The compact crossover segment has now grown larger than that old reliable, the mid-size sedan market. Every carmaker offers a small SUV now; some offer several. New this year, the 2015 Lexus NX is the entry from Toyota's luxury brand, which was uncharacteristically slow to create its own small sport-ute, years after its German competitors brought theirs to North American shores.
The new NX competes directly with similarly sized crossover utilities from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. That's in contrast to Lexus pretty much pioneering the luxury SUV market with its mid-sized RX model, which remains a stalwart in the category. That means the NX has to play catch-up against some well-known nameplates: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Cadillac SRX, and Volvo XC60, with more likely on the way.
So Lexus has chosen aggressive design to make the NX stand out, which it definitely does among the raft of more or less box-like utilities. The luxury maker also touts its standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine and supposedly sporty chassis tuning and steering to suggest exciting performance. On looks, the car stands alone. But on sportiness, it's not even close to its German competitors.
The 2015 Lexus NX is offered in just two models: the standard NX 200t, with a 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a 194-hp NX 300h (hybrid) that the company expects to make up less than 10 percent of total sales. The sporty F-Sport package could go as high as half of all NX models, though, with its more aggressive grille, unique interior trim, comfortable sport seats, and slightly retuned suspension. Both models are offered in front- or all-wheel-drive versions, though the hybrid sacrifices the 200t's mechanical AWD system that sends engine torque to all four wheels and substitutes a 50-kilowatt (67-hp) electric motor on the rear axle when needed.
While the handling and electric power steering are very good, getting sufficient performance out of the standard turbo engine requires aggressive driving. It's tuned for fuel economy, meaning that the combination of turbo lag and the need to shift down a gear--sometimes two--produce delays in full acceleration. The most fun model is the F-Sport when it's set to "Sport" mode. The hybrid is smooth and very quiet, and with a new "kickdown" acceleration mode, feels faster than it actually is.
The NX brings an edgy new styling theme to Lexus’ utility vehicle lineup, and the focal point is definitely its face, where there's an oversized, especially bold version of Lexus’ spindle grille, narrow headlights, truly aggressive lower air dam and fender sculpting, and separate Nike-swoosh LED running lights. You'll find that same shape mirrored in the LED taillights, although at the rear it's at its smoothest and most ordinary, with a clear family resemblance to the larger Lexus RX. Meanwhile, this is a standout design from the side or any front angle, with the NX holding its sharp, chiseled, muscled look, balanced by a swoopy, smooth roof line and punctuated by bulging wheel wells. The NX 200t will, by the way, also be available in F Sport trim, adding an even sportier look to the small crossover.
Inside, the NX definitely follows a sportier, more cockpit-like layout and aesthetic than the RX. The sport seats have a lower hip point than other crossovers, Lexus notes, which give it a more sedan-like driving feel. It also helps increase headroom. While the decent rear seating space and long, low cargo area reveal its practical, RAV4 roots, it suffers in cargo space compared to more upright SUVs. Lexus stresses the design commonality with the Lexus IS sport sedan lineup--in the dash layout, and the metallic accents that with darker, softer materials and large, round gauges. Lexus NX 200t models also have enhanced gauges with a G sensor and turbo-boost meter.
At 183 inches long, the 2015 NX takes up about parking space of a compact sedan. It's sized right in line with compact utility vehicles like the luxury models mentioned above, as well as mainstays like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester--and the Toyota RAV4 with which it shares some underpinnings. With sport seats in front, as well as a lower seating position than some crossovers, Lexus stresses that it's far sportier than the larger RX mid-size utility vehicle intended for families. Rear-seat space is decent, though the long, low cargo floor doesn't have much volume above it--a side effect of that fastback shape.
The NX is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2015, and it offers quite a few active-safety features, including all-speed dynamic cruise control and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. A head-up display is also available, and it comes standard with eight airbags.
The 2015 NX is the first Lexus to offer wireless charging for mobile phones, and it marks the debut of a new generation of the Lexus Remote Touch interface—this one featuring a touch pad, haptic feedback, and pad-like capabilities that let you trace letters directly on a surface--similar to those you may have seen on some Audi or Mercedes-Benz models.
Lexus will release pricing and final details on trim levels and options packages closer to the time the NX 200t and NX 300h arrive at dealers sometime in November or December 2014. It's likely to start below $40,000, but will be priced to compete with the Acura RDX and the trio of German luxury crossovers.
- Edgy, truly standout styling
- Hybrid and turbo models in the mix
- Should balance practical and sporty
- Lexus reputation and resale value
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Probably not as smooth/quiet as the RX
- Will price points for Hybrid, Turbo be too high?
- Remote Touch, and its mouse controller