Lexus NX 200t — New compact crossover luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The compact luxury crossover vehicle has suddenly become a hot commodity. Downsizing seems to be the next big thing and for luxury shoppers who favor the sedan-like ride, condensed size, tidy cabin, improved fuel economy, and small-vehicle maneuverability, a small luxury SUV seems to be the just-right ticket.

Lexus is entering the fray with its all-new and distinctively looking NX 200t, which will begin reaching dealer showrooms late this year. It will have plenty of company from such equally all-new entries as the Lincoln MKC and Mercedes-Benz GLK Class, and already established models such as the Acura RDX and Audi Q5. All come with fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engines.

Considering Lexus invented the luxury mid-sized crossover way back in 1998, it is coming late to the compact game. Despite Lexus not being first to market, don't be surprised if by this time next year the NX has become one of the top selling vehicles in the burgeoning segment as well. The NX carries distinctive Euro-styling that we think will catch the eye of many. Its copious creases, angles, and bulges and its prominent Lexus signature nose definitely stand out from the crowd.

Beyond exterior styling, we found the driving experience engaging on roads and highways around Nashville and then later on our set of roads used for comparative testing. We enjoyed the responsive steering and a slightly firmer ride than found in larger car-based crossovers. The F-Sport edition heightens the crossover's responsiveness.

The NX comes in three configurations. Standard is the 200t, powered by Lexus' new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It has more than adequate acceleration, measured in about 7 seconds from 0-to-60. The power delivery is smooth and quiet for a four-cylinder. Don't be disappointed by the lack of a V-6. It gets the job done.

If you want just a bit more, Lexus offers the F-Sport edition with a sport-tuned suspension, higher-effort steering, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and a very engaging sound control which synthesizes engine sounds in the cabin according to throttle angle when the drive mode selector is in Sport. We discovered the sound addictive. If you want a bit of sportiness in your crossover experience, consider the F-Sport.

Both the standard 200t and the F-Sport come with a six-speed automatic and both can be configured with all-wheel drive. Gas mileage is decent according to Lexus estimates (EPA figures have not been announced). Lexus expects the crossover to be rated at 22 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined in front-wheel mode.

The third configuration is a hybrid, the NX 300h, which has a total output of 194-hp from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and two electric motors in front-wheel configuration and three motors with the available all-wheel drive. The NX 300h is EPA-rated at 35 mpg city, 31 highway and 33 combined.

The NX interior is spacious for four adults. The front seats are well shaped and proved remarkably comfortable. Back-seat leg room is generous and the seats sit occupants up high for a good vantage point of their surroundings while providing excellent head room. The shortfall here comes in cargo space, which lags some competitors' offerings. There's only 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, and 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Lexus paid a lot of attention to detail in the cabin with top-notch materials that feel rich and with some neat color schemes. Such things as contrast stitching, wood trim and an analog clock are tasteful and well executed. The NX with navigation uses a new touchpad such as found on a laptop computer rather than a mouse-like joystick that has adorned recent Lexus offerings. We found the joystick very distracting, and the touchpad is no improvement.

In addition to a long list of standard equipment, Lexus offers such options as heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, a sunroof, driver memory functions, a power-folding backseat, a power liftgate, a wireless phone charging tray, automated parallel parking, blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning.

Lexus has set the base price for the NX at $35,405 including destination charge. However, options have not yet been priced. Extras on our test car included the F Sport package. We expect that package to come in at about four grand. Other extras included the navigation system, blind sport monitoring with cross-traffic alert, intuitive parking assist and a Comfort Package that adds memory driver's seat and power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. We figure a copy of our test vehicle will come in at around $43,000.

Base price: $35,405; as driven, $43,999 (est.)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 235 @ 4,800 rpm
Torque: 258 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,940 pounds
Turning circle: 34.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 54.6 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 22 city (est.)
0-60: 7.2 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Lincoln MKC, Mercedes GLK, BMW X3

The Good
• Stylish, quiet cabin
• Excellent rear passenger space
• Responsive handling with F-Sport package

The Bad
• Some key safety features optional

The Ugly
• Remote Touch interface distracting