Lexus’ entry into the compact premium crossover marketplace was heralded last April in Beijing, and U.S. sales are just beginning for the all-new NX line.
Not to be confused with any of the “boxy” competitors in the hotly contested segment, Lexus describes its stylized and contemporary looking NX as “edgy” and “sporty” and prepared for “urban” lifestyles and landscapes.
It basically does fit the description to one degree or another in three versions available in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive – a hybrid NX 300h, the non-hybrid NX 200T and an F-Sport variant of the 200T.
And as a first at HybridCars.com, we are not reviewing the hybrid! Yet.
As of press time Lexus was unable to supply its sixth hybrid model, as the NX 300h was not available from its East Coast press fleet.
We will review it when possible, and meanwhile will have gained some perspective with the non-hybrid – in this case a nicely optioned front-wheel-drive NX 200T that was officially labeled a “prototype” although it may only differ from one you could buy in minor detail, if at all.
New Member of the Family
In a nutshell, the NX is based upon the Toyota RAV4 with 90-percent new parts, different engines, better suspension, unique styling, and more. It is a smaller-dimensioned alternative to the RX, a popular vehicle that’s been revised and getting close to being fully overhauled.
As a fresh new crossover, the NX is a mish-mash of sedan, SUV, and hatchback design elements that’s presently trending among buyers. It drives not too differently than a sedan with a bit higher center of gravity and more cargo space. Americans have long-since veered away from orthodox station wagons and to a lesser extent, hatchbacks, but it would not be a stretch to describe the NX as a macro-sized four-door hatchback. It functions as one, but the look, of course, is Lexus’ own brand of nouveau modernistic design language which defies more traditional offerings.
‘First’ Lexus Turbo
Lexus is following a trend itself – into the realm of downsized engines boosted with forced induction for improved economy and emissions.
Paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission, and three-modes Normal, ECO, and Sport, the 2.0-liter turbo is one of the first turbos for the company since a limited availability Japanese-market turbocharged version of the GS300 called the Aristo. That engine later made its way into the Supra. Since Lexus says in its press materials the NX is equipped with the company’s first turbo you will find that widely reported. Technically it’s correct because the Aristo was badged a Toyota in the home market, and for the U.S. market it’s unequivocally true.
In any event, the NX’s all-new DOHC twin-scroll turbo inline-four delivers a rated 235 horsepower from 4,800-5,600 rpm, and peak torque of 258 pounds feet is achieved from a fairly low 1,650 rpm through 4,000 rpm.
Truly unique for this engine is the integrated exhaust manifold intended to minimize turbo lag by pairing cylinders according to their expansion or compression stroke to reduce pumping losses and eliminate exhaust gas interference.
And also novel is Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-iW) which lets the engine start in the Otto cycle – like any normal gas engine, and it can also run in the more efficient Atkinson cycle. This latter cycle is what hybrids normally use full time and involves late closing of the intake valves to reduce pumping losses and increase efficiency.
Some power is cut in the Atkinson cycle, but the computer brain calls it into operation when full potency is not needed, so it’s one more clever trick eking out mildly improved fuel economy short of hybridization which produces even better gains.
Official EPA numbers for the FWD are: 22 mpg city, 28 highway, and 25 combined; the AWD is rated 22 city, 28 highway, 24 combined. No, that identical combined figure is not a typo. On the EPA’s cycle the AWD may perform a tad less efficiently but not enough to demote the highway and city scores a full point.
By comparison the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle NX 300h hybrid is rated 8 mpg better combined in AWD and FWD models respectively. The AWD hybrid version is unique also in that it has a 67-horsepower rear motor for provide all-wheel-drive, or as Lexus is fond of calling it, “All Weather Drive.”
And Lexus’ all-weather drive for the non-hybrid NX 200T is unique also in that it introduces Dynamic Torque Control AWD to improve traction and cornering stability. Torque transfer is continuously controlled between the front and rear wheels by a system using sensors for vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, throttle angle and yaw rate.
The NX has some nice angles, every one of which is highlighted in its consumer website photos to promote the functional yet cool vehicle.
An F-Sport model is the most sporty looking inside and out, and the accentuated lower mesh treatment on the “spindle grille” helps mask what looks like a snout at certain angles on the base car we drove.
Of course beauty is a subjective judgment call, some will find it thrilling, and who are we to disagree?
In any case, the NX 200T is more sporty than the bigger suburban pod, the RX, and being all new, that’s arguably a plus. Dimension-wise, it’s the same width as a RAV4 and a couple inches longer, but unmistakably a Lexus.
Pronounced wheel arches plus other interesting curves give it a shapely unique visage. LED lights, including optional LED headlights and very tasteful slices of white LED light on the top length and bottom puddle lamps on the four door handles provide a touch of class, and functionality combined.
Wheel sizes are 17-inch or optional 18-inch. The rear design treatment echoes the spindle grille in front.
