Turbo leads the charge

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - JOSHUA DOWL­ING joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

TOY­OTA’S luxury brand Lexus has in­tro­duced the most af­ford­able SUV in its 26‒year his­tory.

The com­pany launched the hy­brid ver­sion of its sharply styled NX late last year, but the ar­rival this week of a base model pow­ered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol en­gine low­ers the start­ing price to $52,500 plus on-road costs.

That’s al­most $20,000 less than its first soft­roader, the RX330, that went on sale in 2003.

The NX200t also marks the ar­rival of the first turbo en­gine for Lexus and only the sec­ond en­gine not shared with Toy­ota (the first was the V10 that pow­ered the LFA sports car).

A sign of the chang­ing times, and Lexus loos­en­ing its neck­tie, it is the first Lexus SUV with a G-force me­ter and a turbo‒boost gauge

Based on the un­der­pin­nings of the Toy­ota RAV4 but with a com­pletely new body in­side and out, the NX is ex­pected to be­come one of the big­gest sell­ing mod­els for the Ja­panese brand.

While Lexus led with the hy­brid ver­sion, the NX200t is ex­pected to ac­count for three out of four sales of the NX range, which now stretches from $52,500 to $75,000.

As with the hy­brid, the NX200t is avail­able in three model grades and with a choice of front-wheel-drive and all‒wheel‒drive.

If you’re look­ing for a diesel en­gine op­tion, you’ll be wait­ing a long time.

Lexus says petrol‒elec­tric hy­brid power is its an­swer to diesel-like fuel ef­fi­ciency. It says that even so‒called clean diesels emit more harm­ful tox­ins than petrol cars.

Mean­while, Lexus has main­tained its rep­u­ta­tion by load­ing the NX with stan­dard equip­ment for which most ri­vals charge ex­tra.

Stan­dard fare on all mod­els in­cludes sat­nav, rear‒view cam­era, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, au­to­matic tail­gate, heated front seats with elec­tric ad­just­ment, LED head­lights, rain-sens­ing wipers and 10‒speaker au­dio.

Dearer mod­els gain ad­justable sus­pen­sion, radar cruise con­trol, blind spot warn­ing, wire­less charg­ing for mo­bile phones, a heads‒up dis­play re­flected onto the wind­screen, a sen­sor key, cool­ing for the front seats, and 14‒speaker au­dio, among other items.

The styling may be po­lar­is­ing but the com­pany says the NX is de­signed to com­pete with the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque, and Mercedes‒Benz GLA‒Class.

Lexus also says the NX is a sign of the com­pany’s new de­sign di­rec­tion, as it at­tempts to change its staid im­age af­ter sales plateaued in re­cent years.

ON THE ROAD

Most peo­ple are sur­prised when they dis­cover how quickly hy­brid cars ac­cel­er­ate, but the typ­i­cal hy­brid owner will be blown away the NX200t. It feels more like a hot hatch than a luxury car, such is the power de­liv­ery and the throaty sound.

Lexus has spent decades fo­cus­ing on iso­lat­ing noise and mak­ing its cars as quiet as pos­si­ble, but the NX200t feels and sounds, well, more like a nor­mal car.

We’re not sure if this is de­lib­er­ate. But if you like to hear ev­ery breath of air the en­gine is tak­ing, the NX200t could be for you.

It’s rea­son­ably eco­nom­i­cal (if we use the rat­ing la­bel of 7.7L/100km as a guide) although it in­sists on pre­mium un­leaded, as with most Euro­pean luxury cars.

In­side, the cabin is smartly styled — it is an amaz­ing piece of de­sign and the qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als is su­perb — and all the mod-cons are cov­ered.

But Lexus’s touch pad which con­trols most cabin func­tions can take some get­ting used to and is not al­ways in­tu­itive. For ex­am­ple, for the life of me, I couldn’t fig­ure out how to mute the con­stant speed cam­era alerts on the nav­i­ga­tion — they even chime dur­ing phone calls.

On the move the NX200t is in­of­fen­sive and fuss free to drive. Most buy­ers will be de­lighted and drive hap­pily ever af­ter. But if I’m hon­est, the NX200t (and the hy­brid for that mat­ter) could drive bet­ter.

Other SUVs have bet­ter steer­ing feel and are bet­ter over bumps. Some NX mod­els have ad­justable sus­pen­sion, but it merely trans­forms the ride from a bit bumpy to a lot bumpy.

You may find this hard to be­lieve, but the base model Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5, each of which cost about $30,000, are more com­fort­able over bumps while of­fer­ing more ac­cu­rate steer­ing feel.

How can I make such a wild ac­cu­sa­tion? By co­in­ci­dence, I drove both af­ter driv­ing the NX as we have them on test this week.

VER­DICT

Lexus loy­al­ists and those new to the brand will love the NX200t. It is in­cred­i­bly well equipped for the price and the qual­ity is a stand­out.

But if Lexus wants this com­pact SUV to be con­sid­ered a true ri­val to Audi, BMW, Range Rover and MercedesBenz, it needs to make the NX drive bet­ter.

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