First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: Lexus NX

Lexus joins the burgeoning compact luxury CUV market

2015 Lexus NX
WHISTLER, BC – Lexus chose one of Canada’s most scenic locations for the global unveiling of its new NX utility vehicle. That visual connection is critical since this is one of the most highly stylized vehicles in the relatively brief history of Lexus.

2015 Lexus NX.JPGThe 2015 NX gives Toyota’s luxury division a new entry-level CUV aimed at attracting new and younger people to the brand. The NX enters a burgeoning sector. The compact luxury CUV market is hot, with Mercedes bringing the GLA and BMW the X1 to the fray and Audi due soon with its Q3.

While roughly based on the platform that serves beneath the Toyota RAV4, the NX bears no resemblance to that popular CUV. Its wheelbase and width are the same but everything else, inside and out, including the drivetrain and point of assembly differs.

Highly stylized
Every time you look at the NX, you notice something else the design team spent extra time on in the interests of aerodynamics or style, whether it be the LED light clusters at either end, the mirrors or a body panel. Design details abound from the corporate spindle grill to the elaborate tailgate. 

Recognizing that nobody uses a key to gain access to a vehicle in this day and age, there is no visible key hole in or near the door handle. Should you actually need to use the key built into the remote fob, the key barrel is hidden, accessed by pulling out the handle, which features integrated lighting so you can do so in the dark.

2015 Lexus NX.JPGThe interior is also heavily styled with nary a flat, uninterrupted surface to be found. The instrument panel has four highly-legible analog instruments flanking a configurable 10-cm TFT display. The centre stack is topped by an 18-cm VGA display used for navigation, infotainment and rear-view camera information. Like similar recent efforts by Mazda and Mercedes, it is meant to look like a stand-alone iPod.

The NX has an electric parking brake and an adjustable colour HUD (heads-up display). The infotainment system is controlled by the latest generation remote touch interface using gesture controls and the sub-woofer of the audio upgrade system is in the rear cargo door.  

2015 Lexus NX.JPGThe front buckets are well bolstered and provide lots of support to critical areas of the anatomy. The rear seat comfortably accommodates a pair of adults and folds almost flat without having to remove the head restraints. The rear cargo area is the longest in the segment.

Available features include a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert, a camera-based lane departure warning system and radar-based cruise control with a pre-collision warning system. 

There are a variety of unique touches including a wireless charging tray, developed by Lexus, for Apple products, a cup-holder that allows you to open a bottle with one hand and a G-sensor on the F-Sport model that allows the driver to monitor acceleration, braking and cornering forces.  That instrument is perhaps a stretch since neither cornering nor acceleration forces will test its extremes.

Two powertrains
The NX comes from Japan with two available drivetrains, the NX 200t with the first turbocharged engine in Lexus history and the 300h hybrid.  

The NX 200t’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is all-new from crankshaft to valve-train. It has “fan-spray” direct injection, a twin scroll turbo and uniquely operates on the Atkinson cycle to maximize fuel efficiency, switching to the normal Otto cycle when power is a priority. The result is 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

This engine has undergone more than three-million kilometres of testing in the real world, hidden under the hood of various Toyota and Lexus products. It is paired with a six-speed automatic and full-time all-wheel-drive system.  

The NX 300h hybrid shares its drivetrain with the ES350h – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor producing a combined net output of 194 horspower.

Behind the wheel
Both 200t and 300h versions provide more than adequate, if not impressive, power. They are silky smooth and quiet under all conditions. 

The six-speed automatic and F-Sport combination is suited to anyone with a tendency to explore the performance envelope. The CVT-hybrid combination is best left to those who place fuel efficiency atop their priority list and rarely use extended periods of wide open throttle.

2015 Lexus NX.JPGThe MacPherson strut front and independent rear suspension provide a modicum of prowess on the twisty bits but this is still a rather tall and heavy vehicle so don’t expect it to double as an autocross entry on the weekend. The ride quality is composed at all times with no head toss or other signs you are in an SUV.

The 200t can be equipped with a variety of upgrade packages, the 300h comes fully equipped and an F-Sport model will be available in two guises, Series 1 and Series 2 with unique styling inside and out including exclusive sport seats. Its steering, brake and suspension systems have all been tuned for more enthusiastic motoring.

Lexus is in the midst of a concerted attempt to alter its staid image into one more attractive to youth. The NX is a clear example of that change. Due in dealer lots this fall it will be followed by the new RC coupe. Details of pricing and fuel consumption are not yet available.

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