Nashville, Tenn.- The next step up for Lexus is a size step down from its best-selling model.
Lexus created a burgeoning new segment back in 1998 with the debut of the game-changing mid-size RX 300 crossover. The five-door luxury appointed cruiser offered creature comforts of a mid-sized sedan with the versatility of a hatchback and continues as the division’s top-selling model.
Historically, crossover type luxury models take underpinning cues from existing main stream models. Lexus and its parent company Toyota turned the paradigm inside out by introducing the luxury RX 300 three years before the main stream Toyota Highlander went on sale.
Fast forward sixteen years and Lexus kicks off an all-new crossover. This time around, however, Lexus exhibited a more patient strategy when introducing the 2015 NX compact luxury crossover. While not a segment first, the all-new NX hits the road with a solid strategy and foundation while eying market share gains from existing players including the Mercedes-Benz GLK, BMW X3 and Acura RDX.
While considered a compact entry in the 2015 model year, NX’s 104.7-inch wheel base (distance between front and rear axle) is longer than that of the first-generation mid-size RX crossover.
Size wise, NX shares similar dimensions and traits with Toyota’s long-running RAV4, a five-door compact crossover, although NX boosts 20 percent greater rigidity for a noticeable plush on-road ride.
Toyota’s RAV4 received a next-generation makeover in the 2013 model year, a relatively long wait from its last major update in 2006. Apparently, this latest platform qualified as Lexus worthy.
While alpha-numeric names often pose recall challenges, NX devised a built-in memory reminder. Lexus sells the new compact as ‘beyond utility,’ or the “NEXT’ (NX) logical crossover strategy progression.
The NX does earn bragging rights as the first Lexus vehicle to offer a turbo-charged engine. The twin-scroll turbo charger designed in-house by Lexus engineers tackles the symptom of turbo-lag head on. Turbochargers run off of recycled exhaust gases spinning a pinwheel-inspired turbine to pump a higher air concentration into the engine. Turbochargers continue gaining popularity because of a higher-horsepower output from small displacement engines.
The NX also addresses and muffles idle noise sometimes notable from conventional turbo engines. At a standstill while idling, it’s difficult to audibly denote this 2.0-liter four-banger possesses turbo technology. Be ready to invest 91-octane premium fuel into the 15.9-gallon fuel tank.
The 2.0-liter 235 horsepower turbo (NX 200t) is one of two powertrains offered; the other is a gas-electric hybrid four cylinder (NX 300h). Both engines connect with an all-new six-cylinder automatic transmission. No six-speed manual or CVT transmission is offered. NX joins five returning gas-electric hybrid Lexus offerings in the 2015 model year. Both engines offer front-wheel drive and available active torque control all-wheel drive, automatically transferring power to rear wheels when conditions merit.
While Lexus waited seven years before introducing a gas-electric hybrid version of the mid-size RX, the smaller NX offers a hybrid variant from the start. Lexus estimates the take rate on hybrid models at 10 to 15 percent.
For those seeking more kick, NX 2.0 turbos are available in a F-Sport high-impact trim, the only NX with steering wheel paddle shifters, red bucket seat inserts, leather-perforated steering wheel and gear shifter, a sportier-tuned suspension, black side-view mirror housing and an available ultrasonic blue exterior hue. All-wheel drive is also available with F-Sport.
As with every Lexus introduced since the 2013-model-year flagship LS sedan, NX sports a prominent spindle grille narrowing in the middle while expanding at both ends similar to a sand-filled hour glass. The nose protrudes forward rather than ending flat, inspiring an agile, energetic, edgy styling especially with standard, arrow-head shaped daytime running lights. While tail lights remain narrow, Lexus incorporates a small “L” (left side) structure, with a right-side mirror image. Two side character lines interact in tandem. The top stretch bows down slightly from the front fender before heading slowly upward towards the rear. A bottom swatch along the doors increases thickness from front to back. Narrow side windows extend above both lines.
All four exterior door handles illuminate via LED lighting when approaching with the key fob for better nighttime interaction.
Push-button start is found slightly northeast of the steering wheel, smartly serving as a direct path during engagement. A power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is optional, lifting up and in when exiting the vehicle. Also optional: blind-spot monitoring with cross traffic alert and lane departure alert. White stitching on doors, seats and center console adds to the posh as does a centered analog clock.
Another new, Lexus-first, higher-tech offering is a wireless charging tray for compatible phones and devices able to power up while driving sans an electric cord. Dual-zone climate control comes standard. A seven-inch screen atop the center column visualizes audio, ventilation and optional navigation features and, in gas-electric models, shares pertinent hybrid data.
A smallish wrist rest resides rear of a new rectangular, quad-sectioned finger-sensitive swipe pad (similar to what’s found on various portable lap-top computers) used to interact with the center navigation/interactive screen. This pad takes the place of a mouse-like square joy stick found in recent Lexus models including the GS and LS sedans. For those comfortable with cell phone swipe tutorials, it’s an easy transition, although the touch-sensitive nature requires some practice before mastering. An electronic parking brake opens up room along the center console for the wrist rest and touch pad.
Another handy forethought is an in-vehicle storage port for the fold-and-stow tonneau pull shade cover used to cloak items in the hatch area with the 60/40-split second row seats prone (power folding seat backs and rear hatch back are optional). Many times this cylindrical tube-like housing gets removed from its outer bracing, archived in the garage and never seen again. Lexus includes a dedicated storage spot under the flat cargo floor along with the endangered temporary spare tire. While compact spare tires were expected equipment for decades, some vehicles now opt for lower weight/cost inflator kit.
Head room remains plentiful front and back. A long storage bin footprint protrudes into the back row, creating an atmosphere best shared by two, not three travelers. In front, the center counsel flows into the transmission shifter/cup holder with wide lower dimensions, which may impede longer-legged comfort.
Optional all-speed dynamic radar cruise control allows NX to arrive at a complete stop and restart forward progress if driving situations deem necessary.
Expect NX to reach Chicago area dealerships by the end of November or early December of 2014 with a starting price just south of $40,000. Early internal projections have 3,000 monthly sales throughout the U.S. during the first 12-months. Also projected is a near 50-50 split between male and non-male (i.e.) female buyers.
While NX may appear sport utility-ish, its uni-body, car-like architecture is best suited for on-road travel, not off-road joy riding even with available all-wheel drive. All NX vehicles are assembled in Japan.
2015 NX 200t
Pricing: Not yet released
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Overall Length: 182.3 inches
Overall Width: 73.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,050 pounds
Fuel Economy: To Be Determined