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Driven: Lexus NX bolts from the starting gates

Finally here: Lexus Australia has its hands on the new NX compact SUV at last, giving it the ammunition it needs in the fast-growing luxury compact crossover market.

Queue of buyers set to make Lexus' first compact SUV a winner – if stock permits

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Lexus logo27 Oct 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

LEXUS' first compact SUV, the NX, is set to become a top-three seller for the the Japanese luxury marque in Australia, pulling a new breed of buyer into the showrooms.

This has already become evident before the vehicle's formal launch in Australia this week, with at least 300 customers placing deposits for the edgy crossover wagon.

The demand could become a temporary headache for Lexus Australia, as heavy sales in other markets, particularly Japan and Europe, are threatening to constrict supply until early next year.

For now, the long-awaited NX has been launched in petrol-electric 300h hybrid form, but a petrol 2.0-litre turbo version, called NX 200t, will provide reinforcements from about February next year.

With styling largely true to the LF-NX concept shown a year ago at the Frankfurt motor show, the NX slots into the Lexus SUV range below the large RX and even larger LX, answering the prayers of Lexus Australia which has been forced to stand on the sidelines while watching its European rivals corner the luxury compact SUV market.

Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said he is confident the NX will drive new growth at Lexus, fitting perfectly into the fastest growing segment of the market and hitting a “sweet spot” between small and medium SUVs.

He said he expected the upcoming new turbo four-cylinder petrol engine – the first at Lexus – to expand NX sales even further from the first quarter of next year.

“I expect the 2.0-litre turbo to take about 60 per cent of sales, with the hybrid taking the other 40 per cent,” he said.

As always at Lexus, no diesel is planned.

Regardless, the NX might even dislodge the current Lexus sales champions, the IS mid-sized sedan and RX large SUV, from the top of its own sales charts.

Officially, the NX is classed as a small luxury SUV in the VFACTS sales classifications, up against rivals such as the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3, but its size and pricing will more likely pit it against bigger units such as the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60.

With hybrid NX prices starting at $55,000, plus on-road costs, and rising to $75,000, the 300h is in the same territory as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, which between them dominate the medium luxury SUV segment that has enjoyed 7.2 per cent sales growth so far this year in an overall market that is slightly down.

Although based on Toyota’s latest RAV4 medium SUV, the NX’s platform is said to be 90 per cent new, delivering a 20 per cent stiffer body.

Techniques such as body adhesive and laser screw welding – pioneered on other Lexus models – were used to add rigidity, along with additional bracing and widespread use of high-strength steel and aluminium.

The comprehensively equipped NX 300h comes in three flavours – Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury. Luxury is offered in a choice of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is standard fare on F Sport and Sports Luxury levels.

While the mid-range NX F Sport gets the serious 'Darth Vader' black mesh “spindle grille”, the Luxury and Sport Luxury variants are graced with a more sedate slatted affair that is less likely to scare suburban consumers.

The 300h range is powered by a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain borrowed from the large Lexus ES sedan, employing a 114kW 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine that, when combined with a 105kW electric motor, pumps 147kW of power to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

All-wheel drive variants employ a second electric motor that pushes 50kW of extra power to the rear wheels in a system dubbed E-Four.

This system – already used on the large Lexus RX – eliminates the need for a heavy tailshaft connecting the front powertrain to the rear axle while still achieving all-wheel grip when the going gets slippery.

The 2WD Luxury is the lightest of the variants at 1740kg and thus the most efficient, sipping just 5.6 litre of 91RON petrol per 100km on the combined test cycle and puffing out 131 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

The all-wheel drive versions use a tad more, at 5.7L/100km, while emitting 133g/km of CO2.

Compared with petrol rivals, these figures represent a saving of about 2.0 litres per 100km or roughly 25 per cent.

Diesel rivals such as the four-cylinder Volvo XC60, however, use as little as 4.9L/100km and emit just 127g/km.

Lexus is quick to point out that its Euro 5 hybrid powertrain is cleaner on toxic emissions, becoming the first SUV in its class to earn five stars.

The NX also can be driven on electric power at up to 45km/h for short distances. In reverse gear, it always uses only electric motivation.

The NX covers the 0-100km/h sprint in 9.2 seconds, which places it mid field among its rivals on acceleration performance.

However, Lexus says the NX has the jump on the opposition in cabin space and luggage room.

With the rear seats up, the NX can consume 475 litres of cargo, or 1520 litres with the seats folded. Items up to 948mm long can be carried with the seats up.

As well, those rear seats have power adjustment – another first in class.

Until the petrol-only four-cylinder 200t comes along, the most affordable Lexus NX is the $55,000 (plus on-road costs) Luxury 2WD that, as its name would indicate, comes with a high level of standard features in typical Lexus fashion.

Satellite navigation, power tailgate, three driving modes, heated front seats with eight-way power adjustment, keyless start, 18-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera and 10-speaker audio system with digital radio and Bluetooth are all included. All-wheel drive costs $4500 extraApart from a sports bodykit and interior styling tweaks, the $66,000 F Sport adds all-wheel drive as standard equipment, along with adaptive variable suspension, 360-degree view monitor, paddle shifters, an extra driving model (Sport+), wireless induction charger for suitable mobile phones, blind spot monitor, cross traffic alert, paddle shifters, performance dampers, all-LED headlamps and 10-way electrically adjustable seats with both heating and cooling.

Moving up to the flagship $75,000 Sports Luxury not only adds leather upholstery and wood-grain trim but a bundle of safety systems such as pre-collision, active cruise control, lane departure warning and head up display.

A 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, moonroof, automatic high beam headlights and smart key card are also standard fare (and optional on F Sport).

Lexus NX pricing*
Luxury 2WD$55,000
Luxury AWD$59,500
F Sport AWD$66,000
Sports Luxury AWD$75,000
*Excludes on-road costs.

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