Lexus NX MM Full-Review: 2015 Lexus NX 200t

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Thought I'd share this with you guys......this is an (edited) version of an NX review I did a few months ago.

MM Full-Review...2015 Lexus NX


A Review of the all-new 2015 Lexus NX.

http://www.lexus.com/models/NX

IN A NUTSHELL: Lexus (finally) joins the rapidly-growing American market for luxury-grade small SUVs.

CLOSEST AMERICAN-MARKET COMPETITORS: Audi Q3, BMW X3 (and possibly some versions of the X1), Mercedes GLK, Lincoln MKC, Infiniti Q50, Acura RDX, GMC Terrain Denali (but ONLY the upmarket Denali version), Land Rover LR2/Evoq, Volvo XC60.


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(NX200t)

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[F Sport interior)

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OVERVIEW:

The NX falls into the compact luxury/upmarket class of a type of vehicle whose proliferation and expansion in the American market has been nothing short of phenominal in the last 15 years or so.....the unibody, car-based, full-time AWD type of SUV that relies primarily on auto-based features rather than traditional truck-based features such as a body-on-frame design and part-time 4WD only for off-road or bad-weather use. (In fact, very few SUVs in the American market are still designed and built solely to the traditional truck-standards...even the big full-size body-on-frame GM and Ford SUVs now have at east some car-based features on them, in addition to their heavier-duty frames/chassis. But body-on-frame SUVs, in general, still have a towing-limit advantage over comparable unibody SUVs, though that difference has been narrowing somewhat in recent years as computer-designed unibody frames get stronger and more rigid.

Lexus, of course, has been producing both types of SUVs for years. The large LX and mid-size GX models are both body-on-frame versions based on the Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado (the Prado being quite similar to, but not a clone, of the Toyota 4Runner). The RX, a huge market-success and runaway seller since Day One, is based on the Toyota Highlander, though with a markedly different body/interior....and the Highlander itself is based on the Camry platform.

One reason for the runaway success of car-based SUVs, compared to traditional truck-based ones, is their more docile, car-like ride/handling/steering qualities and generally better fuel economy (though some car-based SUVs can still ride a little on the stiff, choppy side and/or have porpoising-type motions). Many buyers, of course, look at SUVs not only for winter traction and ground clearance, but also for carrying ability. But, even given that, Lexus, up to now, has not produced any car-based SUVs with third-row seating, leaving that function to the larger GX and LX truck-based SUVs. The RX, with all of its huge success, could only carry 5 moderately-sized adults (four large ones). With the introduction of the 2-row, 5-passenger NX, however, Lexus has given hints that the next-generation RX may be stretched enough to include a third-row seat.

With the aforementioned rapidly-proliferating growth of the car-based compact-SUV market in the U.S. (especially of those with luxury/upmarket nameplates), better known as "Cute-Utes", the NX itself is a little late to the party...though, of course, we're still waiting for Cadillac's yet-unannounced entry as well. Lincoln, after years of struggling in the marketplace, introduced its all-new MKC compact SUV last summer, which, unlike the rest of its lineup, seemed to keep most of those who reviewed it (including me) awake and with their eyes open, though Consumer Reports, admittedly, is not terribly impressed with it except for the interior. Lexus, IMO, should have gotten the NX to market months ago (I don't really know what the holdup was)...but there's no use crying over spilled milk. It's here NOW, so let's take a look at it.

The basic NX platform, not surprisingly, comes from that of the less-expensive Toyota RAV-4 compact SUV. I say not surprisingly because, with the larger Lexus RX SUV being based on the Toyota Camry/Highlander platform, the RAV-4 was probably the perfect platform to base the one-size-smaller NX on. And, of course, the NX will appeal to at least some prospective buyers who owned a RAV-4 before (or who otherwise like it) and want something with a nicer interior and a little more refinement....cheap plastic interiors have been a RAV-4 minus for some years now.

