Car reviews - Lexus - NX - 200t
Distinctive styling, quiet ride, loads of safety kit, luxury-car quality
Room for improvement
Needs more forward gears, high boot floor awkward for smaller owners, overly sensitive touchpad
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29 Sep 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
The NX is aimed at the prestige mid-size SUV segment, facing up against BMW, Audi and more recently, Mercedes-Benz.
But rather than a trickle-down model from a bigger version, the NX is actually a bottom-up model and will inspire the features of the next-generation large-size Lexus RX.
Going it alone has meant the NX caries over nothing from the soon-to-be departed current RX that arrives afresh later this year.
The platform is new as is the drivetrain and even the styling takes its razor-edged design more from the Lexus passenger-car models than anything from the all-wheel-drive stable.
Lexus has eight NX variants spanning petrol and petrol-electric hybrid, all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive and a price chasm of $52,500 plus on-road costs to $75,000 plus costs.
The tested variant is the NX200t Sports Luxury at $72,100 plus on-road costs.
Its position on the upper rungs of the model ladder reflects the standard equipment. The NX200t designation indicates the new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that becomes an option to the NX300 hybrid models. The hybrids add about $2900 to the NX200t price.
Sports Luxury equipment includes satellite navigation, four cameras that give a birdseye view for parking, a breadth of safety equipment (see Safety section), a 14-speaker audio system with digital radio, central monitor with finger-pad control, electric tailgate and sunroof.
There’s not a lot of room for options, though metallic paint will add $1500.
The hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em quick methodology of marketing has been employed by Lexus to make first-timers instantly smitten with the brand.
The cabin is superbly designed and no rival shares its showmanship of attractive two-tone leather seats, radically-shaped dashboard with its distinctive tiers and asymmetrical layout and the use of contrasting colours.
Note the high placement of the centre screen, the large ventilation outlets and the analogue clock.
Despite the dashboard shape, switchgear is easy to locate and instruments are clear and bright. The small touchpad that operates the screen commands is located alongside the gearshifter, ahead of the electric brake, so controls are easily accessed and the layout is intuitive. The touchpad is an excellent idea but it’s very sensitive and can be difficult to get the cursor placement correct.
Lexus’ three-mode driver select control, a rotary button that changes the drivetrain mapping from economy through to normal and sport, also lives on the console.
There’s also well-placed and liberal personal storage space, led by the centre console’s lidded bin and including two cupholders, a small but deep pocket with a lid, tray space under the centre stack and bottle holders in all doors plus a useable glovebox, once the owner’s manual is removed.
The NX range shares the platform dimensions – but not the actual platform – with the Toyota RAV4, with a 2660mm wheelbase. That doesn’t accurately reflect the cabin room, as the flat rear floor and above-average rear-seat legroom make it capable of accommodating five adults.
This wheelbase is one of the smallest in its class. For example, the Audi Q5 is the same length but has a wheelbase that is 147mm longer while the BMW X3 is 18mm longer and has a 150mm longer base.
Yet it doesn’t seem to affect the Lexus’ rear-seat space as it still comes up well against this opposition.
The rear seat is split and folds flat or carting bulky luggage and the floor is high to make loading and unloading less of a strain – unless you’re not especially tall.
The electric button to close the tailgate is also a long way from the ground and perhaps a D-pillar button – as used by the Jeep Grand Cherokee – would be better.
Cargo capacity is 500 litres with the rear seats upright and 1545 litres when folded. Compare this with the RAV4 at 577 and 760 litres respectively.
Engine and transmission
The technology assembled to create the 2.0-litre engine is impressive – so much so that when launched, it was clear that the NX wouldn’t be its only recipient.
The engine is now confirmed for duty in the IS sedan range, the bigger GS model, the forthcoming RX SUV range and even the RC coupe.
Its popularity is because Lexus has spent a small fortune on making this four-cylinder engine – its first turbocharged engine for volume production – just right for future models.
In the NX it delivers a calm 175kW at 5600rpm and torque of 350Nm at 1650rpm through to 4000rpm. The figures are similar to the NX’s petrol-fuelled rivals and that is unlikely to be a coincidence.
Here’s some of its dazzling features: variable-valve timing and lift with the ability to move on demand from a conventional Otto cycle to the low-pressure Atkinson cycle to save fuel direct and indirect high-pressure fuel injection twin-scroll turbocharger roller-rocker valve gear offset crankshaft to reduce piston friction and an engine block made of special alloy so it weighs only 160kg.
On the road it impresses instantly with its torque delivery and almost total lack of turbo lag. The power is seamless, always smooth and surprisingly quiet.
It’s quick but the technology would indicate it could be even quicker. Lexus saved an extra 5kW for the IS200t sedan.
