the button-heavy stacked center deck that seems like a modern twist on 80's cars. Like those in other Lexus models, it is a retro touch in a contemporary vehicle.

COURTESY LEXUS - The 2021 Lexus NX 300h comes standard with all-wheel-drive thanks to the electric motor that powers the rear wheels.

More important is how it drives. Our test version was the hybrid version, designated as the 300h. It produces 194 total horsepower compared to 235 in the turbocharged 2.0-liter version. Although not as fast, the hybrid version still felt sporty in day-to-day driving. The ride was supple and the steering was precise, giving it a light feel.

But perhaps more important for Pacific Northwest buyers, the NX 300h comes standard with all-wheel-drive and is EPA rated at an impressive 32 miles per gallon. That makes it both safer in wet weather driving and better for the environment than gas-only vehicles.

Those are all important advantage in the highly competitive compact luxury crossover market segment. It is being squeezed by top-of-the-line affordable models that offer increasingly better designs, performance and premium materials. Surprisingly, even Toyota now competes against the NX 300h when its new compact Venza hybrid crossover. Lexus still has the edge on styling, handling and quality materials, however.

COURTESY LEXUS - The interior of the 2021 Lexus NX 300h features a bold design and high quality materials.

My tester featured a Luxury package and other options that raised the ante considerably, however. They included perforated heated and cooled leather front seats, a 10.3-inch display, a Mark Levision premium audio system, roof rack cross bars and much more.

And Lexus still edges out the German subcompact luxury crossover SUVs when it comes to price. Although some buyers might insist on the more established brand names, Lexus has been around long enough by now that others aren't so impressed.

The 2021 300h is the first NX that I've tested that did not come with the option F Sport package that includes handling. I was prepared to be disappointed because it really is one of the better handling package, producing a firmer ride that is not punishing over broken pavement. And I initially though my tester felt a little soft. But then I discovered the Sport mode that tightens things up. Although not as good as F Sport package, it should satisfy most buyers who are looking for sportier performance.

COURTESY LEXUS - The rear seats are surprisingly roomy in the 2021 Lexus NX 300h.

The one weakness is the touchpad that controls much of the infortainment system. It takes practice to use smoothly, especially when driving. I've tested enough different Lexus models with it by now that I anyone can eventually become comfortable using it.

I look forward to testing the 2022 Lexus NX when it is available, including the hybrid model. But smart shopper should keep in mind it will like be more expensive that the remaining 2021 models at dealers who may be motivate to strike deals to free up space for the them.

COURTESY LEXUS - The center console holds the keypad that controls much of the infotainment system in the 2021 Lexus NX 300h.

2020 Lexus NX 300h Luxury

Base price: $48,510

Price as tested: $52,855

Style: Compact luxury SUV

Engine: 2.5-liter 4 and two electric motors (194 hp)

Transmission: Continuous Variable Transmission

Drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport

EPA fuel economy: 33/30

Length: 182.3 inches

Weight: 3,940 to 4,040 pounds

Final assembly point: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

COURTESY LEXUS - The hybrid powertrain in the 2021 Lexus NX 300h delivers good power and excellent mileage.


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