Head to Head: Toyota 4runner vs. Lexus NX 300h

leux nx at road closed sign

Words and photos by SekouWrites 

There’s lots of competition in the world of SUVs these days. From the relatively new premium compact category to the mega-sized vehicles that you can fit your whole family inside of, there is now a SUV for any size and budget you can imagine.

During a recent road trip in and around Tampa, Florida, I decided to compare two vaguely related SUVs, the Toyota 4runner and the Lexus NX 300h hybrid. I say vaguely related because both Toyota and Lexus are part of the same parent company but, that said, there are a host of differences between the two brands.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself in this head to head showdown.

toyota 4runner at beachCurb appeal:

Toyota: The off-road-ready 4runner is a big vehicle. It sits high off the ground while the hood scoop makes it look sporty and powerful. At least one person I encountered said, “Wow that’s big,” before standing next to the 4runner to measure its height against his. The result? One of the tires came up to the top of his hip. Told you it was big. And despite being kind of boxy, the 4runner a good looking ride, especially in Barcelona Red, the color of my test-drive vehicle.

Lexus: Since Lexus is a luxury brand, it’s not surprising that the profile of the Lexus NX 300h is sleek and sexy. The compliments started almost as soon as I slipped into the diver’s seat. My test drive model was obsidian black with a tan interior and the rear windows were tinted. Even sitting still, this NX looked ready to move.

lexus nx dashboardAmenities:

Toyota: The offerings in my test drive version were pretty Spartan. Many of the features that have become standard on other new cars, like automatic headlights and blind spot notification, were not present here. This felt like more of a “hands on” vehicle, suitable for a do it yourselfer. Even the seating was comfortable but far from luxe. The red contrast stitching was a nice touch but, in warmer climes (again, I test drove this car in Florida) the seats can get exceptionally hot without air-conditioned seats.

Lexus: The NX was packed with bells and whistles. Some of my faves: Air-conditioned seats (a godsend in Florida’s summer heat), dual climate zones (handy for passengers who might have different temperature needs) and dual USB ports (so more than one person can charge at a time). I think it goes without saying that the interior of the NX was pretty snazzy. There are even a few purely stylistic elements, like a beveled ledge over the glove compartment, which added a sense of class (pictured).

 

lexus nx dashboardCell phone:

Toyota: It was very easy to link the phone to the 4runner. Once linked via bluetooth, the navigation screen changed to allow four speed dial numbers to be programmed right onto the home screen. I’ve never seen this nifty feature in a car before and it was exceptionally useful for keeping my eyes on the road. No more reaching down for my phone to dial mom while on the go. This should be standard on all vehicles.

Lexus: The NX took longer to pair with my iPhone but that could be because the interface, a touchpad similar to those found on a laptop computer, isn’t 100% intuitive. Sure, it’s a conversation starter but it definitely takes some practice to get the hang of it. Personally, I found myself driving slower whenever I had to operate it to give it my full attention. Toward the end of my test drive, I’d gotten the hang of it but decided I didn’t like it except for the express purpose of wowing passengers.

toyota 4runner dashboardPracticality:

Toyota: It could be a good everyday car, provided you have a large, dedicated parking space. It has plenty of cargo space in the rear but my test drive model didn’t have a motorized rear lift gate, which admittedly I’ve grown used to. The 4runner also sits high off the ground so a running board should be standard for this vehicle. Several of the people I ferried around had trouble getting in and out because of he height. One of my favorite features however, was a pull out platform in the rear cargo area that you can use to load up with anything from groceries to DJ turntables. Just push the platform and it slides back inside the car.

Lexus: The NX is a compact premium SUV so it’s small. In other words it doesn’t take up much space as far as parking goes. The tradeoff however, comes in the form of legroom. The reclining rear seats allow a tall person to get comfortable but it’s still relatively snug. For a big city, however, the NX is a great fit. It’s tiny enough to park and dodge through traffic but big enough to bring a few people with you. Also, I loved all the automated features of the NX: When it rained the windshield wipers came on and when it got dark the headlights came on so I felt like I could give more of my attention to the drive.

lexus nx at the beachExtra credit:

Toyota: The big wheels and high suspension made it easy to roll right over both medians and curbs. Obviously, I don’t promote that type of driving but sometimes, when you get stuck somewhere, it’s nice to be in a car that can get you out of it.

Lexus: The NX has three drive modes: eco, normal and sport, which is nice for adjusting your driving to different circumstances—like saving gas or hurrying home for dinner.

toyota 4runner in fogHard knocks:

Toyota: In my test drive model the navigation seemed confused. There were several times when the 4runner tried to route me one way when I really needed to go the opposite direction way. If you’re driving in an area you know you can just ignore it and wait for the navigation to recalculate but, if not, get ready to go the scenic route. Also, the fuel gauge once told me that I had 9 miles until empty and seconds later it jumped to 1 mile until empty. You can imagine my panic. Not cool, 4runner.

Lexus: Even after you press the “EV Mode” button, the NX doesn’t always stay in electric mode. I’m sure that has something to do with the level of charge the battery has but it still takes some of the power away from you. Pun intended. Also, the home screen didn’t have four speed dial spots like the 4runner did—it was definitely missed.

toyota 4runner from a distanceFuel economy:

Toyota 4runner posted MPG: combined city/highway, 18
Actual: About 18 miles per gallon. Even though that isn’t a high number, the gas tank was huge, so it took the better part of a week to run down towards “E.” It took about $50 to fill ‘er up.

Lexus NX posted MPG: combined city/highway, 33
Actual: About 29 miles per gallon. Great MPG but the gas tank was smaller so I found myself at the gas station much more often than the 4runner.

 

lexus nx and helicopterPrice:

Toyota 4runner starts at $38.6K
As tested: $42.2K

Lexus NX 300h hybrid starts at $39.7K
As tested: $49.7K

 

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