SUV Review: 2016 Lexus NX 200t F Sport
Lexus takes on the compact crossover market, and it’s poised to win a few new fans
You don’t have to convince Lexus what new car buyers really want are crossovers. The Toyotaluxury brand’s RX midsize crossover — around since 1999 — was one of the first-ever premium utility vehicles. The RX remains Lexus’s best-selling vehicle, but now for buyers who don’t need the size (or want the extra cost) there’s the smaller Lexus NX, the brand’s first-ever compact crossover.
Cynics could argue Lexus has been sluggish getting the NX to market. Most luxury brands have had a small-ish premium SUV for years (the 2004 BMW X3, comes to mind). Yet the brand’s late-to-the-party strategy seems to have paid off. Although it’s only been on sale since late 2014, over one in three new Lexus vehicles sold in Canada is an NX, challenging the Audi Q5 for overall sales leadership in this burgeoning class.
Built off the humble bones of the mainstream five-passenger Toyota RAV4, Lexus has gone out of its way to distinguish its all-wheel-drive NX for luxury crossover buyers.
Like every Lexus these days, the NX wears an extroverted metal and plastic costume made up of a mish-mash of metallic slashes and cuts, highlighted by the massive grille up front. As well, the Lexus crossover’s interior, steering and suspension are more driver-oriented than the Toyota. And while the NX 300h shares the same gas-electric powertrain as the just-released 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, my 2016 NX 200t tester is powered by Lexus’s first-ever turbocharged engine.
With a starting price of $41,950 (excluding freight and pre-delivery inspection fees), the NX 200t is about $12K less expensive than the fuel-economy-first NX 300h. And in typical Lexus fashion existing RX owners will appreciate, the NX 200t also comes with more standard kit (i.e. heated steering wheel, navigation, power moonroof, etc.) than less-expensive German rivals, such as the $36,800 2016 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI Quattro, $38,800 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i and $38,000 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC.
While the larger RX is renowned for its luxury, Lexus realizes one reason you may want the smaller NX is for a sportier, more nimble drive, like the above-mentioned Teutonic trio of compact crossovers. To that end, my NX 200t came with the $9,400 F Sport Series 2 package.
If not as hardcore as a vehicle that wears a BMW M badge, Lexus’s F Sport sub-brand does provide the goods for those buyers looking to tip the luxury/sports equation more to the sports side. On the NX 200t, the package adds a bunch of F Sport-exclusive trim, steering system, suspension, seats, paddle shifters, bigger wheels and tires, better audio, rear-cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring system, among other items
Further distinguishing itself from its RX big brother, and just like those German cute-utes, the NX 200t comes with what is becoming standard issue in this class: a turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
With 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, the Lexus’s 2.0-litre turbo-four equals or betters the similarly sized and blown mills found in the Audi, BMW and ‘Benz. The NX 200t’s mandatory six-speed automatic transmission (no manual is available) shares the same number of gears as the Q3, but falls behind the X1 (with eight) and the GLA (with seven).
Although the Lexus may lack in gear count, the marriage of its small turbo-four and the brand’s ubiquitous six-speed auto is almost as smooth in use as the larger RX and its silken six-cylinder mill. However, taking 7.3 seconds to go from zero to 100 km/h leaves the NX 200t F Sport strictly mid-pack (the X1 is quickest at 6.5 seconds, the Q3 is slowest at 8.6).
Same goes for the Lexus’s ho-hum fuel economy estimates. Rated at 10.8 L/100 km city and 8.8 highway (I saw an as-tested average of 10.4 L/100 km), the NX 200t F Sport is competitive, but not a standout at the pumps
Pulling away from said pumps, the NX 200t F Sport immediately impresses with its sharp steering actions — very unLexus-like. While once up to highway speeds, the compact crossover’s tighter suspension mitigates any kind of freeway float normally associated with the brand’s soft-riding sedans — hey, Lexus ES, I’m looking at you! — with a very controlled and composed ride.
If you intend to drive your luxury crossover like a sports sedan, however, the NX 200t F Sport starts to disappoint. Pushed hard in tight comers — say, like a freeway on-ramp — and the Lexus only has one cornering attitude: understeer. A quick look at the NX200t F Sport’s specs show that well over half of its weight is carried over the front of the vehicle, which would explain its understeering ways.
Dial your driving back, and the wee Lexus ute is happier. Lexus has gone to great lengths to make the NX, well, Lexus-quiet, ending up being much quieter than the RAV4. That said, you can dial up Sport mode and the so-called “active sound control” system will deliver a raspier (but fake) engine note.
More impressive than the NX 200t F Sport’s out-and-out handling capabilities is its slick cabin design.
Like the sporty rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS sports sedan, the Lexus crossover’s cockpit wraps itself around the driver. All of the NX 200t F Sport’s major controls have been segregated into obvious groups, with distinctive shapes and layouts that help the driver remember where each control is, instead of facing a wall of buttons.
The extra-supportive F Sport seats and small-diameter steering wheel should also be called out for mention; they really add to the feeling that you are driving something special.
All in all, in F Sport guise at least, the 2016 NX 200t delivers a sports sedan interior, accurate steering and a sporty ride (at least at higher speeds). Not bad for the brand’s first crack at a small crossover. Yes, keen drivers will want more balanced handing, and perhaps more power. But if you are looking for a non-German luxury compact crossover, the new Lexus needs to be on your short list.