Lexus NX300 F-Sport

She said, she said: 2020 Lexus NX 300 F Sport

Words by Jennifer Jensen, photos by Jennifer Jensen and Jill Ciminillo

Lexus is walking a prickly path with the 2020 Lexus NX.

Do you remember Ford/Lincoln/Mercury? Mercury is no more, and Lincoln was perched on the precipice of death for several years before making a slow and, so far, steady come back.

What happened in the Ford world that was so bad? Rebadging. That’s what.

This is the act of taking a model from a manufacturer’s lineup, swapping the badge, changing a few trim pieces and then calling it something else.

Many car companies perform badge engineering. General Motors is filled with it (a big contributing factor as to why Pontiac and Oldsmobile are gone), and Dodge/Chrysler have been at the game for generations.

Japanese manufacturers have taken a somewhat differing route by creating luxury brands from their lesser stable mates, and they’ve done a pretty good job separating their luxury offerings. Until now.

The Lexus NX is based on the venerable Toyota RAV4, and in my opinion, it shows. This has to be the worst badge engineering job Toyota/Lexus has ever done. The NX is a Toyota RAV4 with a Lexus badge on it.

BEYOND BADGING

Further, there are some decidedly down market items in the NX that just don’t deserve the Lexus badge.

First off, there are rows and rows of buttons on the center console. While I typically prefer a direct button to access whatever feature that button (or knob) might control, this interior layout borders on the chaotic.

The worst part is there is no sensible order to the cacophony of controls strewn about the center console, the steering wheel stalks and additional buttons on the dash.

Heated-and-cooled seats? Yes. Direct buttons on a row below the screen on the top of the center dash. Excellent. Heated steering wheel? Of course, it’s a trussed up Toyota after all. Where’s the button? Next to the one for heated seats? Nope. On the steering wheel? Too simple.

It is next to your left knee on the dash. Nonsensical.

Not to mention the fact the wheel isn’t heated around the entire circumference – just at 9 and 3.

DIMINISHING LEXUS HALLMARKS

Looking across the Lexus lineup, this badge-engineering-gone-wild is becoming a little too apparent. And it breaks my heart.

Lexus was known for a few hallmarks: Comfort, quiet and ease of use. While the brand still hits at least one of those marks in most of its models, the NX loses out on all three.

The NX 300 F Sport, and the NX in general, is the epitome of these failings.

The styling on the outside of the NX leans towards origami. The trademark Lexus spindle grille is present and more gaping than ever. It honestly doesn’t look hideous on the NX.

I will admit that the NX 300 F Sport, particularly in the Cadmium Orange paint adorning our tester, does appear to have sporting intentions. The design is aggressive in a way the RAV4 is not.

INTERIOR FAILINGS

There is a fair amount of room on the inside except for the driver. There was a distinct lack of headroom for my 6-foot, 2-inch frame and my right knee continually fought for space with the center column while my left knee lost the space battle with the door. The footwell is narrow and confining.

The seats are not comfortable for anyone over 5-foot, 6-inches. The seatback is too short, and the seat bottom is the same. It is also thinly padded, which left my hind parts a little sore.

Our test vehicle had a two-tone black and white leather interior that looked nice, but just didn’t feel upscale to me at all. The leather was taut and not supple in the least.

Of particular design interest was a metal trim piece in the middle of the dash in front of the passenger seat. It looked like the dash is slowly sticking its tongue out at you.

SQUIRRLES INSTEAD OF HORSES

Fire up the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and prepare to be bored by the squirrels working under the hood. This little engine puts out a respectable 235 horsepower, but it is always working hard never feeling like there is enough oomph to get things rolling. It also returned a dismal 20.3 mpg over a one-week test period. Perhaps the 4,000-pound curb weight is to blame?

You would think that a vehicle pushing two tons would feel solid as it rolls down the road. However, the ride is flouncy, trouncy and even bouncy. Unlike Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger, the NX fails to be fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.

