Lexus joins the luxury compact crossover segment this fall with the all-new 2015 NX luxury compact in three trim level versions designed and engineered to appeal to a wide range of drivers. The trim level options are a turbo NX 200t and a hybrid NX 300h - plus, for the sporty performance seekers, the NX 200t F Sport.
All of the new NX series are built on the Toyota RAV4 platform with some modification - making it a bit longer - to accommodate Lexus styling and innovation in order to enhance its luxury level performance. Each of the three trim levels is offered with either front wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
Recently, Lexus invited to do a first drive of the new NX luxury compact crossover utility vehicles in Seattle. As with many of these first drives, the time behind the wheel of each trim level vehicle was all too short – but more than sufficient to give us some indication that there is serious promise for these vehicles when they arrive in dealerships later this year. We did get time in all of the three trim types, but not into front-wheel or all-wheel in each.
Our impression is that, first and foremost, no matter the trim level, each is truly a Lexus with the iconic styling, engineering and luxury that you would expect from Lexus - complete with a nice range of features and details – some new as well as a number of improved Lexus features that make the new NX series stand out.
Across the line, several features (standard or available as options) stood out in the new Lexus NX from our roughly five hours of driving through the city and out into the foothills above Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls. The drive routes were only moderately challenging, but did give a good range of city stop and go, two lane country roads and freeways to experience the new 2015 Lexus NX compact crossover utility vehicles.
Lexus has introduced for the NX 200t and NX 200t F Sport, the first-ever turbocharged engine in a Lexus – a 2.0L in-line four-cylinder engine producing 235 horsepower with 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Lexus estimates they will deliver fuel economy of 21/28 mpg City/Highway for the AWD and 22/28 mpg City/Highway for the FWD with both expected to average 24 mpg.
This power train is managed through an all-new six-speed transmission developed for the new turbo engine. It uses what they call torque-demand control logic that continuously calculates the optimum torque needed and uses its G-force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) to select optimum gearing and shift pattern in response to G-force.
For the NX 200t with AWD (Lexus calls it all-weather drive) there is the Dynamic Torque Control AWD system to provide maximum traction and cornering stability. The system continuously controls torque transfer between the front and rear wheels, using sensors for vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, throttle angle and yaw rate. For fuel economy, the NX 200t AWD runs in FWD when cruising. It automatically engages the AWD when driving conditions warrant to provide traction and control - driving up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels as needed.
We found that we preferred the NX 200t AWD to the FWD in our country road driving. The FWD (which we assume will be priced lower) was very acceptable (with its turbocharged engine) for city and freeway driving.
The NX 300h hybrid is equipped with the Lexus Hybrid Drive system using a specially tuned 2.4L gasoline engine with an Atkinson cycle that produces 154 horsepower with 152 lb.-ft. of torque. For FWD, it is paired with an electric motor generator producing 141 horsepower. Both work in tandem with the new P314 continuously variable transmission that has a new kick-down feature to increase acceleration when needed. When AWD is called for, the Lexus E-Four AWD system engages a separate electric motor to provide power to the rear wheels. Lexus says they estimate the fuel economy for the NX 300h to be 35/31 mpg City/Highway and an average 33 mpg for the FWD with the expected average for the AWD to be 32 mpg.
The NX 300h is a good drive for those preferring a hybrid, having the expected higher torque performance at low speeds – but with noticeable torque steer when accelerating in the FWD model that a driver will need to be mindful of.
Lexus has equipped both the NX 200t and the NX 300h with their Drive Mode Select System that enhances the driving dynamics for this new crossover. The NX 200t can be driven in ECO or NORMAL modes or go into SPORT mode using the Shiftmatic feature of the six-speed automatic transmission. The NX 300h adds an EV mode for short-run driving with electric power only.
Some features and functionalities that impressed us during our first drive included:
• Driving dynamics that Lexus engineers have benchmarked from the Lexus IS.
• A 4.2-inch TFT Multi-Information Display (MID) in the instrument cluster that changes colors depending on the drive mode selected.
• The available Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to maintain speed and vehicle-to-vehicle spacing with an All-Speed Following function that (when engaged) will stop the NX when traffic stops ahead.
• Cargo space created in trunk by new and lighter hybrid battery design that splits the battery packs to each side of the rear seat instead of intruding into the trunk.
• LED signature L-shaped light clusters with side lamp illumination when turning.
• Door handle design with illumination of the door handle and a puddle lamp feature for driver approach convenience and safety.
• Leather trimmed (with contrast stitching) knee pads along both sides of the console for driver and passenger leg comfort.
• Bolstered front seating that is very comfortable for the larger driver in this compact crossover.
• Rear seating that provides very reasonable space for full-size adults.
• Plenty of storage in and around the console plus concealed storage under the cargo floor.
• Available power lift-gate and power folding 60:40 split reclining rear seating.
The NX 200t and the NX 300h have several standalone options including 18-inch wheels (17-inch is standard), heated and ventilated seats, moon roof, power lift gate, Intuitive Park Assist, Lane Departure Alert, Blind Spot Monitor with Cross Traffic Alert and the new Lexus Qi Wireless Charging Tray for mobile phones.
Several packages are also available including Comfort (NX 200t only), Premium and Luxury (which has an available 2,000 pound tow package). The Navigation Package features SD Navigation, Lexus Enform and App Suite, Advanced Voice Recognition System and a next generation Remote Touch Interface (RTI) Controller for the infotainment system – replacing the earlier mouse-based feature that many drivers had trouble with.
And, of course, there is the NX 200t F Sport Package with unique accent touches including things like unique wheels, mesh grille insert, new cornering lamps, aluminum pedals, paddle shifters, sport-tuned suspension and special NuLuxe-trimmed seats in Black or Rioja Red with contrast stitching.
Pricing will not be announced until much closer to arrival in dealerships, but we expect the MSRP for each to be in line with other Lexus models and commensurate with the segment.
We would suggest the AWD in the NX 200t and F Sport as opposed to the NX300h hybrid based on our first drive experience much preferring the six-speed sequential automatic and the Drive Mode Sport mode for our style of driving. Plus there is the probable hybrid price premium that a buyer will have to consider also when making their choice.
In any case, putting it simply, a Lexus costs a bit more, but then it gives you a lot more – and we think the new 2015 Lexus NX 200t, NX 300h and NX 200t F Sport will be priced right in line for the value.