In some ways, the Lexus NX is supposed to take the spot where its bigger sibling, the RX, has left off. When the first generation RX was introduced back in 1998, Lexus claims it to be the first luxury SUV in the world! That’s a pretty bold claim if you ask us, surely they didn’t forget about the European brands, did they?
Each progressive generation of the Lexus RX have turned out to be less utilitarian and more luxurious while steadily gaining a few inches in the process, but the RX did it in a good way. Eventually, it created a vacant spot for a smaller SUV to be slotted underneath it, thus the LF-NX concept was born. It was later showcased at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, hinting at a brand new “baby” SUV.
Seven months after the unveiling of the LF-NX concept, the Lexus NX was officially unveiled at the 2014 Beijing Motor Show, and it is also the vehicle that Lexus chose to debut their first ever turbocharged engine. Loosely based on the (whisper it) Toyota RAV4, it’s never going to claim all-terrain capabilities of a Land Rover, but that’s fine by Lexus because it was never really advertised to be an off-roader.
Launched here in January 2015, you can have the NX in either a hybrid or a turbo flavour. The NX 300h range-topper utilises a combination of a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor; but you’ll want the NX 200t because that’s the one with the all-new turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Unlike the NX 300h that only comes in a single variant, the NX 200t is offered in four different variants: Base, Premium, Luxury, and F Sport.
We’re testing the NX 200t F Sport, which UMW Toyota claims is the best selling variant of the bunch despite a whopping price gap of RM75k from the base NX 200t. Aside from cosmetic differences, apparently the F Sport has a few tricks up its sleeve, or rather, under the skin. Join us as we find out more about the provocative NX 200t F Sport.
|Name||Lexus NX 200t F Sport|
|Engine||1,998cc; inline-4 twin scroll turbo|
|Max Power||235 hp @ 4,800 rpm|
|Max Torque||350 Nm @ 1,650 rpm|
Most were taken aback by its looks. Honestly though, who wouldn’t when it looks like a giant origami katydid? The production NX may have been toned down from the ornate LF-NX concept but it keeps most of the design flourish intact. It still splits opinions though, so it’s either you like it or you don’t.
Like all current Lexus models styled under the L-Finesse template, the face hits you hard with the offensive spindle grille so huge it’s seemingly capable of grating little children into a pulp with its intricate wire mesh. Adding to the fierce demeanor is a floating matte silver wing wedged at the trailing edge of the front bumper’s lip.
The sharp tick of the LED DRLs complement the compact triple-L full-LED headlamps, and while the main headlamp units may be compact in size, they are actually more than capable to light up even the darkest corners of the infamous Ulu Yam road in the wee hours of the night. The LEDs don’t turn with the steering though, but the LED foglamps below also double as cornering lights.
Some might think it’s the bigger RX when viewed from the side. Although the window line is a nod to the second-generation RX (codenamed XU30), the surfacing on the bodywork is more intense. The sharp swage line combined with the bulging rear haunches gave the NX its sense of athleticism, while layered wheel arches with black plastic moulding help to prevent the side from appearing too tall.
The tiny emblem on the front fenders says F Sport, and with the badge it brings the aforementioned wire mesh grille, black side mirror caps, and a set of attractive 18-inch wheels finished in what Lexus calls as “Superchrome“. More F Sport goodies can be found later when you step into the cabin.
So far, so good; the designers could’ve just packed up by now and leave the tail bare but they didn’t. The L-Finesse touches continue to the rear end of the NX, attacking you visually with its stern stare from the consistent glow of the rear position lamps like it’s telling you not to tailgate it. Too bad the shapely tailpipes down below doesn’t deliver a hair-raising growl to match the looks.
Access to the interior is by a card that you can keep in your wallet, so you can just casually walk to the vehicle and unlock it by grabbing the door handle. It also comes with a normal key fob complete with its own leather casing, and unlike the buttonless card, it has physical buttons to lock, unlock, and open or close the rear hatch. However, we’re baffled on why Lexus can’t make the key fob smaller if not as slim as the card.
Other than the plasticky window switches on the doors; the materials used in the cabin look and feel good to the touch. The F Sport red leather seats not only look hot, they can toast both front occupants’ buns on demand; or if that’s not what you prefer, you can set them to blow cool air to your backside.
