First Drive: 2015 Lexus NXPosted on July 14th, 2014
New compact crossover fuses luxury and performance
By Nina Russin
It was almost twenty years ago that Toyota introduced the compact RAV4 crossover: a car that helped create one of the fastest growing segments in the auto industry. This year, Lexus follows suit with the new NX: a vehicle based loosely on the RAV, but with some important new technology.
Most notable is a two-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine, reflecting CEO Akio Toyoda’s commitment to bringing his personal passion for driving to the brand. Lexus developed the twin scroll turbocharging and air-to-liquid intercooling technology in-house.
Toyota employed a similar strategy in developing its hybrid synergy drive system, now used extensively throughout the brand. This writer expects that the turbocharged platform will become a game changer for the automaker going forward.
The NX, which might well be the new Lexus poster child, was not a quick-to-market endeavor. Designers and engineers sweated the details, progressing methodically through concept sketches, clays and the concept car introduced last year.
There are two variants: the gasoline-powered turbocharged car called the 200t, also available as F Sport, and the 300h hybrid powered by a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. Gasoline models come equipped with a new six-speed automatic transmission while the hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic. Both variants are available with front or all-wheel drive.
Test drive in Seattle
Lexus selected Seattle, Washington- a city known for its technologically savvy residents- to host a recent media preview. Drive routes included urban thoroughfares as well as area freeways and two-lanes roads en route to a lunch stop at Snoqualmie Falls.
My personal bent for performance drew me to the F Sport model that comes with a unique grille and lower valence, special 18-inch rims with summer performance tires, sport-tuned suspension and a proprietary gauge cluster with integrated turbo boost meter and G sensor.
Although the new NX is considerably smaller than the current version of Lexus’ best-selling RX 350, its wheelbase is slightly longer than the 1998 RX 300. Our rear seat passenger had enough legroom to be comfortable during several hours of driving.
Anticipating that much of the NX audience would live in congested urban areas, engineers added a standard rearview camera with cross-traffic monitoring as well as available blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.
All of this came in handy during a loop through downtown Seattle: a town that has become almost as challenging to get around as San Francisco. Both cities are surrounded by water, are constructed on steep hills, and have their fair share of blind intersections that cars share with electric trollies. Adding summer road construction to the mix, gridlock has become more the norm than the exception.
To its credit, the NX treated all of the above as de rigueur, minimizing stress behind the wheel with good steering feedback and visibility enhanced by the above-mentioned safety features.
Electric power steering technology has been a challenge for Toyota and Lexus. Early products felt rather numb, with a significant disconnect between the driver and the wheels of the car.
The solution has been to enhance torsional rigidity through the use of high tensile strength steel, additional spot welds, laser screw welding and body adhesives. The NX is the first Lexus I have driven that I can honestly say has solid on-center response. It’s a major step forward.
The six-speed automatic transmission is as well, extending fuel economy by adding a large overdrive gear for the highway. The EPA estimates gas mileage at 22 mpg around town and 28 on the highway.
The new turbocharger is a beautiful piece of machinery, with solid linear acceleration that mimics a larger, six-cylinder engine. Peak torque is available as low as 1650 rpm.
Zero-to-sixty acceleration, according to the manufacturer, is 7.2 seconds for the front-wheel drive car; seven for the all-wheel drive version.
Intercooling is an important addition for potential buyers in warm climates. Although turbocharging technology is light years ahead of where it stood in the 1980s, heat continues to present a challenge for long-term durability. Intercooling should help with that, and increases the charge by making the air cooler and therefore denser.
I kept the car in fully automatic mode during the drive through the city, and switched to the sport mode with manual gear selection on the drive out to the falls. As with other current Lexus products, the NX allows the driver to tune throttle and suspension response by selecting eco, normal or sport performance modes.
The rotary dial is located on the center console. Normal mode is default. Eco mode modifies throttle response and air conditioning operation to extend gas mileage while sport mode adds a more aggressive throttle and holds onto the gears longer.
Formula-style paddle shifters on the F Sport car add some fun to winding rural roads. I like to use them on hills because they mimic the performance of a manual gearbox, enabling the driver to control downhill speed by selecting a lower gear and hence slowing down the engine.
The MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension is nicely tuned to the vehicle. While the F Sport model has a somewhat stiffer ride than the base car, it offers enough protection to prevent the car’s occupants from getting beat up on uneven road surfaces.
Ventilated disc brakes up front and solid discs in the rear stop the NX in firm, linear fashion.
Chief engineer, Takeaki Kato, describes the NX as ‘premium urban sports gear.’ In keeping with that theme, designers made an effort to position controls ergonomically, simplifying the driver-to-car interface. For example, the drive mode select rotary dial is near the shift lever and touchpad on the center console.
A new touchpad with haptic feedback replaces traditional infotainment controls, keeping the instrument panel clean and uncluttered. It took a few minutes to get used to, but should be fairly intuitive for users familiar with smartphones and tablets.
Contrast stitching adds some spice to the F Sport model interior. All grades come with keyless entry and start, saving the driver from fumbling for a key fob. Lights on the door handles ease access and egress after dark.
Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for longer items such as bicycles.
Connectivity features on the new NX include standard Lexus Enform with safety connect, turn-by-turn directions and app suites, available navigation with a ten speaker audio system, traffic and weather updates, cache radio and a Qi wireless charger that allows users to charge compatible phones without plugging them in.
New features include a guest drive monitor that enables parents to monitor their children’s driving habits and a remote feature that allows owners to unlock and start their vehicles using cellular data.
The Lexus NX comes with eight standard airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, whiplash resistant front seats and tire pressure monitoring. The available all-wheel drive system can send up to fifty percent of engine power to the rear wheels to improve traction on wet roads or during aggressive driving.
The 2015 Lexus NX will be sold in eighty global markets. It is currently on sale in Asia and rolls into US dealerships later this year. Pricing for the North American market arrives closer to vehicle rollout.
Like: A right-sized stylish and versatile crossover vehicle with state-of-the-art connectivity, good fuel economy and solid performance, thanks to a new two-liter direct injection turbocharged engine.
Dislike: Small rear glass can create some large blind spots in the rear corners, which is especially noticeable when passengers are in the second-row seats.
Model: NX 200t F Sport
Base price: N/A
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 235 Hp @ 4800 rpm
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 1650 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.2 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 22/28 mpg city/highway2015, Green Hybrid, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Lexus, performance, pricing, standard safety
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