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Car reviews - Lexus - NX - 200t

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, refinement, value, features, cabin ambience, reliability, responsive steering
Room for improvement
Firm ride in 18s, divisive styling, very non-sporty dynamics even in Sport mode

Lexus logo6 Feb 2015

LEXUS has at last introduced a luxury SUV we’d happily recommend.

Of course, we’re talking about the NX in 200t guise – with a brand-first four-cylinder turbo engine that’s been nearly a decade in the making. That it’s also been subjected to Toyota’s extremely obsessive reliability and durability endurance regimes means that this is something worth sitting up and taking notice of.

While it is visually identical to the 300h petrol-electric version released last October, the two SUVs have decidedly differing personalities. And we’re pleased to reveal that the newcomer no longer means the NX drives and sounds like a jumped-up Camry Hybrid!We only managed to sample one NX – a 200h Luxury AWD retailing from $57,000 plus on-road costs, but the message is loud and clear: this might be the most desirable mass production Lexus engine this side of the brand’s fabulous V8!From the moment the start button is prodded, the 1998cc 8AR-FTS 2.0-litre twin-cam four-pot turbo belter feels right for a vehicle with luxury aspirations, idling away silently and smoothly.

Slot the gear lever in Drive, and the turbine-like refinement is overshadowed by the urgency of the accelerator’s response, with the 200t bounding forward with very real intent.

And while it may be an old transmission now, the revamped six-speed torque converter auto seems to always be in the correct gear, switching ratios smartly and instantly, for utterly effortless progress. Wow. After the shrieking hysterics of the 300h’s 2.5-litre hybrid, the calm and tranquillity of the 200t’s drivetrain is there to be savoured.

Be careful, however. This is an eager performer, and so you might find yourself bolting past speed cameras at license-losing velocities. We cannot wait to see this bolshie little turbo beauty in other Lexii, including under the bonnet of the IS.

We’re also a little surprised, but in a pleasant way, by the measured weight and responses of the electric power steering – perhaps because the 8AR-FTS engine weighs just 160kg.

However, in no way would we call the lion-hearted 200t sporty.

Yes, the helm reacts with easy and drama-free cornering, backed up by excellent AWD grip (on a balmy 26 degree day, admittedly).

But the NX still feels heavy and a bit of a handful through tighter turns, the body pitching and moving around too much for the vehicle to be considered dynamically athletic. Fast it may be in a straight line, but given a decent twisty road and even this 200t feels about as at-home there as the burlier actors sweating out on the gym equipment in Olivia Newton John’s Physical video.

Our biggest gripe, however, is that all that sweet mechanical refinement is somewhat undermined by the busy ride quality emanating from the 225/60R18 wheel and tyre package. Why can’t we have a more supple and comfortable suspension tune in the base Luxury? Even the badge implies cosseting calmness, but in the NX 200t, over anything but smooth surfaces there are none.

Lexus isn’t the first to do this – BMW’s new X6 rides on minimum 20-inch rubber and the results are punishing – but that’s no excuse. Sacrificing ride compliance at the altar of aesthetics is something we thought was below Toyota’s luxury brand.

Never mind. At least the 200t is massively more on-brand than the confused and confounding 300h. If you’re in the market for a sub-$60,000 medium-sized SUV with real space, a fabulously inviting interior design, sumptuous seating, exquisite build quality and all the bells and whistles you would ever need, then the 200t Luxury AWD should be on your test-drive short-list.

Now that’s a recommendation over an Audi Q5, BMW X1 or Volvo XC60 we thought we’d never hear ourselves saying.

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