But, of course, that doesn't mean that the NX is simply a cloned RAV-4 with some wood and leather inside and a little more sound-insulation.....far from it. Only the basic structure and wheelbase is taken directly from the RAV-4, while the rest of the vehicle is pretty much unique to Lexus. The suspension, gas-powered drivetrain, body styling, roofline, and interior are all significantly different. In fact, the 2.0L turbo inline-four used in the gas version is Lexus's first use of a factory- turbocharged engine here in the U.S....and pretty much competes with similar 2.0L turbo powerplants in the Lincoln MKC and Audi Q3/Q5.

Initially, for the American market, the NX comes in two basic models.....NX200t and the NX300h Hybrid. 200T versions come in FWD, AWD, F-Sport FWD, F-Sport AWD, and include a standard 2.0L Turbo in-line four of 235 HP / 258 Ft-lbs. of torque and a six-speed conventional automatic (F-Sport models get paddle-shifters). 300h Hybrid models come in FWD and AWD, and include a standard normally-aspirated 2.5L in-line Atkinson-Cycle four of 194 HP and the Lexus Electronic Hybrid Dive System with a CVT (Continuously-Variable-Transmission). As with most of its other hybrids, Toyota/Lexus does not publish torque figures for the NX's gas/Hybrid drive system on the website. Base pricing runs from $34,480 for the FWD 200t to $41,310 for an AWD 300h Hybrid....making it more or less competitive on the pricing front with some of its rivals.

For my review, I am going to concentrate on the 200T version, as that version, especially in AWD form, will probably be bought/leased by the majority of NX customers, and will probably be more readily in stock.

Yesterday afternoon, at one of the local Lexus dealerships (same one where I bought my yellow Lexus IS300 14 years ago), their web-site inventory showed at least eight or nine NX models in stock. Just since then (not even one day), when I arrived at the dealership late this morning, only two were left for a test-drive....a 300h Hybrid and an AWD 200t. The AWD 200t, of course, was just what I was looking for , so I jumped at the chance to test-drive it. When I got back, I noticed that two NX models were sitting there on the lot, right next next to each other. One was a black 200t F-Sport, the other, a regular white 200t. A man was there talking on his cell phone. He got off the phone, seemed friendly, and I asked him if he was buying or leasing one of them, and he told me that BOTH of them were being prepared for his delivery, but his English wasn't that good, and he said he had only paid for one of them. I was puzzled at this, and said "You're kidding...it couldn't be Buy One and Get One Free...Lexus doesn't give THAT kind of incentive." :D Then, he understood and said, no, that he had bought the black 200t F-Sport for himself, and his brother, who was on the way, had bought the white 200t for his wife as a gift. So, I congratulated him, and, remembering what I always carry with me in my briefcase, pulled out a small bottle of SCRATCH-OUT and handed to to him (too bad I didn't have two; one for his brother and wife as well). He had never heard of it, but when I showed him how well it worked on a couple of used cars there with some marks on them, he was convinced. He was also interested when I told him I was looking at a 200t myself that morning, comparing it to its rivals, and doing a review.

Anyhow, so much for the small talk. :p On with the review.



MODEL REVIEWED: 2015 Lexus NX200t AWD

BASE PRICE: $35,880


OPTIONS:

Heated Front Seats: $440

Electric Sunroof; $1100

Key/Glove/Wheel Locks, Rear-Bumper Protector: $389

All-Weather Floor Mats: $225


DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $925 (a little steep for this size vehicle)

LIST PRICE AS REVIEWED: $38,959



DRIVETRAIN: AWD, 2.0L Turbocharged in-line four, 235 HP @ 4800-5600 RPM, Torque 258 Ft-lbs. @ 1650-4000 RPM, 6-speed Sport-Shift automatic transmission.


EPA MILEAGE RATING: 22 City, 28 Highway, 24 Combined


EXTERIOR COLOR: Nebula Gray Pearl

INTERIOR: Flaxen (Tan) NuLuxe with Dark Umber Trim

(The NuLuxe upholstery is simply terrific.....more on that below)




PLUSSES: (+)


Superb underhood layout (by luxury-vehicle standards)

Smooth, quiet six-speed automatic transmission.

Very quick steering response by SUV standards.

Smooth, relatively effective brakes.

Relatively good handling...though with some body roll.

SPORT drive-mode setting significantly increases throttle-response.

