EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I’ve been wanting to drive this since I saw it as a concept a couple Tokyo shows ago. I wondered: Can a Toyota RAV4 work as a luxury ute? I figured if any automaker could pull it off, Toyota could.
I have to say, the NX is a supremely quiet car overall; in fact, this is where it excels, as I expected. There’s only the slightest road noise, the ride is comfortable (as I’m sure Lexus buyers demand) and it feels like nearly the perfect size -- not too big, not too small.
The turbo four (Lexus’ first turbo) has good power above 3,000 rpm and no hint of turbo lag as long as I kept the revs up. The steering is decent, while freeway speed stability surprised me -- in a good way. I guess maybe I thought it’d drive a bit more like the compact it is, a little jumpier or something; but no, it’s nice and smooth. Push it a little and it understeers, but I expected that.
Interior build quality is high (again, as I’d expect) and driving position is excellent, as are the seats. Everything is within easy reach, but then remember, this is a RAV4-sized trucklet. The touch pad drove me mad -- it is way too sensitive, but you don’t need to mess with it for controlling the radio and such because that can be done with steering-wheel buttons.
Lexus just keeps rockin’ and rollin’ with sales up nearly 4,000 units this year so far. The 8,386 Encores Buick sold in January and February trump the 5,478 NXs sold in the same period, but the NX beats the BMW X3 (4,465), Mercedes GLA (3,751),Audi Q3 (1,919) and Porsche Macan (1,420).
This is Lexus’ first shot at a compact luxury ute, and I’d say it’s a very good effort. It has the refinement and the certain reliability to be a winner, or at least a winner to Lexus buyers. Give it time -- I’m thinking by year’s end, it’s on the top of the heap.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Every manufacturer wants to get into the compact crossover game, but it’s amazing how far off some of the efforts have been. For all the aspirants: Here’s your benchmark.
I know, I’m as surprised as you are. Not that Lexus built a perfectly nice crossover, mind you -- the company, along with parent Toyota -- has been made a fortune doing “perfectly nice.” But the NX drifts into that rare space known as “desirable.”
Where the Lexus excels is in its powertrain. Apparently it’s quite difficult to make a small turbo four into a luxury car engine -- witness attempts by BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Cadillac; some (Audi and Cadillac) are better than others (BMW and especially Mercedes). Lexus nailed it, and the NX provides a perfect blend of effortless power with no discernable turbo lag, no wonky dual-clutch transmission and no NVH penalty. The drive mode selector functions as a powertrain fine-tuning knob rather than a personality-change switch -- eco mode slows things down a bit, sport mode speeds things up a bit, and normal is just about perfect. The NX never tries to be something it’s not.
If it were my purchase, I would probably skip the F Sport package. While I’m sure it increases handling capability on a track or quick mountain road, the sport-tuned suspension combined with the short wheelbase makes for a pretty lively ride along Detroit roads -- if you live somewhere blessed with smooth ribbons of asphalt, your experience may vary. Fortunately, Lexus sees fit to offer many of the F Sport’s comfort and convenience options as standalone items -- you don’t have to buy a $4,000 “winter package” to get a heated steering wheel or a 36-speaker stereo to get a moonroof -- a refreshing change for anyone accustomed to German car option extortion.
If there’s a fly in the ointment (and there always is), it's Lexus’ Enform controller. The company has gone from the weird mouse-like knob of previous models to a truly unfortunate touch-pad system. If infotainment interfaces are more art than science, this is a preschooler’s finger painting. Fortunately there are knobs and buttons for 90 percent of controls, so you should only have to interact with the touchpad for initial setup and navigation controls.
Despite that, the NX is my favorite compact crossover on the market today. It’s a car with personality from a brand more associated with clinical precision, and a daily driver I’d be happy to call my own.
The grill on the Lexus NX 200t F Sport is grille even bolder than the one on the standard model. The L-mesh black grille integrates with a metallic coated lower bumper molding, and black side mirrors match the grille.PHOTO BY LEXUS
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: “They want 43 grand for a RAV4?”
You could be forgiven for looking at this nice little crossover and blurting out something like that. Yes, this cute little scooter shares its floorpan with the entry-level Toyota cute ute, but it builds up on it from there and it’s ultimately a pretty useful, and even luxurious, crossover. By the time you add up all the stuff that was on my particular NX 200t out here in California, you can maybe see why the cost is so darn high -- it’s within nickels and dimes of the Audi Q3, and depending on how you load it up or down, it could be a crossover competitor with the BMW X1. Or maybe you won’t see the value and you’ll buy a RAV4 or a Buick Encore. But people seem to love Lexus vehicles, so why not give the people what they want?
I enjoyed my week in this high-priced luxury utility vehicle (perhaps because I didn’t have to pay $42,980 for it). I was able to stuff a bicycle in the back without removing the front wheel, for instance, which seems to be my benchmark for SUV worthiness lately. Thus stuffed, I was able to drive the NX up twisting mountain roads to trailheads a lot quicker than I would have with other SUVs or pickups that could likewise hold a bicycle. One day I even drove it a few miles on a wide, flat dirt road, drifting the front-wheel driver just a little through corners. So you can have fun with this if you seek it out and can play around with lift-throttle oversteer at higher speeds in the dirt.
On pavement, I particularly enjoyed the turbo engine. If you’re cruising along at 60, 70 or 80 and want to pass someone, a partial throttle increase will spool up the turbo and off you go. While the 0-60 may be down in the 7.0 range, passing is something of a joy.
The inside was comfortable, too, with snuggly tight seats and a surprising amount of room for such an outwardly small vehicle.
The infotainment system was really something. I wanted to change the radio station, for instance. This was not an intuitive process. Go ahead, say that I grew up with radio knobs and I just don’t understand all these newfangled interfaces. Well, maybe the people who have 43 large to spend on an entry-level crossover are also used to radio knobs. Whatever. I got out the owner’s manual and pulled out the separate, 396-page (!) book that covered just the infotainment system. The opening scud fired by this book is on page 4, which is titled, “How To Read This Manual.” I am not making that up. You now have to read about how to read about changing your radio station. I was able to sort it out in a few minutes and loaded a bunch of radio stations into the presets, but come on, man, 396 pages on the radio? I grew to like the unique touchpad square that replaces the big fat control knob found on most systems, and I linked my Apple iPhone 6 right away, so more time spent in this would have had me mastering all the human-machine interfaces soon enough. (OK, this is now toward the end of the week and I must say that my early-week optimism about this infotainment interface was misplaced. I hate the thing. It makes no sense and anyone short of a software engineer will take a baseball bat to it within a week. If you buy this, insist that someone in the dealership who understands it spends a couple hours or a day with you teaching you how to use it. Because you will torch that 396-page manual and laugh maniacally while doing it.)
Apart from the infotainment pain and the sticker shock, I liked the NX. But I can’t help thinking I might have enjoyed the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 more, though I haven’t driven those yet. If you’re looking around in this entry luxury segment, drive those others and tell me what you think, will ya?
Options: Navigation package including remote touch interface, Lexus Enform remote, Lexus Enform destination (includes 1-year trial subscription), App suite 10-speaker Lexus premium sound system ($2,140); premium F Sport package including heated front seats, power tilt and slide moonroof, memory: power tilt/telescopic steering column, power 10-way driver seat including lumbar support ($2,045); Electrochromic (auto-dimming) outer mirrors with blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, reverse tilt, heated, memory ($660); intuitive parking assist ($500); power back door ($400); qi-compatible wireless charger ($220); heated steering wheel ($150); Lexus Homelink garage door opener ($125); cargo net ($69).
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