Driving the Tour of California in a Lexus SUV, #1

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After driving the first three stages of the Amgen Tour of California in my weekly driver, a 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport, I stopped for my first refuel of the race’s 10th edition. Lexus is a sponsor of the event and it has provided vehicles for staff and media members.

The Lexus NX 200t is a five-passenger, compact luxury crossover new for this year. The sport model I’m driving for 10 days embellishes the standard equipment with a half-dozen items to make the vehicle, well . . . more sporty.

The upgraded features includes 18-inch wheels (instead of standard 17s) as well as summer tires, a sport-tuned suspension, transmission paddle shifter, performance gauges, upgraded interior trim and a sportier engine note (synthesized through the car’s system).

Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, LED foglights and running lights, rear privacy glass, keyless ignition and entry, driver-selectable vehicle dynamics settings, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, “NuLuxe” premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (with two-way power driver lumbar adjustment), a 60/40-split folding and reclining rear seat, a cargo cover and an auto-dimming mirror.

The new 2015 Lexus 200t F Sport. Images © James Raia/2015
The new 2015 Lexus 200t F Sport. Images © James Raia/2015

Standard technology features include a 7-inch display screen, a rear view camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Siri-based voice controls and readouts for iPhones, the Display Audio electronics interface and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.

It has a 2.0-liter, turbo-charged engine with 235 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission.

My first day’s roundtrip from Sacramento to Lodi on stage 2 was only 68 miles, almost all freeway miles. On stage 3, I drove to San Jose for the start of the stage and then a three-hour post-stage trek to Pismo Beach, a mostly high-speed haul along Highway 101. In all, the first tank of fuel took me 297 miles, and primary on freeways and at least at 70 mph. I often used the air conditioner.

The new Lexus SUV is at its best (at least so far) at freeway speeds. There’s a slight starting lag when accelerating, but once at 50 mph, the smoothness of the drive and the vehicle’s maneuvering on winding roads is impressive.

Lexus lists the the new compact SUV with EPA estimates of 22 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg in highway driving. My refuel: 12.1 gallons at $3.89 per gallon. The cost was $47.25 and my average mpg was 24.52.

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