Lexus storms into the compact luxury utility segment with three different offerings including a first ever turbo for the brand.
Joining the fray
Lexus may have invented the crossover utility vehicle segment by creating the first unibody-based SUV in 1998 with the midsize RX, but the brand has been noticeably absent from the segment below it.
So while even the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Infiniti QX-50 and Cadillac SRX (the Lincoln MKX was only recently introduced) have been around for as long as the past ten years, the luxury marque from Toyota has been conspicuous by its absence.
But that is about to change in a big way when the latest offerings from Lexus begin hitting dealer showrooms in late November/early December of this year.
2015 Lexus NX
The 2015 Lexus NX makes its debut in two versions: the NX 200t that sports the first turbocharged engine in the brand's history as well as the NX 300h hybrid that brings a new transmission with a kick-down function to the table as well as a hybrid battery split into two separate pods for optimal weight distribution.
Outside, both versions feature LED headlamps and taillamps. On the 200t, the standard setup includes LED low beams and halogen high beams. Optional on the 200t and standard on the 300h are LEDs for both the low- and high-beams.
Up front, the NX features the most aggressive interpretation yet of the Lexus spindle grill and L-themed headlights. The F-sport goes a step further, replacing the standard model's horizontal grille bars with a more menacing blacked-out cross-hatch design. The F-sports also gets an aggressive chin spoiler along with re-worked, horizontal fog lights.
Those fog lights, incidentally, can also serve double duty. Standard on the 300h and optional on the 200t is a feature that, when the turn signals are activated (the L-shaped LED turn signals, themselves, illuminate sequentially), two of the fog light LEDs illuminate automatically to enhance illumination in the turn.
Along the sides there's a great deal of sculpting (the door handles, by the way, are individually lit with LEDs that also act as puddle lamps). Both the front and rear wheel wells are surrounded by prominent arches. There's also a prominent character line above the door handles as well as a deeply-creased triangularly-shaped lower character line between the wheel wells and above the door opening.
In back, the L-shaped them carries over to the three-dimensional taillight lenses that ride high on the fenders, while twin, chrome exhaust ports are integrated into a blacked-out lower fascia.
Inside, the shape of the spindle grille is cleverly integrated into the three-dimensional upper center console. Both the upper and lower dash areas feature soft touch surfaces with even the center console sporting soft "kneepads" on either side. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard and there's even an available fuel-saving "S-Flow mode" that can detect the absence of a front seat passenger and direct airflow only to the occupied driver's seat.
Speaking of seats, those found in the NX are supremely comfortable. Lexus, in fact, has taken the extraordinary step of first sewing the seat covers and then injecting the covers with foam to avoid any air pockets. They are, in a word, amazing – both comfortable and incredibly supportive.
The rest of the interior is equally spectacular. Touches include a standard 7-inch multi-information display with Lexus has substituting its haptic-feedback mouse controller with a touchpad similar to those found on laptops. There's also a small covered area aft of the palm rest sized perfectly to store a cell phone.
The new 2.0-liter turbo four features a combination water-cooled cylinder head, integrated exhaust manifold and twin-scroll turbocharger and produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. The four-into-two exhaust manifold pairs cylinders according to their expansion or compression stroke to reduce pumping losses and eliminate exhaust gas interference to improve acceleration response and widen the torque band. It's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and features both direct as well as port fuel injection and, combined with its dual variable valve timing system, allows the engine to switch between the Otto and Atkinson cycle for optimal starting, idle and performance.
The six-speed automatic transmission is all-new and designed for the turbo engine with torque-demand control logic that calculates the engine torque needed to deliver both quick response as well as optimum fuel efficiency.
Lexus tuned the 2AR-FXE 2.5-liter gasoline engine especially for the 300h. Enhancements to the drivetrain include a water- to-oil cooler for the electric drive motor and a revised front drive reduction ratio for improved fuel economy and hill climbing. The new P314 transmission provides a kick-down function for better acceleration performance.
In addition to the above mentioned goodies, standard equipment includes all power features (all windows auto up/down) plus auto on/off headlamps, smart proximity key (all 5 doors) with pushbutton start, privacy glass, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, power seats (10-way driver including power lumbar, 8-way front passenger), fold and stow rear tonneau cover, electrochromatic inside rearview mirror, Siri Eyes Free Mode, steering wheel controls, satellite radio and Bluetooth.
Options include 18-inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, heated seats (F Sport), heated and ventilated seats (NA on F Sport), park assist, heated steering wheel, lane departure alert, moonroof, power liftgate, power folding rear seat, pre-collision system with dynamic radar cruise control, wireless phone charging (Qi compatible), navigation package with voice recognition and Lexus Enform App Suite, Comfort Package with driver's seat, steering wheel and outside rearview mirror memory (power tilt/telescope), a Premium Package, Luxury Package and the F-Sport Package.
On the road
On the road, you would never suspect that the NX shares its platform with the RAV4 (fully 90 percent of its parts have been re-engineered and the NX has 20 percent greater structural rigidity). The turbo spools up effortlessly with no evidence of lag. Hit the accelerator and power is available instantly. Although our driving was limited to the streets of Nashville, the NX, at least under these circumstances, never felt underpowered.
The suspension is well-damped, and small as well as large road irregularities were easily soaked up. Tossing it rather aggressively into corners elicited no body lean whatsoever.
Inside the cabin, things are serene. F Sport models do come with a small wheel on the lower dash between the console and steering wheel that allows you to audibly enhance the sounds emanating from the engine compartment by dialing things up and it does work to a certain extent. Aside from that, the ambiance is nearly library quiet.
The Bottom Line
In addition to nothing that they expect hybrid sales to account for 10-15 percent and they believe that the F Sport version could account for up to 50 percent of the model mix, during the introduction presentation, officials from Lexus noted that they were expecting sales of 36,000 units during its first year of availability (By comparison, Cadillac sold almost 57,000 copies of the SRX last year).
After driving it, we pressed the marketing guys about that figure and they admitted that it might have been a bit "conservative."
The fact is we firmly believe that the only thing holding the NX back will be the constraints of production and that, like the RX when it was introduced, Lexus is going to sell as many NX 200ts as dealers can get their hands on.
Yes, it is that good.