2015 Lexus NX first drive
Downsized but on point
Photo: Mark Atkinson
Whistler, B.C. – Lexus has taken heat for its long entrance into the red-hot compact luxury SUV segment, but to be fair they didn’t need to rush. The Canadian-built RX, one of the segment originators, continues to populate driveways year after year thanks to an ideal combination of features, a posh interior and badge appeal. So when deciding how to complement the RX with a smaller sibling, important and risky questions were asked.
On the one hand, Lexus could have churned out a smaller version of the RX – a cushy and comfortable if anonymous little crossover. It would have certainly sold well in North America. However, with the global market on Lexus’s mind, it went the bold route for the NX. It’s certain to be a bit of a stylistic shock to North Americans, but will undoubtedly cause buyers from Europe and Asia to perk up and take note.
Turbo engine a first for Lexus
Photo: Mark Atkinson
Our first impressions of the new NX are pretty good with the on-paper specs looking competitive. The NX 200t features Lexus’ first turbocharged engine, using a 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder that has a twin-scroll turbocharger, intercooler and variable valve timing. Its final ratings of 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque plateauing from just-over 1,600 rpm to 4,000 rpm, are similar to its rivals. Interestingly, the engine can run on the ultra-lean Atkinson cycle when conditions permit, presumably in an effort to save fuel.
To combat the increasingly common turbodiesel versions popular with rivals, Lexus counters with the 300h hybrid. The Atkinson-cycle (there it is again!) 2.5-litre four-cylinder and two electric motors combine to deliver 194 horsepower. And while Lexus quotes the gas-only torque figure as 152 lb.-ft., the electric motors obviously add something to the mix. This combination is also found in the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES 300h where it drastically lowers fuel consumption at the cost of motivation and aural pleasure.
As you’d expect from a premium SUV to be sold in Canada, all-wheel drive is standard on every NX, although not an especially sophisticated system. In ideal conditions like straight-line cruising on dry pavement, the NX remains front-drive, but if slip is detected, power can be sent rearwards, up to 50/50 front-rear. It can’t, however, send all of its power to the rear wheels, or torque vector – the ability to alter the power split between the left and right sides of the car.
Transferring power from the engine to the wheels is done via a six-speed automatic transmission in the 200t and a CVT in the hybrid. Why only six speeds when others are already offering seven- and eight-speed 'boxes? Lexus program head Takeaki Kato figured it would be simpler to design and meant fewer headaches during development.
Fuel mileage figures absent for now
Photo: Mark Atkinson
While official fuel-economy ratings haven’t been announced, my observed averages over the day’s driving looks in the ballpark of what rivals provide. Starting in Whistler village, the 300h was pounded up and down the Sea-to-Sky route, ending in North Vancouver for lunch. During the trip, it averaged 9.7 L/100 km. The 200t went back the same way, passing Whistler, heading up around Pemberton before turning around and finishing back in the village. It averaged 10.2 L/100 km by the trip's end. Lexus claims an identical curb weight between the turbo and hybrid models – 1,755 kg. While in isolation that appears portly, in reality it’s around 100 kg less hefty than the Germans, and on par with the V6-powered Acura RDX.
The chassis shares similarities with the CT although the NX is significantly larger. MacPherson struts are used up front and a double-wishbone setup in the back. The majority of NX’ use 18-inch wheels, although base models do have 17s. Volume 200t and 300h models are tuned for a comfortable ride, but it’s not especially satisfying for enthusiasts. That’s left to the F Sport, which has a tighter setup with retuned springs and dampers, and optional active shocks that Lexus engineers figure puts the NX into the same league as its competitors’ in-house performance divisions.
The remaining differences between F Sport and regular NX models are purely visual. There’s a unique lower front fascia that looks even more enormous in the flesh, but really improves the silhouette. Most of the exterior trim pieces are colour coded or black rather than chrome, and there are F Sport-only wheels that are the best-looking of the bunch. Inside, you’ll find unique sport seats that are seriously supportive, a different steering wheel with paddle shift controls, some different badging and small details that are nicely executed.
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