2015 Lexus NX Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker
May 6, 2015

Buying tip

Don't be surprised if the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is the most desirable model in the lineup; mileage numbers could add up in the 30s, combined, and

With the 2015 NX, Lexus finally has a crossover to take on the mass luxury market--and its striking styling could be a plus.

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.

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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.


2015 Lexus NX


The aggressive exterior lines of the 2015 Lexus NX conceal a less radical interior, but it will be an acquired taste for some.

The 2015 Lexus NX is most notable for its startling design, which blends sharp creases, pointed shapes, and an almost fastback shape to make a crossover utility vehicle that's unlike anything else on the market. While the production vehicle has been toned down from earlier concept cars--which looked like angry vacuum cleaners that might eat your children--its exterior is still a large step toward the polarizing by Lexus. Whether it's to your taste, or whether luxury buyers will prove to prefer something quieter and subtler, remains to be seen.

The NX retains the basic two-box form of the crossover utility vehicle, though its sharply angled tailgate makes it far less rectilinear than the Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. There are a lot of sophisticated shapes in its lines, with lots of slashing angles and sharp points in the body creases, lights, and window lines.

A sharp crease angles up from the base of the front wheel well through the rear wheel to the line of the thin taillight, with a deep indentation in the door forming an asymmetrical sill in the base of the door. The front leads off with the most aggressive-yet version of the Lexus spindle grille shape, with a softly rising hoodline above it, flanked by narrow, swept-back headlights with an L-shaped band of LED daytime running lights outlining it.

The NX 200t F-Sport is likely the model that will appear in a much of the advertising for the vehicle. Its black mesh grille is significantly bolder than the chrome slats of the standard NX, and it also comes with metallic bumper moldings, black side mirrors, and two choices of 18-inch wheels. The optional 20-inch wheels give the compact Lexus crossover its most aggressive stance, and may offer the most visually appealing combination.

The interior of the NX is somewhat more restrained than its exterior. Still, the long and angled dash top and protruding console form an unusual Z-shape when looked at from the side. In keeping with its sportier positioning, the dashboard conveys more of a cockpit feel. The front compartment, in fact, has more in common with the Lexus IS sport sedan than the mid-size RX family crossover. 

Colors and materials are in the usual Lexus palette of dark greys, muted silvers, and matte wood grains. The metallic accents contrast nicely with the softer trim and upholstery materials, complementing the large round gauges.

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2015 Lexus NX


You'd never know the 2015 Lexus NX had a turbo engine as standard; it's only fun to drive in Sport mode, and the Hybrid not at all.

The NX comes with two powertrain options, though Lexus expects more than 90 percent of all NX models to use the standard setup. That's the model known as the NX 200t, which uses the brand's first-ever direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Unlike several of its competitors--the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes GLK among them--the Lexus NX has no option for a six-cylinder engine. That helps cut weight, and likely let the designers package the long, sloping nose, but it means this new luxury compact crossover has to be driven hard to obtain the best performance and response.

The standard 2.0-liter turbo four produces 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel drive standard and all-wheel drive optional. Lexus notes that the engine has been tuned to vary between the conventional combustion cycle and the more efficient Atkinson cycle, which has previously been used only in hybrid powertrains, for greater fuel efficiency. Drivers won't notice any difference in engine note behind the wheel, but with luck, it should help cut the pain at the fuel pump: Both front- and all-wheel-drive models of the NX 200t are rated at 24 mpg combined.

The NX 200t has been tuned for fuel economy in its Normal mode to such a degree that on the road, quick acceleration takes a second or two as the transmission shifts down to a lower gear--once if not twice. Turning the knob to the "Sport" setting changes its personality: It holds higher revs longer and makes the acceleration significantly crisper, potentially at the price of lower real-world gas mileage. You can largely ignore the "Eco" setting unless you're on flat roads and surrounded by slow traffic, preferably in nice weather so the reduced climate control settings aren't noticeable.

