Republished: 10/03/2014 (Original Date: 07/06/2014)
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
The 2015 Lexus NX 200t is a new entry in the growing compact luxury crossover segment. It boasts a smooth turbocharged four-cylinder, a well-crafted cabin, accommodating backseats and distinctive styling more likely to strike an emotional chord than most Lexus designs. Notable downsides include a lack of cargo space and a frustrating infotainment controller.
What Is It?
The NX is an all-new compact luxury crossover set to go on sale in December. It is a smaller, sportier alternative to the existing Lexus RX midsize SUV.
Its outside dimensions are similar to its key competitors: the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is a bit smaller. Inside, however, Lexus has done a commendable job of maximizing rear-seat room, but the significantly raked liftgate reduces overall cargo space.
There are three available variations. The Lexus NX 200t will make up the bulk of NX sales and is the first vehicle to get Lexus' new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The NX 200t F Sport model has the same engine, but has a sport-tuned suspension, more aggressive styling and several features designed for drivers seeking more engagement with their car. Finally, the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is one of only two hybrids in the segment.
How Does It Drive?
Power for the 2015 Lexus NX 200t comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This is the first turbocharged engine Lexus has ever sold and it's likely to find its way into future Lexus vehicles. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional.
With 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, its output on paper is on par with most competitors'. In Edmunds testing our front-wheel-drive NX 200t accelerated to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which is marginally slower than rivals but still plenty capable when merging onto highways. Gear changes are slow but smooth, yet the transmission does an admirable job of keeping power on tap.
Stopping from 60 mph required 118 feet, which is good for the class. The pedal remained reassuringly firm and distances were also consistent after repeated stops. There is a noticeable amount of nosedive in panic stops, accompanied by a slight side-to-side squirm, but the NX remains very controllable.
When the road begins to snake through canyons, the NX 200t doesn't feel particularly sporty, with considerable body roll in turns. That said, it behaves predictably and instills confidence. For those who desire more athleticism, the F Sport option and its sport-tuned suspension improve handling.
Typical luxury-minded drivers will find it adequately responsive in these conditions as well as in the daily commute. The small footprint and narrow turning radius make maneuvering in tight spaces a breeze. Like most crossovers, rear visibility is compromised by large roof pillars but the standard rearview camera and optional parking sensors take much of the guesswork out of reversing.
What Features Are Available?
Along with the features typically found in luxury crossovers, the NX 200t will come equipped with LED headlamps, "NuLuxe" simulated leather upholstery, Siri-integrated voice controls for iPhones and HD and satellite radio. Our test vehicle benefitted from several packaged options that added the following features: a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, 18-inch wheels, auto-dimming mirrors, ventilated front seats, a sunroof, a navigation system, upgraded audio, adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision warning system, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors.
Also available, but not included in our test vehicle is the F Sport package and Luxury package, as well as standalone options like a power lift gate and power-folding rear seats. Official pricing has yet to be announced, but expect the base NX 200t to be competitive with other luxury crossover SUVs.
What's the Interior Like?
The Lexus NX 200t's cabin has a broader appeal than its exterior, but there are a few missteps that should be considered. The dash and doors feature attractive cascading layers of stitched faux leather and textured plastics. Unfortunately, these elements are interrupted by a painted plastic center stack that merges with the center console.
Mounted atop the dash center are the infotainment display and climate control buttons. The screen is well placed within the driver's sightlines but having the climate controls on the canted surface make them difficult to read and awkward to operate. Fortunately, the automatic heating and cooling works well enough that you can set it and forget it.
The most significant issue, however, comes in the form of the new Remote Touch interface that is paired with the optional navigation system. Lexus' previous Remote Touch system utilized a cumbersome mouselike controller. The new system proves even more daunting as it uses a trackpad controller to move an on-screen cursor — similar to a laptop computer.
However, the level of precision required to operate the trackpad effectively is too high — especially when the vehicle is moving. Compounding matters are the system's numerous layered menus and lack of physical buttons to accomplish simpler tasks. Fortunately, the Remote Touch is an option that is bundled with the navigation system. Those averse to using it still have access to the standard Siri Eyes-Free mode that provides turn-by-turn driving directions from compatible iPhones.
