New Lexus NX aims at the compact crossover
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Published on Sun, Jul 13, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Lexus gave LA CAR and other select media the opportunity to get up close and personal with the forthcoming 2015 Lexus NX family of small luxury utility vehicles. Sean Spear offers a quick take on Lexus’ big leap into the small ute competition.
Story by Sean Spear
Each of the marquee luxury brands has made a noticeable shift towards developing new products for the urbane under-40 market. These efforts have manifested themselves in the form of smaller, sometimes more cheaply made, sedans and crossovers. In the latter category, Mercedes’ GLK, BMW’s X3 (and even newer X1), and Audi’s Q5 already have years of presence in this niche market. However, Lexus has been noticeably absent. As a Lexus College participant put it, “We know we are late to the party.”
To design language,” said Lexus Marketing Communications Manager Brian Bolain. “Respondents in our consumer research actually linked the NX closer to our IS line [small sport sedan] rather than the RX [mid-sized sport utility].”
Lexus plans to offer the new NX in three configurations. The NX 200t can be considered the base model, equipped with the brand new 2.0-Liter I4 Twin-Scroll Turbo. Lexus’ first turbo engine is expected to produce 235hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and deliver 22 city / 28 highway miles per gallon. Mated to a new 6-speed automatic, 0-60 mph times should come in around 7.2 seconds. Also offered will be the NX 300h hybrid, equipped with a 2.5L I4 / E-CVT Hybrid transaxle producing a net 191hp and 197 lb-ft of torque. Most importantly, buyers should expect segment-leading fuel economy at 35 city / 31 highway mpg. Lastly, Lexus will bring its F-Sport moniker to the sport utility class with the NX F-Sport. Propulsion will come from the same new engine and transmission set-up found in the entry NX 200t, but with a tuned suspension, larger tires, sport seating, paddle-shifters, exterior dampers, and other unique design elements. All-Wheel Drive will be optionally available for all three trim levels.
As with most luxury vehicles these days, Lexus will offer a plethora of technology-based features. Highlights will include a Qi wireless phone charger pad, a touchpad infotainment control, Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
(RCTA), parking assist, supplemental cornering headlamps (F-Sport Only), the Lexus Enform remote control & diagnostics phone app, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure alert with steering control.
Lexus’ effort to move away from its historically safe design language is fully realized in the NX. Described as “Inner Bullet”, emphasis is on an edgy design that accentuates the proportions of an SUV. While loosely based upon the Toyota RAV4’s architecture, 90 percent of the parts in the NX are new.
Differing from the existing competition, the NX cuts a fairly tall profile with a small greenhouse but large side panels and doors. However, Lexus manages to break up the side view with a series of sharp near-horizontal crease lines flowing the length of the vehicle. Lighting elements front and rear also wrap around the corners of the vehicle to give the impression of a shorter overall length. On the other hand, the added plastic trim surrounding the wheel-wells was not very popular amongst my other colleagues in attendance. Moving to the front, Lexus’s now common waterfall grill dominates the fascia, with the F-Sport getting its own version of Lexus’ blacked-out spindle grill found on the LF-A supercar. Not to be forgotten, the rear of the car also features a unique multi-piece taillight and an adjustable-height power liftgate. Attention to detail is obvious.
Moving inside the vehicle, the waterfall design element is featured again in the form of the center instrument console. Unfortunately, its execution is less successful here. The top half of the console was angled nearly horizontal. In direct sun, both my driving partner and I found it impossible to see what buttons were activated. Additionally, the font on the button labels seemed a little dated and bland. In contrast, fit and finish, materials and comfort were all what you would expect from a luxury vehicle. It was very easy to find the perfect driving position, and the rear stadium-like seating was very comfortable for my near-six foot height. A rear-seat power plug would be nice, but otherwise it felt like it would take years to use all of the features that are available to the owner of this car.
Lexus invited us to drive a series of mapped loops around the Seattle area, culminating in a trip southeast of the city to Snoqualmie Falls. Starting with the NX 200t, the new drivetrain proved to be fully capable of moving the car in any situation. Low-end torque was sufficient to push the NX up a number of challenging hills, and to merge into highway traffic with confidence. Still, the drivetrain didn’t provide much punch, and while it seems odd to say that the car only had six-gears, the fact that most of the NX's competitors have seven and eight gears may be seen as a real deficiency for some buyers. Braking and other driving dynamics were pleasant, with good road feedback through the suspension and very even steering feel. Surprisingly similar driving dynamics were present in the NX 300h, making me feel like there was no letdown in power or performance going from the turbo to the hybrid. That being said, there was a great deal of engine whine under stress. While many hybrid drivers are use to this phenomenon, the noise was impossible to ignore. It left me wondering how Lexus’ normally brilliant sound engineers couldn’t manage to dampen the sound any better. The last drive was with the top-of-the-line F-Sport. Save for a slightly more dynamic handling and low-end growl, the vehicle preformed almost exactly the same as the NX 200t. The feature of the day was the F-Sport’s Active Sound Control (ASC). The ASC literally uses an extra speaker in the cabin to accentuate and enhance the sound coming from the engine. Under hard acceleration or downshifts, the sound becomes very prominent. While this may sound like a terrible gimmick, my driving partner and I couldn’t help but to keep turning it on and off to listen to the difference. We had to agree that the ASC does give the car more of a racing feel, but we were also happy that you could turn it off when your Speed Racer fantasy was over.
Clearly, Lexus has put a lot of time and effort into designing and building a very bold entry into the small luxury crossover market. The NX is no parts-bin late entry. However, while it is sure to get brand-loyal buyers and perhaps some new customers attracted to the youthful design, this vehicle may not be the game-changer Lexus is hoping for. But, the fact that the NX won’t hit showrooms stateside until late November still gives some time for the Lexus engineers to tweak the drivetrain mapping and address the hybrid noise. Lexus hit a homerun back in 1998 when it created the luxury crossover market with the RX. It now has the chance to show how the small luxury crossover should be done with the finished NX.
Name of vehicle:
2015 Lexus NX (200t, 300h Hybrid, and F-Sport)
TBD (identified competitors range from $36K - $52K)
EPA fuel economy ratings:
22 mpg city/28 mpg highway
2.0 liter I4 Turbo (or 2.5 liter I4 Hybrid)
Horsepower: 235 horsepower @ 4,800 rpm Torque: 258 pound-feet @ 1650 rpm Drive Configuration: front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optional) Transmission: 6-speed automatic Dimensions Length: 182.3 inches Overall Width: 83.9 inches Overall Height: 64.8 inches Ground Clearance: 6.9 inches Curb weight (lbs.): TBA Performance (manufacturer’s specifications) 0-60 mph: 7.2 seconds For more information about Lexus products, go to lexus.com [nggallery id=nx2015]