The ventilated front seats are electrically operated, and the driver’s seat will remember up to three different drivers’ seating position. The steering column is also adjusted electrically for reach and rake, and together with the driver’s seat they move away from you when you switch off the engine to ease ingress and egress.
You’d want to stay inside longer though, because the stylish cabin deserves a second look. You’ll find delicate details such as the stitching on the leather that covers almost everything inside the cabin, the tiny Lexus markings on the little hex socket bolts on each side of the center console, or even the hidden bonus mirror underneath the pull-out lid near the center arm rest. Meanwhile, located under the center arm rest is a Qi wireless charging tray, similar to the one that appeared in the Camry Hybrid.
The angular center console is an omnium gatherum of a gearlever, a drive mode knob, a parking brake switch, a few buttons and a touch pad. Dubbed the Lexus Remote Touch Interface, the touch pad controls the menu displayed on the 7-inch screen on the dash, and the screen also telecasts the feed from the cameras around the car, giving you a 360 degrees bird’s eye view of the vehicle to assist with manoeuvring.
The touch pad is easy to use and the system itself supports the usual gamut of external media connectivity. It even vibrates based on your input, but I personally find the layout messy and could’ve been better resolved if they could provide a physical back button instead of having to point the cursor on the screen every time you want to return to the previous menu.
There’s another LCD display in the instrument cluster that sits amidst a couple of analogue dials. It shows a multitude of information that range from the trip info, eco indicator and audio info, to the more performance-oriented data like G-force meter and a digital turbo boost gauge. Scrolling through the screen is done via the buttons on the steering wheel, and speaking of steering wheel, for something that claims to be sporty the steering wheel rim doesn’t gain extra girth, but it does come with shift paddles.
We usually don’t pay that much attention to the audio system, but the 14-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround audio system deserves recognition. Available only on the NX 300h and this NX 200t F Sport, it emits sounds with supreme clarity so sinfully satisfying to the ears, it’s akin to having a DJ or a band performing live in the car with you. Freddie Mercury never sounded so alive.
Moving over to the back, the rear bench will comfortably sit three abreast, but the sloping roof robs the headroom a little. The backrests can be reclined and split 60/40 but oddly the power folding and reclining function in the Premium and Luxury variants are not included in the F Sport. Granted, the powered rear hatch to access the 550 litre boot is still featured here, even if it operates in slow motion. We also love the expansive panoramic roof that stretches all the way to the back. It floods the interior with light during the day, and at night everyone in the car can partake in stargazing activities.
Safety kit is generous in the NX. Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, ABS with Brake Assist, and Hill-start Assist are given, and a total of eight airbags can be found inside the cabin. The Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are also on standby, and they certainly help when the rear view from the driver’s seat is hampered by the thick D pillars.
Making its debut here is the turbocharged four-pot fully developed in-house by Toyota, and it’s their answer to the European engines of the same format. Essentially the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder with Dual VVT-iW from the Camry facelift, Toyota has strapped on a twin-scroll turbocharger that produces a healthy 235 hp and 350 Nm of twisting force. Sending the power to an intelligent all-wheel drive system via a six-speed automatic transmission, the NX 200t accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and it will continue to go all the way to the 200 km/h top speed.
The absence of a Stop/Start system is a strange omission on a typically modern and new SUV, but it is available in the NX sold in other markets. Still, the engine is smart enough to switch from Otto cycle during hard driving to Atkinson cycle when driven at a relaxed pace, in a mission to achieve the targeted fuel consumption of 7.9 litres per 100 km.
As mentioned, the F Sport treatment is not merely a styling exercise, it adds on the Sport+ mode on top of the three existing driving modes. The Sport+ utilises the Adaptive Variable Suspension and Performance Rods fitted exclusively on this variant, which promises to give the F Sport some edge in the handling department over the lesser-priced NX 200t.
To think the NX 200t as one docile SUV is fallacious. Well, not entirely. You see, in the default Normal mode the engine performs like any garden-variety naturally-aspirated unit, providing a gradual power delivery throughout the rev range. Ride quality is generally comfortable and the regular road imperfections are very well taken care of by the suspension.
It’s when you twist the drive mode knob to Sport that things start to get rather interesting. Short of poking a sleeping bear annoyingly with a stick, a stomp on the throttle pedal awakens the blown-four under the bonnet. Progress is laggy at the lower rev range, but once the turbo spools up the NX 200t charges its way strong and relentlessly as the needle on the speedometer continues to climb pass the three digit figures.