Adjacent to the center armrest is a convenient pocket that can secure a conventional iPhone. Underneath the armrest is an optional Qi-compatible wireless charging pad for mobile devices, though it does require a specific case for iPhones and it's an inconvenient obstacle to accessing the bin.
Is It Comfortable?
Technology-related missteps aside, the NX 200t provides a high level of comfort over long distances. Front seats are well shaped for a variety of body types and the optional ventilation further enhances the experience. Taller adult-size passengers are also afforded ample head- and legroom in the rear seats, though the small windows may feel a bit confining. Most touch points are generously padded with Lexus' "Nu-Luxe" simulated leather surfaces that have the look and feel of genuine leather.
Adding to the luxury quotient is the heavily insulated cabin that keeps wind and road noise to barely perceptible levels. The standard luxury-tuned suspension does an admirable job of isolating passengers from imperfect pavement without ever feeling disconnected. After several hours behind the wheel, fatigue was never an issue.
What About Utility?
Despite exterior dimensions that are incredibly similar to those of its competitors, the 2015 Lexus NX 200t differs inside. Although the rear seatbacks fold they don't produce an especially large space when collapsed. The NX's 54.6 cubic feet of total volume may be equal to the similarly constricted Mercedes GLK and just a few cubes shy of an Audi Q5, but its raked lift gate makes it less versatile than even its modest volume number would suggest. That's driven home by its 17.7 cubic feet with the seats raised, a number lower than many hatchbacks and all compact crossover competitors.
At the same time, however, this relatively modest cargo space keeps the NX from stepping on the toes of the bigger Lexus RX that also seats five passengers.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
Although official EPA figures have not been announced, Lexus estimates that the front-wheel-drive NX 200t will return 24 mpg combined (22 city/28 highway). All-wheel-drive models are expected to deliver 24 mpg combined as well despite a slightly lower city rating of 21 mpg. Again, this makes Lexus consistent with most competitors.
We averaged 20.9 mpg during our testing with a best tank of 25.7 mpg on our highway-heavy evaluation loop. Shoppers who prioritize fuel economy will likely be drawn to the slower but more efficient NX 300h hybrid that is estimated by Lexus to return 33 mpg combined (35 city/31 highway) with front-wheel drive and 32 mpg combined (33/30) with all-wheel drive. These figures are comparable to diesel variants of rival crossovers.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Acura RDX: Fellow Japanese luxury brand Acura is quite often cross-shopped with Lexus, as it attracts similar customers interested in strong reliability and value. In this case, the A-rated RDX satisfies those aforementioned virtues along with an especially spacious cabin, abundant features and a low price.
Audi Q5: One of the oldest competitors in the segment has nevertheless held up well over time and is indeed the vehicle Lexus representatives mention most often as a competitor. It is closest in size to the NX and has a similar turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while its cabin is impeccably built.
Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class: Like the NX, the GLK's lack of overall cargo volume doesn't make it the most ideal for families. However, singles or child-free couples should appreciate its solid engineering, long-distance comfort and robust engines (a gasoline V6 and fuel-efficient diesel).
Volvo XC60: Like the RDX, the stylish and safe XC60 offers more cargo space and in general is more family-friendly. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines impress with their acceleration and fuel economy, but for now are only available with front-wheel drive. Less efficient engines are saddled to all-wheel drive.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
Like any of the vehicles in the compact luxury crossover segment, the 2015 Lexus NX should appeal to those seeking a tall seating position, ample room for four people, more cargo capacity than a sedan provides and a luxurious cabin ambiance that's a clear step above the Toyota RAV4s of this world. At the same time, they don't need as much space as provided by bigger luxury SUVs.
In most ways, the NX 200t is hard to distinguish from its competitors on paper, but its unique styling may appeal to some shoppers looking to stand out from the rest of the pack. Class-leading fuel economy from the NX 300h is also worth noting.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you need an SUV for carrying lots of luggage or larger items, the NX should give you pause. This makes it one of the least family-friendly vehicles in the segment. Potential buyers should also test the two available infotainment interfaces as their nonstandard operation will be an obstacle for some.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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