2015 Lexus NX – Love it or hate it, Lexus joins the compact game
2015 LEXUS NX 200t / 300h
Price (est.): $42,000 to $55,000
Engine: 2.0-L i4 turbo, 2.5-L hybrid
Power/Torque: 235 hp/258 lb.-ft, 194/152
Fuel Consumption: n/a
Competition: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GL, Lincoln MKC
What’s Best: Smooth ride, refined cabin, responsive turbo engine.
What’s Worst: Boring CVT with hybrid, expensive, hybrid only available fully loaded
What’s Interesting: First turbo engine ever for Lexus.
All-new luxury SUV with new turbo engine aimed at a tough market
WHISTLER, B.C.—Fact No. 1: The luxury compact SUV is the fastest-growing auto segment in the world. Since 2008, its market share has grown by 250 per cent in Canada and 600 per cent in the U.S.
Fact No. 2: Lexus has never made a compact SUV and, in Canada, its mid-size RX SUV counts for roughly 40 per cent of the brand’s sales.
So it doesn’t take an industry whiz to put 1 and 2 together to create a need for an all-new Lexus vehicle. And what they came up with is: the Lexus NX.
In such a competitive market, the NX will really need to stand out to be noticed — and it certainly does that.
The NX is built loosely on the RAV-4 chassis provided by parent company Toyota, but with its angular wedges over the fenders, sharp creases and huge grille at the front, there’s little doubt this is a new vehicle.
It’s very polarizing — you either love the look or you hate it.
Of course, once inside, that design is quickly replaced by combinations of hard and soft leather, high-visibility instrumentation and more subtle flow lines around the cabin, depending on which version you’re driving.
There are two, quite different powerplants. The 200t has an all-new 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is a Very Big Deal because Lexus has never had a turbo engine before.
The fact the engine is all-new is a sign of just how important this vehicle is to the Japanese luxury brand — engines are exceptionally expensive to develop and most just morph from one version to the next. This is new from the oil pan up.
With such a clean sheet of design paper, Lexus could have created any combination of power and torque, matched to fuel consumption, and its engineers settled on a very respectable 235 hp and 258 lb.-ft.
There’s a hybrid edition, too, the 300h, which has a 2.5-L engine matched to a hybrid battery that’s based on the mid-sized ES300h sedan. It has a different state of tune for better fuel economy and makes 194 hp with 152 lb.-ft. of torque.
There are no prices yet, although it’s safe to say the NX will start somewhere in the low $40,000s and rise up to about $55,000 if you want all the bling.
There are no official fuel consumption claims yet, either. But the NX200t I drove showed an average fuel consumption of 11.7 L/100 km over the car’s short, 1,500-km lifetime, and that’s using recommended premium fuel.
The 300h hybrid showed an average consumption of 8.0 L/100 km over the 150 km I drove it, and that’s with cheaper regular fuel.
It was a pretty route: down from Whistler to North Vancouver in the hybrid, then back up the sound in the sporty edition and past Whistler on the tight curves to Pemberton before returning home.
Oh yes; there’s a sporty edition. The hybrid will only come in one fully loaded version, but the regular NX will have six different available packages, including two F-Sport versions. All Canadian models will have all-wheel-drive.
The various regular packages add things such as a powered moonroof, navigation, blind-spot detection and up to 10 speakers, while the F-Sport packages include lots of nifty badging, a tuned suspension and paddle-shifters for the six gears. The top-end F-Sport even has adaptive front suspension.
Lexus seemed proud that the top of each line included wireless charger trays for your phone in the centre console. This sounds like a useful thing, except I needed to put my iPhone in a special $20 case to charge, and my colleague’s Samsung Galaxy Note didn’t fit in the tray. Frankly, it’s easier to just leave a USB cable in there and plug in your phone when you’re driving.
But this stuff is just the icing on the cake. Frankly, most luxury cars offer the same features these days and they’ve all been around long enough to work well.
What’s the NX like to drive?
On the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and at the hilly junctions of North Vancouver, it was certainly very comfortable, as you’d expect from a Lexus.
I don’t really remember much about the hybrid, though, and it’s a good job I took notes to jog my memory. “Reasonable power” I wrote, and “iPhone needs sleeve,” and “CVT zzzzzz.”
That last mention is because the hybrid comes with a fuel-conscious Continuously Variable Transmission, which is pretty much required now for such cars. It’s okay. It’s not exciting at all, but it’s not supposed to be. It gets you to lunch, anyway.
But after lunch, I didn’t make any notes at all in the F-Sport Edition. That’s because I remember it too well. I flicked up and down through the six paddle-shifted gears in Sport mode, surged past slowpokes and set up the racing line well above the 20 km/h recommended speed of the tightest corners.
The director of Lexus Canada was in the back seat throughout this. He’s fairly tall but had a hand’s-width left of headroom and plenty of leg room. He did an excellent job of not complaining and seemed very proud of his new car.
“There’s no doubt this is an important vehicle for us, and we’ve done everything we can to make it the best it can be right out of the gate,” he said, or something like that. Then, after an especially swift left-right-left: “Don’t mind me. I’m holding on okay back here.”
The handling was remarkably neutral, which was impressive since this was not the top-end F-Sport with the active front suspension. We barged over a set of bumpy railway tracks on a curve and I let go of the wheel to see how the NX would react, but it stayed straight and true and unshaken, almost like the director in the back seat.
Perhaps that’s the NX’s greatest strength. Throw it down a Canadian road and it will forgive all your transgressions and get you home with little fuss. All that and there’s room in the back for plenty of luggage and passengers — even important passengers who appreciate their comfort.
It’s a tough market though, fighting for sales against the Germans and now Lincoln, too. We got back to the hotel, parked the SUV and took a last look at its sharp creases and forceful headlights.
You might love it or you might hate it, but I’m sure the new NX will do just fine.
Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.