Roadholding of all NX models is clearly better than the larger RX; occupants sit lower, and there's much less body roll. It's also a stiffer body shell than the Toyota RAV4 with which it shares some structural components. We'd have rated its driving qualities higher if drivers didn't have to put quite so much effort into getting acceleration out of a turbo engine and transmission clearly tuned for fuel economy over immediate power.

The F-Sport option is the one to have if you really enjoy the act of driving. The combination of its retuned suspension, more performance-oriented wheels and tires, and the "Sport" driving mode produces the one NX version that proved rewarding to throw around curving roads. We drove an F-Sport fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels and lower-profile 235/55R18 summer tires, which delivered a noticeable improvement to roadholding.

The alternative powertrain used in the pricier NX 300h model is a 154-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which combines two electric motor-generators that can power the vehicle alone--at low speeds, under light loads--recharge the battery, or supplement engine torque with electric power.

Total output of the engine and electric motors combined is 194 hp. All-wheel drive is an optional on the hybrid NX too, but rather than the mechanical system used in the NX 200t to distribute engine torque to all four wheels, the NX 300h adds a 50-kW (67-hp) electric motor on the rear axle to provide torque to the rear wheels when the drive control system senses power is needed.

The low-volume NX 300h hybrid model drives like a smaller version of the hybrid RX mid-size crossover--no surprise there--with its engine noise almost entirely muted by the noise suppression and luxury features. In addition to the Normal, Eco, and Sport modes, the NX hybrid has an "EV" mode that powers it only on electricity (at speeds below about 30 mph) as long as the battery holds out, generally less than 1 mile.

While Lexus has put a lot of work into giving the NX hybrid a more "natural" acceleration feel and minimizing the engine's tendency to spool immediately up to maximum speed and noise, it still doesn't really have enough electric power to accelerate in brisk traffic on the electric motor alone. So, like the larger RX, its engine usually switches itself on to provide power when  accelerating. That said, the noise suppression is so good that drivers will have to watch the power meter to determine whether or not the car's stayed in electric mode--engine turn-on is all but imperceptible.

Lexus has added what it calls a "kickdown switch" in the hybrid 300h to deliver immediate extra power when required; it works well enough, at the price of some increase in engine noise. The NX 300h earns EPA ratings of 33 mpg combined for the front-wheel-drive model, dropping to 32 mpg if you specify all-wheel drive. Whether the NX hybrid will match those numbers in real-world use remains to be seen, as the larger RX has been the subject of some owner complaints for underachieving on its gas-mileage ratings.

In the end, if you're the new, younger buyer that Lexus hopes to attract to the NX--and you actually enjoy driving--the F-Sport model is the one to choose. It can deliver spirited response and rewarding on-road handling, though you'll need to turn the drive selector to the 'Sport' setting to get it.

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2015 Lexus NX

Comfort & Quality

The 2015 Lexus NX is mostly quiet, offers a flexible and relatively spacious interior, and seems well built.

The 2015 Lexus NX offers a comfortable and relatively spacious interior for a compact crossover, along with plenty of luxury features and options. The front seats are comfortable, and the sport seats in the optional F-Sport package are even better, with substantial bolsters that feel like those in a sport sedan, rather than a crossover utility vehicle.

The front seating position isn't as high in the Lexus NX as in some other compact crossovers, giving it a more car-like feel and increasing headroom. The rear seats have decent legroom, though we found both cushions slightly flat compared to the bolstered front seats. The optional power folding rear seat also includes individually adjustable backrests, however, which lets each of two rear occupants alter the seat angle to their liking. One surprising design aspect was that the roof pillar just behind the rear door angles forward enough that taller rear-seat passengers have to crane forward to see out the rear window.

We were impressed by the amount of storage space in the NX cabin, from door pockets through a large glove box to an even larger storage box inside the center console armrest. It's got cargo trays and compartments, cupholders galore, and a sunglasses holder with a removable cover with a mirror inside--so you can check to make sure those expensive shades are positioned just right, presumably.

