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Lexus set for turbo era, thanks to Takeaki

Blow in: The new Lexus NX will get four-cylinder turbo power, thanks to project chief engineer Takeagi Kato who convinced his superiors it – and other Lexus models – needed it.

NX chief engineer convinced Lexus to add four-cylinder turbo to compact SUV range

27 Oct 2014

A NEW 2.0-litre turbo-charged petrol engine that is set to breathe new life into Lexus might not have happened at all without a determined push by Lexus engineer Takeaki Kato.

The Japanese chief engineer for the all-new Lexus compact SUV, the NX, confided at this week's Australian NX media launch in Adelaide that the premium Japanese brand had no plans for such an engine in the proposed line-up for the mid-sized crossover wagon.

Instead, the vehicle was likely to get a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain – as seen in the new NX 300h released in Australia this week – and possibly a six-cylinder petrol engine alternative, as used in the bigger RX SUV.

Mr Kato said that from the outset, he was determined to add a downsized turbo-petrol engine to the line-up alongside the hybrid, if only to appeal to younger buyers.

Now, the engine is not only set to power the biggest-selling variant in the new NX range – out-selling the NX300h hybrid about 60-40 on current projections in Australia – but also provide new spark in other, unnamed Lexus models.

And Mr Kato told GoAuto that the engine is also likely to turn up in at least one Toyota vehicle in “a specialty market”.

Australians will get their first taste of the 2.0-litre 175kW/349Nm engine in the Lexus NX about February next year.

Pricing for that variant has not yet been announced, but in the United States it is pitched about 20 per cent cheaper than the entry level hybrid variant, the NX 300h Luxury, that starts at $55,000 (plus on-road costs) in Australia.

Mr Kato said the engine could be delivered in various states of tune, with adjustments to turbo-charger pressure and other tweaks.

He said that although Lexus had never had such a turbo four-cylinder engine in its line-up, Toyota had years of research and development experience in such engines, dating back to its successful World Rally Championship tilt with Carlos Sainz in the 1990s.

He said development of modern turbo production engines had started at Toyota in 2005.

“(We thought that) If we mix direct-inject technologies with turbo-charging technologies, maybe we can make a good downsized engine,” he said.

Mr Kato was chief engineer of the previous-generation Lexus IS mid-sizer and RX large SUV before moving on to the NX.

“When I was assigned as chief engineer of the NX, I was in no doubt that downsizing turbo is key,” he said.

“The RX has naturally aspirated, large-displacement engines, but with NX, maybe it is better to have a downsized turbo, for our younger generation.”

Mr Kato pointed to the growing popularity of down-sized turbo fours in Audi's A4 sedan over 10 years, in which time four-cylinder engines had displaced V6 engines as the main form of powerplant.

He said his team benchmarked European small and medium SUVs such as the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz GLA during their development of the NX.

All of these models have small-displacement turbo four-cylinder engines in the line up for a combination of power and fuel economy.

Mr Kato said that while he had championed the turbo petrol engine, the hybrid powertrain alternative was still important for NX, describing it as an “important pillar” of Lexus.

Hybrid powertrains provide the Lexus answer to the Euro's diesel engines, but with fewer toxic emissions and a five-star rating.

He said he could not disclose what other Lexus models the turbo petrol engine was likely to turn up in, but conceded it was in forward plans for some other Lexus models.

Logic suggests the IS sedan and CT hatch would be prime candidates for the engine, giving both a massive shot in the arm against rivals that all have such powertrains.

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