Inside, the thoroughly modern interior has all you’d expect. The Enform infotainment with optional Navigation in our model and voice prompts works OK. You must give correct voice commands or you can confuse the system, but this can be overcome once you learn the ins and outs.
Our car had NuLuxe synthetic leather. It’s a nearly convincing imitation however, and might prove more serviceable and durable than genuine hides over time.
We’ve seen others praise the front seats’ comfort, but cannot quite agree being that the headrests curve inward forming your body into the inner portion of a “C” shape. It is not at first noticeable if you do not try and fit your back to the seatbacks, but if you do, the neck is angled uncomfortably forward.
If this NX were ours, we’d consider augmenting the seat backs with one of those add-on ergonomic back pads, but then that would interfere with the heated seats. To see what might be done, we reversed the headrest, but that gave too little support. If forced to live with it, we’d consider reversing the headrest and somehow bolstering it for sufficient neck support – not a great compromise – or look for some other solution like a retrofit headrest, or learn to just deal with it.
Others may not feel the same way about the seat’s support and position however, so we’d recommend sitting in the car and deciding for yourself. Maybe like others, you’ll like the seats.
Rear seats don’t have the same issue, and are surprisingly spacious despite what looks like on paper only adequate 36.1 inches of legroom.
Cargo capacity also is OK, but not stellar at 17.7 cubic feet in back. With seats folded, the car opens up quite a bit to 54.6 cubic feet to give you all the benefits of that mega quasi-hatchback you always never knew you wanted.
The hybrid, by the way reduces capacities to 16.8 cubic feet and 53.7 cubic feet respectively.
The NX is much more than a breathed-on RAV4. It adds to its MacPherson strut front suspension high-rigidity components and low-friction moving parts. Lexus notes that a new trailing arm double wishbone rear suspension separates the coil springs and dampers and aims to optimize agility, stability and ride comfort while also providing an unusually low floor for an SUV.
Lexus also touts that design engineers who’ve also done things like race cars and go-carts for fun, and help develop the exotic LFA supercar, have benchmarked the sporty IS sedan to make this NX a sporty Ute.
How It Drives
Truth be told, the NX is not as hard-core as some German competitors, and is more on the comfy but effective side of the scale.
The look and pretense are intended to evoke a sporty feel, and it is there, but this vehicle is primarily suited for such high-performance rigors as racing to and from soccer matches, the grocery store, and the office.
In that environment, it does very well. It’s mission accomplished, but we’ll note a couple of questions remaining after driving the “prototype” NX.
Others who’ve driven the NX have reported it soaks bumps remarkably like we know the RX does, and our NX did too most of the time. However, a few East Coast potholes absolutely bottomed the front struts with a solid and rude thunk. The front-wheel-drive also let the front wheels slip accelerating from a stop up a wet road and loud thump again was heard in the front suspension until we backed off the throttle. We suspect this may be something production versions won’t as often experience, but think it’s worth noting.
And otherwise, the car was all-around quiet, and smooth the other 99 percent of the time.
Acceleration is satisfying, but not scintillating. Lexus estimates a 7.0-second 0-60 time for the all-wheel-drive model, and the front-wheel-drive we drove is 7.2 seconds. In either case, this is not sports-car quick, but plenty of power at any pace and the transmission functions crisply enough.
Cornering is also more secure than the higher center-of-gravity RX. The lighter weight and designed-as-sporty NX feels more planted, and is reasonably entertaining.
A Sport setting tightens up the 6-speed transmission, and throttle response a bit, but the difference is not night-and-day.
Fuel economy observed was around 22 mpg when driven without much care, and with greater care, 26 combined can be managed, and maybe a bit more with greater care still.
The Lexus NX enters a crowded category replete with cars like the BMW X1, X3, Audi Q3, Q5, Mercedes GLA-Class and GLK, as well as Land Rover Evoque, and even down-market vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee, Honda CR-V, and more.
It trades on Lexus’ brand recognition, known reliability, the fact it is all-new, a sporty image, lots of comfort, decent efficiency, and let’s not forget – style! We humans love to think of ourselves as rational logical beings, but short of Mr. Spock, we do tend to let our feelings sway us, and the styling will be a hit or a miss promoting a yes or a no from many a buyer.
If you need to haul a lot of stuff, do also check out the larger RX, but be aware a revised RX is pending for as soon as next year.
Though not driven, we’ll note the hybrid NX 300h is now the most efficient EPA-rated vehicle in the its class. Its 0-60 time through its CVT transmission is a couple seconds slower, but low-end torque ought to be plenty sufficient from the electrified drive train, and an extra 8 mpg is respectable.
NX pricing including destination starts at $34,405 for the FWD, and $36,805. The hybrid commands a $6,240 premium starting at $40,645 for FWD, and $42,235 for AWD.
In either case, the NX does what it has been designed for and comes with a fresh look to boot.