The long, low cargo area reflects a basic platform adapted from the high-volume Toyota RAV4, with that vehicle's practicality--though the sloping rear tailgate may prove challenging for large, rectangular boxes or other bulky items. That said, the cargo volume of 17.7 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 54.6 cu ft with it folded down is among the lowest in the segment. Rather than a conventional vinyl cargo cover that rolls up to retract, the NX has a folding two-piece "tonneau board" to eliminate the gaps at either side. It looks dressier, but stowing it in the custom compartment under the load floor requires the cargo bay to be empty--which isn't always the case.

The NX proved to be very quiet on most roads, and the hybrid model is particularly good at suppressing engine howl, the Achilles' Heel of that powertrain. But in driving several pre-production prototypes, we experienced unexpected tire noise on a few coarse road surfaces. All the test vehicles we drove were fitted with optional 18-inch alloy wheels and tires. There's a chance that the road noise we experienced on some surfaces might be lessened with taller tires, but we weren't able to test the standard 17-inch wheels and tires on a base NX 200t.

We enjoyed one feature of the F-Sport package, the active sound control that will amplify the engine note through the cabin when a roller switch on the lower center stack is engaged. Whether off or fully on, the sound is perfectly natural--but adding some engine noise makes the NX feel sportier if you're on nice curving mountain roads, even if it doesn't change the performance characteristics at all. If you have teens in the house, however, we suggest leaving it off.

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2015 Lexus NX


The 2015 Lexus NX hasn't yet been rated by the NHTSA, but the IIHS names it one of the best on the market.

Thus far, the 2015 Lexus NX crossover has a very strong set of crash-test ratings, overall; although it's not quite perfect.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the NX a five-star overall rating. That includes four stars in frontal impact and five for side impact. But Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing has found this model to be top-tier in all of its categories of occupant protection.

It's fitted with eight airbags as standard: front and side bags for the two front-seat passengers, side-curtain airbags to cover the front and rear side windows, as well as a driver's knee airbag and a new front-seat passenger cushion airbag.

Optional electronic safety features include the Pre-Collision Safety System, which senses impending collisions with obstacles or other vehicles ahead via the sensors used for the adaptive cruise control. It warns the driver both with a light and a buzzer if a crash is imminent, and will brake automatically if the driver doesn't respond--bringing the NX to a full stop from speeds up to 37 mph. That system earns the IIHS 'advanced' nod for front crash prevention, enabling the IIHS TSP+ accolade.

Also available is a Lane-Departure Alert function, to warn the driver if the vehicle is drifting out of its traffic lane, based on image processing from a windshield-mounted camera. The same camera also controls automatic highlight dimming when there are oncoming vehicles, which Lexus calls Intelligent High Beams.

Like many new crossovers, the rear three-quarter vision isn't great in the Lexus NX. A rising window line meets a falling roofline to provide only a small triangular view out the rear side, and the rear-vision camera becomes a necessity for safe reversing and parking.

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2015 Lexus NX


For a compact crossover, the 2015 Lexus NX is well-equipped--though its luxury will likely come at a price.

The 2015 Lexus NX comes in three trim levels, as well as offering a substantial list of optional features and electronic systems. The basic NX 200t comes standard with LED taillights, front running lights, and LED low beams (its high beams are halogen bulbs). Full LED high and low beams are optional.

Footwell lighting is standard, and the dome and map lights are activated by touch switches in the headliner, though Lexus has wisely kept them off the console. Also standard are heated side mirrors, LED illumination for the door handles, a smart key, and 17-inch 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels. Inside, the power adjustable driver's seat adjusts in 10 ways, and the front passenger seat in eight. The 60/40 split rear seat reclines and folds down, and includes a center arm rest with cup holders.

