LEXUS HITS THE BULLSEYE
Last year, Lexus jumped into the small luxury SUV market with a new model called the NX. The NX was a big hit right from the start. Nearly 44,000 of them found owners in 2015. This year the NX is on track for even more sales. The reason for its success is that it has all the right stuff—distinctive styling, luxurious cabin, high-tech options and a sporty driving experience.
The NX has boldest styling of any crossover in its class. It starts with a very aggressive nose that features a sharply angled “spindle” grille, along with slanting LED headlamps and running lights. This macho image is enhanced by strong character lines on the flanks, and large black-rimmed fender flares. Bright, multi-spoke alloy wheels complete the picture.
Step inside the NX and you are greeted by elegant leather trim with contrasting stitching on the dash, armrests and center console. More contrasting stitching decorates the seats. A seven-inch screen stands up in the center dash—too bad it’s not a pop-up. An optional touch pad activates a curser to select audio and other features. This system looks cool, but can be a distraction when you’re on the road. However, radio tuning can also be dealt with by conventional knobs on the control panel.
The NX offers seating for five. Front passengers have multiple power adjusters to insure their comfort. Those in the rear also do well with decent headroom, and enough space to stretch their legs. Backseats can be power operated to fold out of the way by pressing buttons on the dash, or in the cargo area. However, cargo space itself is rather skimpy at just 17.7-cu.ft.
The NX comes well equipped with standard features, like keyless entry and start, automatic air conditioning, rearview camera and Siri-based voice controls for iPhones. Notable options such as navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, a power liftgate, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert are available too. The last option, in particular, may be the most important. It can save your bacon both on the highway, and in parking lots too.
Lexus offers its compact crossover in two versions, the conventional NX 200t and the hybrid NX 300h. The gas-powered 200t gets a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine that generates 235 hp, and is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 300h, on the other hand, uses a 2.5-liter four-banger, two motor/generators (three with all-wheel drive) and a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack to generate power. A CVT transmission transfers torque to the pavement. The 300h gets 33 mpg in city/hwy driving—the 200t comes in at 25.
My test car this time was a 200t with the F Sport package. This option adds a sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, a more robust exhaust note, fancier wheels and special trim. Unfortunately, it also delivers a harsh ride. The stiff suspension transfers every bump in the road to your backside, and it can be downright uncomfortable on a poorly maintained road.
The standard 200t, or for that matter, the 300h, should be sporty enough to satisfy most buyers. They are better balanced overall. The handling is just about as crisp as a car with the F-Sport package, and ride, while firm, is not bone jarring.
The NX faces strong competition in the compact luxury SUV class from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, to mention just a few, but this Lexus can hold its own against all comers. Pricing starts at $35,905 for the 200t, and $40,660 for the 300h. My 200t test car, with most available options, had a suggested retail price of $43,965.
Good Roadability (except F-Sport)