The NX200t is a new kind of Lexus, well-timed for the market condition.
Pros: Massive luxury appointment, beautiful quality, striking appearance,
Cons: Engine zings but doesn’t sing, inconsistent low speed ride.
THOSE who view the Lexus NX as purely an overtly-styled first drive into a golden sales territory might be failing to see the full picture.
This compact, luxury-lavished dirt-hopper is also just the second car (after the stunning LFA) that doesn’t demand interest from previous Lexus purchasers.
Sure, like so many past products from Toyota’s elite division, starting with that first offer LS400, the NX is tailored with expectation of being so good that anyone buying into it will never think to look beyond the brand ever again.
Yet it’s still more about capturing new business than keeping the old. The sales strategy relies on no less than 80 percent of the audience being brand newcomers. It also anticipates some old hands won’t, in fact, like what they see.
Design and engineering:
Hence the look. Latest Lexus designs are polarising opinion and there’s no end to the shock treatment.
Sounds risky? Lexus disagrees. While design is acknowledged as a major reason why people switch from one brand to another, Lexus also believes that shapes that win every heart now run risk of being too weak in the long run. Accordingly, the deliberately controversial design language is going to continue.
You’ll ask how much of this car is pure Lexus. Certainly, parking the NX next to a Toyota RAV4 demonstrates that they’re uncannily alike in general dimension.
Yet anyone who seeks to tar the NX as being little more than a tarted-up rendition of a model that sits second only to the Corolla as a rental company sustainer is doing Lexus a complete disservice. RAV donorship ends with platform-sharing and even then there are engineering changes. Drivetrain-wise, the models stand apart and insofar as the entire superstructure and cabin layouts are concerned … well, if you can pick any examples of sharing, then your eyes are keener than mine.
This engine is a brand-new, Lexus-first turbocharged 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder in marriage with a six-speed automatic.
This is an intriguing engine, big on leading-edge technical innovation with the world-first combination of a twin-scroll turbocharger and integrated exhaust manifold cylinder head and you’d have to think – hope – that it will eventually have application beyond this car (and as an entry mill for the RC coupe). It’d be great to have it in the 86 coupe, for instance.
There are several appealing facets. The first, of course, is that it has proper zing. Step on the throttle and there’s decent immediate response; plus a claimed 0-100kmh time of 7.1 seconds is decent, not least against the alternate hybrid (9.2s). Peak torque kicks in from just 1650rpm but it is hardly finished there. The second part is the flexibility of the performance; the pull also continues through the greater part of the rev range, right to the 6500rpm redline.
The only disappointment is that it’s more about sensation than sound; Lexus seems to have made a point of engineering out all the exciting noises, apparently to preserve the trademark calm interior ambience.
The claimed overall economy of 7.9 litres per 100km (against the AWD hybrid cars’ 5.7) isn’t too bad, though be aware it demands nothing less than 95 octane (whereas the hybrid will get along on cheaper 91).
The tarmac is an immediate tell-all, and in the main part the story is good.
We tried two quite defined yet equally priced (at $94,900) all-wheel-drive editions, the Limited that places more focus on refinement and comfort and the F-Sport which though to the same engine tune emphasises more strongly for sportiness. It has firmer suspension, more aggressive rubber, harder looks and an additional ‘sport-plus’ drive function that sharpens the throttle response.
There’s certainly enough agility, not least when you’re charging through bends, to remind that NX is for nimble crossover. But confidence abetted by all-wheel-drive is offset by some adverse traits. Foremost, the traction and stability controls are over-eager – all too often the power delivery can hesitate as the electronics step in. It also slips too easily into understeer.
The driver-car relationship is also slightly affected by the seating position. While the driver’s chair offers a great blend of comfort and support, it does place the steerer a little too high. Speaking of that aspect, the steering is responsive, especially in the F-Sport’s sharpest mode, but even then it offer less feel than you’d expect from such a sporty-looking SUV.
The six-speed automatic gearbox gets a big tick. Obviously an eight-speed transmission is more in keeping with latest trend, yet this auto is still more reactive and fulfilling to work with than the hybrid’s CVT. The transmission’s sensitivity to throttle pressure depends on which of the driving modes you’re in; it’s dulled in Eco and Normal, sharper in Sport. The F-Sport’s additional Sport-Plus really opens another door, however, allowing the transmission to drop several cogs for electric corner exiting and fun when worked sequentially.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Ride quality is also dependent on the badge. Go to the F-Sport and there’s more firmness, yet either way it feels under-damped. Even though the Limited is more comfort-tuned, it isn’t wholly composed, the plushness doesn’t inhibit it from crashing over bumps at low speed. Speaking of the latter… sorry, the off-road ability remained unassessed. Somehow it just seemed unimportant.
Practicality and packaging:
Any tie to the RAV4 struggles to show in interior dimension. Slipping from one to the other, it’s the NX that feels more compact, mainly in the back, where leg room is not quite generous. The boot is relatively commodious and while storage within the cabin proper is a bit more modest, it benefits from interesting ideas such as the removable mid-console mirror-backed panel that reveals a hideaway for sunglasses.
In respect to plushness, the Lexus is way up there; there’s a definite luxury flavour that some would say RAV money cannot hope to buy. Yet, basically, quality-wise it is better than any competitor; that’s the length that Lexus goes to in ensuring its cars feel special, with an attention to detail that is simply marvelous. The hand-stitched dashboard is just one example of their determination to excel beyond the usual call. Above this, there’s a funkiness to the interior styling, notably with the red trim highlights that are part of the F-Sport image, that will appeal to the younger audience prioritised with this model.
Maybe Lexus is over-egging with an electric tailgate given the boot lid is light enough to opened and closed without any such assistance, but you can hardly quibble with the provisioning.
More of a problem with the hefty spec loading is working out how to access everything. Lexus still uses a lot of buttons and is prone to site some in illogical spots. It would have even more if not for a touch pad, the Remote Touch system that drives the big centre screen dominating a pinched centre stack whose shape mimics the spindle grille. The new system replaces a knob control but whether it’s any better deserves debate.
The issue comes down to the touch pad’s over-sensitivity; even a lightly brushed fingertip is enough to unintentionally overshoot the intended destination and instead embark on a whole new adventure, ultimately a frustration when something as outwardly simple as a change of radio station cannot be accurately achieved when you’re driving. Maybe that’s the point. After all, as is standard to Japanese product, the sat nav and phone functions only operate fully when the car is stationary. Another overly-protective concept, I’d argue.
How it compares:
Even though the NX occupies an elite niche, there is decent choice: BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes Benz GLA. The NX is different from any of those and yet toes the line on basic principles. It’s a smart-looking bauble that shines as brightly as the competitor gems.