Three different trim levels will be offered: Base, Comfort, and Premium. All three use seat upholstery with smooth bolsters and perforated inserts, combined with Dark Umber trim; the Luxury package includes leather upholstery and mocha wood trim.

The NX 200t F-Sport is distinguished by its black mesh grille, which is visually much bolder than the chrome slats on the standard NX. The F-Sport adds a number of other trim features, including metallic bumper moldings, black side mirrors, two choices of 18-inch wheels, distinctive cabin fittings, and well-bolstered sport seats with black or red upholstery and accent piping. The pedals and footrest are drilled aluminum--just like those on race cars in which every ounce of extraneous weight must be removed--a stylish if superfluous feature. The F-Sport also includes Active Sound Control, which lets the driver boost the engine note heard inside the cabin via a roller switch on the console.

If Lexus follows form, the hybrid NX 300h is likely to be the most expensive member of the trio. It includes standard LED headlamps and adaptive LED fog lamps that also light up to illuminate the road around a corner when the turn signal is switched on. Aside from a few chrome badges on the doors and tailgate, the hybrid 300h is visually indistinguishable from the regular turbo 200t.

Available options include a power folding 60/40 rear seat, which also reclines--a Lexus first--and a power liftgate. The standard Display Audio system features HD Radio, Bluetooth pairing, free traffic and weather data, and a caching feature that lets listeners temporarily pause and store a song or news broadcast for up to 15 minutes. The optional Premium Audio system combines digital signal processing for better high notes with an eight-channel amplifier, playing through eight speakers. A further option is a pair of additional speakers, one in the central dash and a subwoofer in the tailgate.

A Navigation system with the Lexus Enform information service is also optional, displayed on a 7-inch touchscreen also used for multimedia functions. Its predictive traffic information includes up-to-the-hour detours, ETA calculation, and fuel-station mapping when the low-fuel alert comes on. It also adds a second USB port. One multimedia offering is the Siri Eyes-Free Mode, compatible with Apple iPhone 4S and later models.

Lexus has redesigned its input system for the navigation and multimedia functions. The previous joystick has been replaced with a Remote Touch Interface operated via a touchpad in the center console. Drivers can, theoretically, access functions by moving a cursor using only their finger, though we didn't find it notably less distracting than the previous method. Front passengers can also operate the interface, which proved the best method.

A whole suite of electronic safety systems is available, including radar-based adaptive cruise control, a Pre-Collision system that warns the driver of impending objects ahead and can brake to a stop automatically from 37 mph or less, a lane-departure warning system, and smart headlights that dim automatically when they sense oncoming vehicles.

Finally, Lexus has offered a genuinely new feature on the NX: a Qi wireless charging tray to recharge smartphones and other devices fitted with the appropriate hardware. It's unclear how many new devices will offer this capability, but it definitely reduces the clutter of USB cables and 12-Volt adapters.

Specific pricing, trim levels, and optional features for the 2015 Lexus NX will be released closer to its on-sale date at the end of 2014.

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2015 Lexus NX

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Lexus NX gets decent but not exceptional fuel-efficiency ratings, but can the hybrid hit its numbers in real-world use?

The 2015 Lexus NX 200t has been rated by the EPA at 24 mpg combined with all-wheel drive, and 25 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. Highway mileage is 28 mpg for both. That's about average for a luxury compact crossover with 235 hp.

The hybrid NX 300h gets better ratings, at 33 or 32 mpg combined for the front- and all-wheel-drive models, respectively.That's a better rating than the two diesels in the segment, with 28 mpg combined delivered by the diesel Mercedes GLK 250 BlueTEC and 27 mpg combined from the Audi Q5 TDI.

In both cases, though, it remains to be seen whether the real-world mileage delivered by the new Lexus NX lives up to its EPA ratings. The larger Lexus RX hybrid mid-size crossover, for one, tends to underachieve its EPA ratings slightly. Our own road tests of the German diesel crossovers, however, showed that they were often capable of delivering significantly better efficiency than their EPA ratings.

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