Lexus continues to keep filling upscale vehicle market niches. I didn’t really expect to find a Stabilo Therm flask with a set of crystal shot glasses in the new 2015 Lexus NX, although this newest compact crossover vehicle is plenty luxurious–and practical.
The luxury crossover market has been growing steadily since Lexus created that market with its 1998 RX model. With the new NX, Lexus feels that it has a good shot at attracting much-desired younger buyers–singles and couples 30- 40 years old. It’s a boldly designed crossover with either a potent turbocharged engine or fuel-saving hybrid model, along with a turbo Sport version that has mainly cosmetic pizzazz.
The three NX versions, which will start at approximately $37,000 when they go on sale this fall, are the turbocharged NX 200t, hybrid NX 300h and turbo F Sport. Their racy styling, alone, likely will draw younger folks.
The NX 200t has a turbo 2-liter gasoline four-cylinder generating 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,650-4,000 r.p.m. for good overall responsiveness. This model has the first Lexus turbocharged gasoline engine, which acts like a strong V-6. Lexus says the engine was bench-tested for more than 10,000 hours before extensive on-road testing, covering more than 600,00 miles.
The fuel-thrifty NX 300h hybrid has 194 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 r.p.m.. Then there’s the turbo F Sport version. Its engine, alas, has no more power than the regular 235-horsepower turbo engine.
All come with standard front-wheel drive or their own version of “pro-active all-weather drive.”
The new four-door 182.3-inch-long hatchback NX line was revealed at a media preview of the NX in Nashville, Tenn., and surrounding countryside, which had challenging winding roads, along with congested city traffic and fast-moving freeway traffic. I tested all three NX versions.
I found that the three had remarkably good handling on winding Nashville-area roads. They drove more like a sports sedan with fast electric steering and a well-designed suspension than a 64.8-inch-high, heavy luxury crossover. The foundation for the NX’s good blend of handling agility and ride comfort is a highly rigid body structure that makes much use of high tensile steel and aluminum.
The ride is smooth, although some bumps can be felt, and the strong anti-lock brakes have a linear pedal action for smooth, sure stops.
For those who want a sportier NX to match the NX 200t’s strong performance can get the NX F Sport. It looks racier with its more aggressive grille and front lower bumper with a mesh grille insert and LED fog lamps. Its other items include a sport suspension with unique 18-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, exclusive NuLuxe- bolstered front sport seats with contrast stitching, metallic trim, black exterior mirrors and, of course, F Sport badging.
Door openings of all NX models are wide, although a rather high floor calls for extra effort to enter. There are a good number of small controls, but they’re well-marked for easy use. Cabin storage is decent, with such items as door pockets and a deep flip-top console bin.
This is a Lexus, so there are a long list of standard comfort and convenience features, including power front seats with contrast stitching, dual-zone automatic climate control and an 8-speaker sound system.
A bunch of options include heated and ventilated front seats (except in the F Sport with its special seats). Besides option packages, individual extras include a heated steering wheel, Intuitive Park Assist, Lane Departure Alert, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and, importantly to many, a sunroof.
There’s an advanced technology air bag system. And optional Dynamic Radar Cruise Control can maintain a vehicle-to-vehicle distance and even stop the NX when the vehicle ahead stops at speeds up to 37 m.p.h.
New standard and available technology includes a Lexus-first Wireless Charging Tray inside the console box. If you’ve got a compatible smartphone or other device, placing it in the tray will recharge its battery; a new Remote Touch Interface with a touch pad and a comprehensive Multi-information display that has a Lexus-first G-Force meter and turbo boost gauge. The 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-information display covers audio, fuel consumption, mileage, outside temperature, odometer, tripmeter, tire pressure, turn-by-turn navigation and shifter position.
Occupants sit higher than in a car, and there’s comfortable room in the quiet interior for four tall adults, despite a large front console. There’s room for five if the fifth occupant doesn’t mind a stiff middle rear-seat area, which is best used for the large fold-down armrest containing dual cupholders.
Seats are supportive in the nicely done upscale interior, which even has a handy sunglasses holder, but bright sunlight partly washes out gauge readings. For another Lexus-first, the NX has touch switches in the headliner for the front dome lights and map light switches.
The turbo NX 200t accelerates from 0-60 m.p.h. in 7 seconds with available all-wheel drive and 7.2 seconds with front-drive, although it’s no lightweight at 3,940-4,050 pounds. It calls for premium gas and has a new, responsive 6-speed automatic transmission, with Normal, Eco and Sport modes–besides an easily used manual-shift feature.
Estimated fuel economy of the 200t is 21-22 city and 24 on the highway.
The hybrid power system of the NX 300h hybrid can use 87-octane fuel and provides considerably higher estimated economy: 33-35 miles per gallon in the city and 30-31 on highways, with front-drive providing the higher numbers.
The 300h hybrid system works with a new electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with a special kickdown feature for greater acceleration performance. The 0-60 m.p.h time is a respectable 9 seconds,which means nobody will run over you, although–as with the 200t–the 300h is no lightweight at 4,055-4,180 pounds. The Lexus race crowd insisted on splitting the hybrid battery into two separate pods for better weight distribution to allow more efficient use of cabin space. The system uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine.
A newly designed trailing arm double-wishbone rear suspension is said to optimize agility, stability and ride comfort while providing what Lexus calls a low floor for this type of vehicle. That makes sense, but, as previously noted, the step-in is somewhat high, compared to that of a car, and the cargo floor also is rather high, although it’s wide enough to stow four golf bags sideways.
The cargo area is large, and the thick rear seatbacks sit flat to provide excellent cargo room. This is the first Lexus optional power folding 60/40 split/recline rear seat. The pass-through area between the cargo and rear-seat areas is plenty large. A handy optional power liftgate includes memory height so, for instance, it won’t strike the bottom of an opened garage door.
Lexus hopes to sell 36,000 NX models during its first full year on the market. It just might do that.
Pros: Rakish. Posh. Fast turbo model. Agile. Comfortable. Hybrid model economy. Available all-wheel drive. New on-board technology.
Cons: Rather high trunk and passenger floors. Bright sun partially washes out gauge readings. No added power for Sport version.
Bottom Line: One of the top luxury compact crossovers.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.