Driving the 2015 Lexus NX

Lexus NX F SPORT Grille

Two weeks ago, Lexus invited me to Whistler, British Columbia, where I was able to test drive the all-new NX compact crossover in all its various forms. I posted a technical overview of the new model on Monday, and now it’s time for some personal impressions.

Lexus describes the new NX compact crossover as Premium Urban Sports Gear, with the idea that it’s a vehicle that will fit into an active lifestyle. Before seeing the NX in person, I imagined it to be like a Swiss Army Knife, a crossover that places a high value on functionality by design.

I arrived in British Columbia thinking design is where the NX should shine — how did it match up in real life?

Exterior Impressions

No matter the version, the NX is not going fade into the background. It’s unlike any other car on the road.

Let’s start with the spindle grille — there are two treatments, and both have a premium and expensive look:

Lexus NX Standard Grille
Lexus NX F SPORT Driving

I will admit to preferring the F SPORT grille — feels weird to say about a vehicle in the “cute ute” segment, but the massive mesh gives the NX an intimidating presence.

The standard headlight assembly is decent enough, but the tri-L LED headlamps are spectacular:

Lexus NX Tri-L Headlamp

There’s a much stronger relationship between this lamp design and the swooshing daytime running lights, they have a complimentary look that brings real sophistication to the NX front end.

The design concept of the NX was “inner bullet”, and I think it shows clearly with its arrow-shaped front-end and the blunt drop of the rear:

Lexus NX Side Profile

Lots of visual interest here, particularly the deep angle coming from the front wheel and gradually softening. Still, it’s tough talking about the side profile without mentioning the plastic cladding around the wheel wells:

Lexus NX Wheel Well

It’s a strange thing, but what seems so dramatic in photos is less noticeable in person. I don’t get the point of making the wheel wells seem larger than they actually are, but it’s not the big mistake I was expecting.

The NX design starts to simplify once you get to the back of the vehicle:

Lexus NX Rear

Incorporating the spindle grille into the sheet metal is a nice touch, and the tailpipes on the NX 200t are well done, but overall the rear design is much quieter than the front.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the taillight design and their black clip-on siding:

Lexus NX Taillamp Cladding

I will say that the tail lamps look great in brake:

Lexus NX Taillamp Lit Up

Add it all up, and this is clearly a vehicle from the future. Take away the wheels and add some kind of anti-gravity jet propulsion, and the NX would fit right into a summer blockbuster.

The Interior

It may be bold to say, but I believe the NX cabin is a return to the class-leading interior design that made Lexus so successful in the first place:

Lexus NX Interior Wheel

I can’t point to a single reason for being so bullish, but the overall level of detail is beyond what we’ve seen in the last generation of Lexus vehicles.

The metal scuff plates, quirky features like the extra grip of the cup holders, the sunglasses holder with the removable mirror, all of these features show the thoughtful side that I expect from Lexus interior design.

Soft touch materials are well placed, and all the controls have an intuitive way about them:

Lexus NX Interior Thoughts

How’s the new RTI touchpad? Well, it functions pretty much exactly like the existing Remote Touch joystick — anyone that switches between a mouse and a touchpad while working on computers will know the basic idea is the same.

Lexus NX Controller

I found responsiveness to be an issue, but this may be due to ongoing development. Telling it straight, don’t expect a revolutionary change — it’s a nice evolutionary jump for controlling the infotainment system, but it’s the overall software that needs the real attention.

(Biggest news, the RTI touchpad now has a Back button. I campaigned hard for this addition over the years, and I’m thrilled that it’s now a part of the controller.)

Driving Impressions

I suppose it’s true of all vehicles with two different drivetrains, but the NX 200t & NX 300h really do feel distinct.

Lexus NX Hybrid

There’s a serene, solid quality to the NX hybrid — it feels well set on the road, with none of the floatiness that comes with the bigger RX.

From a stop, it benefits from the instant torque of the electric motor, but there’s something about the drive that’s perhaps a little too uneventful.

Lexus NX F SPORT Grille

On the other hand, the NX 200t feels lively, ready to go. It’s not fast off the line, even compared to the NX 300h, but there’s a sweet spot around 60mph when the engine feels like it could accelerate forever.

(My biggest question about the turbo engine was lag, but it’s only noticeable mashing the pedal to the metal.)

I’m going to say it because I believe it. The NX has a special feel, and it’s going to be a big hit.

At the end of the day, driving back to the hotel in a black NX F SPORT, I called my wife for a quick chat. I was cruising down the Sea to Sky highway that runs through Whistler, which is a wonderful road with sloping curves and big elevation changes and passing lanes.

In the middle of discussing my daughter’s upcoming swimming class, I hit the crest of one of the road’s many hills, and the sun came shining down between two mountains and there was this moment when everything felt right in the world.

A touching story, sure, but what does it really have to do with the NX?

Well, for as loud as the exterior design may be, inside the NX is an example of the best Lexus has to offer — thoughtful, solid, subtle, and functional. It’s not just about the engines, or the headlights, or the wheel wells, it’s about the experience of driving.

The NX has a character all of its own, and it’s going to fit into people’s lives with ease. That’s what makes it special.

And that wraps up my initial impressions of the 2015 NX. I’m sure you have questions, so leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

My special thanks to Lexus for the invitation and their hospitality during my trip to Whistler.