Lexus has been king of the luxury utility segment since before the turn of the century, but now it's getting greedy. It’s out to conquer more.
The NX200t, a bold, all-new compact CUV (crossover utility vehicle) set to slip in under the top-selling RX in the automaker’s lineup, features chiseled bodywork and a pointy, angry, spindle-shaped grille that juts so far forward you could almost use it for shelter.
Despite its rock-solid looks, however, it’s a soft-roader that's based on the Toyota Rav4, but with a stiffer, luxed-up chassis. It doesn’t go on sale until the end of the year, so Lexus hasn't revealed the exact price yet, but it'll be under $40,000. Figure mid-30s to match up against the Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC. In terms of size, it’s actually longer than the original 1998 RX, that model having grown with its customers over the years.
A hybrid version called the NX300h will be available (it’s a Lexus, after all), but the NX200t – the company’s first turbocharged car – is the one you'll mostly see around. It’s powered by a 235 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s not overly potent, but it’s sporty enough, smooth and reasonably efficient at an estimated 28 miles per gallon highway in both front- and all-wheel-drive applications.
The cabin is an absolute knockout – I’d rank it near the top of current Lexus models. It’s ultra-modern and upscale, with high quality surfaces where they matter most, if not quite LS-caliber leathers and woods.
The front seats are deep and luscious, and the entire package is very quiet and comfortable, at least for four people. It has the same odd, rear seatbelt arrangement as the Rav4, where the center belt is attached to the ceiling and overlaps the left passenger’s. It’s awkward, but a quarter-million annual Rav4 buyers can’t be wrong, I guess.
There’s plenty of legroom back there, but the cargo bay behind has a higher lift-over point and is much smaller than the Rav4’s. The more rakish bodywork of the NX knocks off a few cubic feet, as is often the case in this class of chic, aspirational vehicles.
All the usual suspects in driver assistance are on board, including adaptive cruise control, land departure warning and a blind spot monitor. The infotainment/navigation system is comprehensive, as well, featuring a touch-pad interface that is set to replace the mouse-like controller Lexus has been using for years. It’s located on the center console and is equipped with haptic feedback that vibrates when you move the pointer over an on-screen icon, but it takes a lot of getting used to and is a little fiddly when the vehicle is in motion.
The NX offers an optional Qi brand wireless charging tray for smartphones that fits in the compartment under the armrest, where you’ll also find a USB port and 12-volt socket that you can just plug into. If you have a compatible phone and trays in your office and home to go with it, it’s a convenient way to round out your untethered existence.
Considering Lexus essentially made the luxury CUV segment with the RX, it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long to make a smaller one, as others have filled the vacuum. But the NX appears to be a worthy heir. In fact, a palace coup could be on the horizon.
2015 Lexus NX200t AWD
Base priced: TBD
Type: 5-passenger, 5-door CUV
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged inline-4
Power: 235 hp, 258 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG (est.): 21 city/28 hwy