A squishy brake pedal pairs with an on/off throttle to deliver non-inspirational starting and stopping. The cabin is also obtrusively loud at speed. It is NOT a quiet cabin. Even shutting the shade for the moonroof does little to quell the onslaught of noise this little runabout generates.

NOT LEXUS-WORTHY

At the end of the day, the cabin is too loud for a Lexus. The ride is too crappy for a Lexus. The steering is too lackadaisical for a Lexus. The throttle response and braking are too clumsy for a Lexus. The interior design is too cluttered for a Lexus. The materials are too subpar for a Lexus.

The Lexus NX 300 F Sport is not a Lexus to me.

Let the Toyota RAV4 be what it is, and don’t clutter up the Lexus model range with this thing. Let the RX line be the aspirational vehicle for Toyota drivers who want to step UP to the brand.

Oh, and get rid of the damn mouse pad. It sucks, doesn’t work well and takes the drivers attention away from doing the one important thing they are supposed to do: DRIVE!

If Lexus continues down this prickly path of badge engineering, I fear the company will lose all of the cache that it worked so hard to build. Look at Mercury, Pontiac and Oldsmobile to see where that future lies.

COUNTERPOINT BY JILL CIMINILLO

I have to admit, I had a hard time reading Jennifer’s review because I disagree with her so completely, and basically, I’m going to call bullshit here. Sure, the Lexus NX and the Toyota RAV4 are built on the same platform, but I think that’s where the similarities come full stop.

Jennifer says the NX is simply a RAV4 with a big Lexus badge, and I’m going to tell her she needs glasses and hope I still have a job when she reads this.

The Toyota RAV4 is upright and rugged with Toyota’s Tonka Truck-like stamped fenders, grilles and bumpers. The NX, on the other hand, is more aerodynamically sleek with a lot of pointed Lexus edges. And the spindle grille? It really works here.

The interiors don’t even come close to looking alike. The RAV4 is more horizontally designed with functional trimmings and materials I wouldn’t be afraid to get dirty. The NX, however, has zig zags that mimic the exterior, elegant dash stitching and a nice-touch analog clock on the center stack.

The buttons on the center stack didn’t bother me because they were (mostly) intuitively placed and easy to reach.

One point I will give Jennifer: The heated steering wheel button is in an odd location. Second point I’ll concede: The trackpad must go.

I’m not sure if Jennifer was trying out for the Indy 500 when she was driving the NX and compared the 235 horses to squirrels, but I thought the 2.0-liter engine did just fine for urban living. It was quick off the line as I turned onto busy main streets from side streets, and it did a nice job merging with and passing traffic on the highway.

Plus, I’m not sure when the last time Jennifer drove a RAV4 was, but I drove one a couple weeks ago, and the RAV4 was really rough around the edges, stumbled over speed bumps and generally drove like the cheap-ish vehicle that it is. And I don’t say that to be hard on the RAV4 – it’s a decent vehicle in its class.

But the NX is nothing like that. If you’re used to sports cars, the steering is a little numb and the ride is a little soft, but I don’t think it’s any less inspirational than, say, the Acura RDX – though I will say, I do like the RDX better than the NX.

SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

In many respects, it’s about perspective. If you want something sporty that gives you a connection to the road and makes you feel like you’re flying: Lexus isn’t for you. Go to Porsche or Audi or even VW for that.

If you’re tall like Jennifer is, this also isn’t an ideal vehicle for you. But if you’re on the petite side of the spectrum like Jill, then the Lexus NX might be worth a look.

The one thing we collectively have a hard time with is the NX’s place within the Lexus lineup. It sits between the UX and the RX in terms of size and pricing, but it’s not that much bigger than the UX, and with a base price of $37,895, it doesn’t cost less than the RX.

So maybe the she said, she said is a moot point, and the real question is: Should this SUV even exist?