You won’t notice that you’ve actually broke the speed limit by 70 km/h because there’s no drama behind the wheel, just a relaxed and steady pace. It feels planted to the road but then again the sub 1,800 kg kerb weight would attest to that. Wind noise can be an issue at higher speeds, but when you have Mark (Levinson) on board that’s no biggie at all.
You’ll only get Sport+ mode in the F Sport, and it’s the mode that you want to be in if you plan take the NX for some backroads blasting. Most of the tim, drive is sent to the front wheels only, but the AWD system will come into play when more traction is needed, diverting up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels.
Turn-in isn’t scalpel sharp and the steering is still on the woolly side, but for a lofty SUV the way it attacks the bends is rather impressive. Not only have the dampers been stiffened further in Sport+, the Performance Rods also work hand in hand to keep body roll at bay.
Like the Volvo XC60, the transmission is sourced by Aisin but it’s two cogs short from the Swedish counterpart. In manual override mode it doesn’t respond instantly to your input but the shifts are buttery enough to make it almost as smooth as a CVT, so it’s better to let the ‘box do its thing in D.
Despite the clever engine that’s capable to alternate between two operating cycle, fuel economy is not spectacular and it takes a lot of restrain to keep it below 8.0 litres per 100 km. Yours truly managed a best of 7.7 litres per 100 km and that was achieved in Eco mode. But with normal mixed driving you will see more than 10.0 litres per 100 km on the trip computer most of the time.
SO, IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
The NX 200t should be able to fulfill the requirements of those who demand style and comfort in an SUV, but deciding on which variant to get is another story. Performance is equally the same in all four variants because they all share the same engine under the lightweight aluminium bonnet, therefore the major difference lies on the equipment.
If you’re not fussy about fancy interior fitments and audio quality, the base NX 200t would do just fine, but you will be missing out on that extra glimmer of talent the F Sport has to offer in the Sport+ mode, especially when the road starts to tangle.
If getting stares from random strangers make you feel uncomfortable, the NX is definitely not the SUV for you. Even our test unit that came in grey still attracts glances from males and females alike, so there’s no hiding when you’re behind the wheel of an NX. Maybe you can consider the Volvo XC60 instead; but then again that might attract gazes from architects and a certain group of radiant vampire fans.
The stylish and premium compact SUV is currently dominated by none other than the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. In Si4 trim, the Evoque is the most expensive here but in terms of performance, the Evoque and the NX 200t are neck and neck. Both dish out almost similar output from their 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, and both are strutting their equally arresting looks.
Alternatively, if you want to stand out even more, there’s the American option. Sitting in between the Evoque Si4 and the NX 200t F Sport in terms of pricing is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. The 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated engine won’t be able to match the output figures from the two turbocharged steeds here, but it will guarantee an even more puzzled look from bystanders.
|Lexus NX 200t F Sport||Land Rover Range Rover Evoque 2.0 Si4||Jeep Cherokee 2.4 Trailhawk|
|Type||4-cylinder turbocharged petrol||4-cylinder turbocharged petrol||4-cylinder petrol|
|Type||Electrical power-assisted||Electrical power-assisted||Electrical power-assisted|
|Transmission||6-Speed automatic||9-Speed automatic||9-Speed automatic|
|Type (Front / Rear)||MacPherson struts / Double wishbone||MacPherson struts / Multi link||MacPherson struts / Multi link|
|Front||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyres||235/55 R18||245/45 R20||245/65 R17|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Max Kerb weight||kg||N/A||1,640||1,638|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||550||575||506|
|Tank Capacity||56 litres||58 litres||60 litres|
|Consumption||7.9 L/100 km||7.8 L/100 km||N/A|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||7.1||7.6||N/A|
WILL I BUY IT?
For a brand that was once related to cosseting limos, Lexus has shed its drab image to become one of the producers of daring looking vehicles, and don’t forget, they are also responsible for giving us the spine-tingling LFA supercar. While the NX is no supercar, it’s a well-rounded package of grace and pace from Lexus. The only thing that annoys me is that the F Sport’s asking price is closer to the Evoque than to the base NX 200t. Personally it’s either the Evoque, or save RM75k and go for the base NX 200t.