The three-mode drive select system can dull the engine to maximise fuel economy or send the drivetrain response times racing for some lively reaction to accelerator pedal pressure.
Basically, the Eco mode is when traffic is congested or time has no relevance.
It makes the whole package feels sluggish and out of character with the NX’s image.
There’s a Normal’ position which is really the preferred position, though Sport sharpens gear shift points and justifies the steering-wheel paddle shifters.
The six-speed gearbox is a carryover from other models and while smooth and efficient, would improve performance and economy by adding two more cogs.
The IS200t, for example, will have an eight-speed gearbox though that’s in a longitudinal layout, unlike the NX200t’s transverse position.
The fuel economy is quoted at 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres with the test average of freeway, suburbia, city and some off-road routes, averaging 9.7L/100km. It requires 95RON petrol and draws from a 60-litre tank.
Ride and handling
It’s always going to be a compromise but the Lexus has hit the sweet spot for prestige buyers.
Where the German rivals are firm and more responsive to a driver’s demands, the Lexus moves slightly to the comfort side. The steering is positive but more assisted than the rivals, so it is perfectly light for city and parking manoeuvres but feels light around the streets.
It’s a characteristic many motorists will prefer. After all, that’s in keeping with the prestige nature of the brand.
It can be hustled along quickly and shows good grip, especially in the wet where the on-demand all-wheel drive will kick in and drive the rear wheels.
Ride comfort is excellent. We spent a lot of time in the back seat being chauffeured around and though the headroom is a bit tight (with the sunroof model), it’s very comfortable and quiet. Back seats are usually the noisiest part of the cabin but the Lexus rates as one of the best and, in particularly, in its suppression of tyre noise.
The NX uses MacPherson front suspension with multi-links and coils at the rear, so is conventional in its design. But it has sophisticated dampers that get the ride and handling combination spot on.
Electric-assisted power steering is also very good and though there’s a bit of vagueness and a lack of feel in some situations, few owners will complain.
The turning circle of 12.1m is wide for a vehicle of this size and will require a few stabs at a parking bay to get it right.
Safety and servicing
The NX200t gets a five-star crash rating and a rich safety inventory that includes a handy 360-degree camera. There’s also rear cross-path traffic monitoring, lane departure warning with a passive steering function, blind-spot monitor and a low-speed collision avoidance system that includes a pre-emptive warning.
The wagon has eight airbags, front and rear park sensors, a reversing camera with guidance, and a tyre pressure monitor.
Its passive safety extends to LED headlights with washers, LED tail-lights and daytime running lights, and automatic headlights and wipers.
Lexus has a four-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty with roadside assistance.
There is no capped-price service program but the company has a menu system of service costs.
Glass’s Guide predicts that the NX200t Sports Luxury will have a resale value after three years of 53 per cent, less than its rivals. The Audi Q5, for example, is estimated to have a 63 per cent resale value.
It’s the right size and its price and performance are on par with the European competitors. The NX200t Sports Luxury packs in the features and on a dollar-for-dollar basis, comes up trumps.
It’s roomy enough for a couple and two children though its main market will be for couples.
The Sports Luxury is expensive and by losing a few features and a not insignificant $15,110, the entry-level Luxury is probably better value.
BMW X3 xDrive28i from $73,010 plus on-road costs
City-friendly packaging makes this more appealing to the urban landscape than big brother X5 and despite the 2.0-litre engine, whacks out plenty of oomph. The 180kW/350Nm turbo-petrol uses 95RON fuel and claims 7.5L/100km. It can’t beat the Lexus or Mercedes for comprehensive safety kit but has the biggest boot. BMW has a pre-paid service menu, a three-year unlimited distance warranty and Glass’s Guide gives it a 61 per cent resale value after three years.
Mercedes-Benz GLA250 from $58,600 plus on-road costs
New A-Class platform makes this a sporty SUV with a lot of car-like performance characteristics. It has a 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and claims 7.0L/100km. It’s the shortest SUV here and has the smallest boot.
But safety equipment is excellent including autonomous collision avoidance, automated steering and blind-spot monitor. Like the BMW, there’s a pre-paid service program and a similar warranty. Its estimated resale value is 57 per cent.
Audi Q5 2.0TFSI from $63,210 plus on-road costs
Excellent dynamics and near-perfect quality make this a favourite and reflect its highest resale value of 63 per cent. Like its rivals, it has a turbo-petrol 2.0-litre engine rated at 165kW/350Nm driving all wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Its fuel economy is claimed at 7.9L/100km. The boot is almost up to the BMW at 540-1560 litres. But safety gear and features are a bit shy of the rivals. The service program and warranty echoes that of its German competitors.
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