Turbo leads the charge
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.
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.