The compact sport crossover is the trendy gold mine for luxury brands. Audi has the Q5 and smaller Q3, BMW has the X3 and smaller X1, Mercedes-Benz is making a killing with the GLA and now Lexus is selling every NX that it can build — and a majority are the top-line NX F Sport, a fashion-stiletto with even louder exterior styling.
The NX — Nimble Crossover — shares foundational elements with the Toyota RAV4. Lexus claims just 10 percent shared components with the dutiful RAV, but see them side by side and the family resemblance is evident.
But the NX has a smaller interior cubic footage than RAV, due to the chassis designed to accommodate the Hybrid version. The second row and cargo area have a tall ride height to accommodate the subfloor packaging of various electric components. (The just-announced 2016 RAV4 Hybrid shares the chassis.) There’s not much impact on occupant headroom (38.2 inches front, 38.1 rear) and the back seat is quite comfortable with supportive, reclining seats and low exhaust/transmission tunnel. The cargo capacity is limited at 17.7 cubic feet behind the second row, but the space more than doubles for flat space with the easy-folding function to the seatback.
The NX is sold in three trim levels in front or all-wheel drive with one turbocharged engine, a 235-horsepower, direct-injection 2.0 liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices begin at $35,405 for front-wheel drive 200t and $36,805 for AWD. The more aggressively styled 200t F Sport, also in front-drive and AWD, has starting prices of $36,590 and $38,905; prices include the $925 freight charge from Japan. There’s also the NX 300h hybrid, in front-drive or AWD, with starting prices of $39,720 and $41,310. Its fuel mileage ratings are 35 mpg city, 31 highway and 33 mpg combined.
With an as-tested price of $42,615, the front-drive 200t tester had $7,210 in extras.
Injecting the Lexus level of luxury are some fundamental building materials and a range of technology features, such as LED headlights, fog lights, brakes and running lights. There is a nifty phone-charging mat ($220) that could be handy if the owner has one of the latest-technology phones. My iPhone5 was not among them. And there is the new and improved Lexus Remote Touch Interface with a touch pad. It replaces the “mouse” arrangement on the previous system to access the levels of music, navigation, etc. The touch pad allows a much-less fidgety action for category selection, but it still takes time before it approaches eyes-free intuitiveness.
There’s also additional soundproofing, including an acoustic glass windshield and more sound insulation in door panels, instrument panel and under the carpet, engine compartment and dash panel. It all works to create a Lexus-like environment.
The new design for the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine features a water-cooled cylinder head, integrated exhaust manifold and twin-scroll turbocharger. But at 235-hp, it is underpowered when hefting the NX’s curb weight or 3,940 pounds or 4,050 for AWD. That’s about 400 pounds more than a loaded RAV4. The four-wheel disc brakes (vented front, solid rear) are adequate but don’t seem tough enough for sustained hard driving.
With 258 foot-pounds of torque from 1,650-4,000 rpm, the NX looks faster than it is: Lexus cites 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds and 7 seconds flat with AWD. Fuel economy on the recommended premium is 22 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 mpg combined. I was averaging around 22 mpg with liberal use of Sport mode to sharpen acceleration.
The suspension is sporty enough, but there is some hesitation to settle when powering into a corner. And the turning circle of 39.8 feet is not nimble.
Getting noticed in this segment is important and the NX styling is whiplash to swiveling heads. Overall, it is a nicely Lexus-ized product with an emphasis on appearance, not substance.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage