SUVs have been the nation’s favorite type of road vehicle for a few years now, making it perhaps unsurprising that the NX and RX were the best-selling Lexus models last year.
While the short story is that the Lexus NX is a compact crossover whereas the RX is a midsize SUV, there are plenty of other differences worth discussing.
The Lexus NX, standing for ‘Nimble Crossover’, is a compact luxury crossover SUV that is designed to accommodate a small family while being small enough to navigate busy inner city roads. Meanwhile, the slightly more expensive RX is a mid-size luxury SUV that offers extra space for passengers and cargo.
The 2021 base Lexus NX 300 starts at $38,365. The F sport and Luxury trims which share the mechanicals but offer extra features and additional luxury start at $40,735 and $45,085 respectively.
By comparison, the 2021 base RX 350 starts at $46,195. An F Sport trim is also available for $49,675, as well as the 7-seater RX 350L which starts at $49,025.
These quoted prices are for the FWDs, opting for AWD will cost a further $1400.
The NX and RX are both also available with self-charging hybrid vehicles (as opposed to plug-in hybrids) which are AWD by default and more economical to drive.
These cost more than their petrol-only counterparts, with the NX 300h starting at $41,185 and the RX 450h starting at $48,845.
The RX is a compact Lexus SUV, whereas the NX is a compact crossover. The RX has a longer wheelbase and bigger exterior dimensions all around. It measures roughly 10 inches more in length, 3 inches more in width and is roughly an inch taller.
The current selection of cars in the Lexus lineup can be easily recognized by their enormous spindle grilles and bold styling. Both the NX and RX look like spaceships from the future with their razor-sharp character lines, rear-sloping roof lines and sharp head and tail lights.
In person, the most significant difference is in the size, with the RX having more road presence. But the NX arguably has a slightly more unconventional design, with split front lighting and taillights which fork off at the sides. This gives it a slightly sportier feel, which is typical when comparing compacts to midsize SUVs across all the automakers.
Both SUVs can be optioned with a power moonroof, but you can only get the auto-dimming side mirrors on the RX, while the premium triple-beam LED headlamps with front lighting system is an option exclusive to the NX.
The Lexus RX is bigger than the NX in size, but how does that translate into seating and cargo room?
Passengers in the back of the RX enjoy roughly 2 inches of extra leg room and shoulder/hip room. In practice, that can be the difference between knees scraping the back of the seat in front and having the freedom to wiggle about—especially for taller passengers. There’s also a little more head room for passengers in the front and back. (Note that going for the 7-seater RX significantly cuts down middle and rear row legroom).
Moving onto cargo volume, the NX gives you 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, increasing to 54.6 cubic feet when you fold the rear seats down. The RX can hold slightly more, with 18.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 56.3 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded.
Neither car is particularly spacious within their class (those stylish sloping rooflines have their drawbacks!) but offer enough space for average hauling needs.
Both cars have luxurious interiors with modern styling. The NX has a slightly more streamlined and sportier interior which gives the illusion that it’s bigger than it is. The RX’s interior, on the other hand, has a very conventional luxury vehicle feel to it.
As standard, you’ll get synthetic leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats and reclining rear seats in both cars. Lexus have put so much engineering and science into their seats that they’re currently unmatched in the luxury car market.
While the standard interiors in both SUVs are decent, many will be tempted by the optional Premium and Luxury packages which give you an even nicer interior—providing the likes of real leather upholstery and heated seats. It’s worth noting that the RX’s optional packages are more expensive, but give you even more premium features like a heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and ambient lighting.
You’ll find all the latest technology on either car, including the likes of Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, Amazon Alexa, and Enform Wi-Fi (though not necessarily as standard). Audiophiles will find themselves in familiar territory if they can fork up an extra $3,000 or so for the Mark Levinson® premium surround sound system.
Hybrid versions of NX and RX also offer EV mode, which when activated makes the car run solely off its electric motor. The idea is nice, although in practice there are occasional issues like the petrol engine being reignited if you engage the throttle too hard.
Being the more expensive SUV, the RX has some things that aren’t available on the NX. This includes a bigger 12.3-inch infotainment system (compared to the 10.3-inch display in the NX) and an optional color heads-up display.
The standard Lexus NX comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-4 engine which produces 235 horsepower. This takes the car from 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds and helps it reach a maximum speed of 124 mph. The AWD version is slightly nippier (0-60 mph in 7.0 seconds) but slightly less fuel efficient (25 combined mpg vs 24 combined mpg).
Lexus fitted the RX with a more powerful 3.0-liter V6 which produces 295 horsepower. Despite the bigger engine, it’s a little slower off the line (0-60 mph in 7.7s) because of the car’s heavier body. However, it is able to tow 3500 lbs compared to the NX’s 2000 lbs towing capacity.
Things get more interesting when you are looking at the Hybrid versions of the NX and RX. The NX 300h is significantly less powerful than the petrol NX, and simply isn’t much fun to drive. By contrast, the hybrid RX 450h produces more horsepower than the RX 350 and is very comparable in performance, with the benefit of far superior gas mileage.
Both the Lexus NX and RX earn the highest five star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also commended both vehicles, awarding the NX a Top Safety Pick+ award and the RX a Top Safety Pick award.
There are a great deal of standard driver assistance features that provide an extra layer of protection in either car. These include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
Buyers looking to purchase a new crossover should ideally visit their closest Lexus dealership to test drive the NX and RX before any final decision is made.
The fundamental difference, size, is something that only becomes tangible when seeing and driving the car in person.
However, the RX isn’t simply a bigger version of the NX. The higher price tag also gets you a different interior design with more luxurious standard features and some features which are unavailable on any NX trim (e.g. larger infotainment display, auto dimming side mirrors and a heated leather and wood steering wheel).
And there’s an extra caveat when considering the hybrid models. The hybrid RX 450h performs just as well as the petrol RX 350h, whereas the NX 300h hybrid is sluggish compared to the petrol NX 300. If you’re dead set on a hybrid, the RX is definitely a better overall buy.
Related: Lexus UX vs NX