Well-done paint jobs (though not quite as mirror-smooth as on some other Lexus models).

Decent though (IMO) somewhat dull exterior paint-color choices.

Four different interior colors (depending on trim-level) and three different interior accent-trims.

Handy emergency key-access for electronic fob failure.

Superb NuLuxe interior upholstery.

Comfortable, relatively cushy front seats.

Decently-comfortable rear seat padding (but short on seat-room).

Generally good interior hardware materials.

Generally easy-to-use buttons/controls.

Excellent stereo sound quality.

Clear, easily-read gauges.

Relatively well-trimmed cargo area.

Generally competitive pricing with its rivals.




MINUSES: (-)


Turbo-four powerplant lacks typical Lexus refinement/quietness.

No V6 engine available.

Controversial Spindle-Grille (Some will like it, some will hate it).

Sound insulation (though not bad) could be a little better.

Thick, overstyled D-pillars and opera-windows impede rear vision.

Raked, fast-back rear roofline impacts on cargo room.

Typically complex dash video screen (but not the worst I've seen).

Some luxury/convenience items expected on a Lexus are optional or N/A on base model.

No body-side moldings for parking-lot protection.

Somewhat tinny-closing rear doors (but not bad).

Rear seat a little short on headroom and legroom.

Front seat headroom (with sunroof) marginal for tall persons.

Brake pedal not well-located for large feet/shoes.

NX somewhat late getting to market...IMO, should have been introduced some time ago.




EXTERIOR:

From the controversial Spindle-grille in front to the large, ornate D-pillars/opera windows and steeply-raked rear end, the NX is easily recognizable as a member of the Lexus family, though, IMO, a somewhat over-styled one that classically puts form over function. The BIG feature spindle-grille (some like it, some hate it, so I won't comment on it further) sticks out like a sore thumb...as do the two deep indentations under each of the two slanted, cats-eye headlights. In the back, the thick slanted D-pillar (at least some thickness/sturdiness is needed today for SUV roll-over standards) and triangular opera-window are stylish but impede rear vision and cut down on the cargo area (more on that later). The sheet metal seems of decent quality and thickness overall. The two front doors close with a reasonably solid sound/feel. The two rear doors and hatch-lid feel fairly solid, but, while not bad, close with a hint of tinniness. As is the case with most SUVs, around the entire base of the car and up in the wheel wells runs a belt of black cladding to protect the paint from road debris, but the belt itself is somewhat narrow....only a couple of inches wide. (I'd prefer a wider cladding myself, but some people think cladding looks cheap). The paint job is nicely done in the Toyota/Lexus tradition, although not quite as mirror-smooth as found on some other Lexus models. The exterior paint colors offered, as usual, are a little dull for my tastes, but a decent choice overall...I've seen lots worse. The exterior chrome is well-done, mirror-smooth, and nicely-applied, and the exterior hardware is solid. The twin outside mirrors are quite nicely-done, well-shaped, large enough to give good vision, and snap/swivel/lock as easily and smoothly/slickly as any I have ever tried.

Nice job on the exterior quality, Lexus....except that, for an SUV, I'd prefer something little more traditional, squared-off, and more space-efficient.




UNDERHOOD:

Open the fairly solid-feeling hood, and nice double-gas struts hold it up for you...no annoying manual prop-rods. On the underside of the hood, towards the back, is a rather small insulation pad.....possibly one of the factors in the engine's noise level (more on that later). However, the general underhood layout and execution is superb by luxury-vehicle standards. I often complain, in reviews, about the extensive use of underehood covers and difficult access to components found in many luxury/upmarket vehicles. But Lexus, on the NX 200t, did it right. The transversely-mounted 2.0L turbo four fits in quite well, and (Hooray!) the plastic cover on top of the engine is small and only blocks a small part of the back side of the engine. There is room to reach most of the engine's upper-front components and at least some of them down the sides of the block. The battery is all the way up front, slightly to the right, right under one's nose, and is uncovered with the terminals dead-simple to reach. The fluid-reserviors are large, uncovered, well-marked, and simple to reach. Same for the dipsticks and filler-caps. Nice job, Lexus. :)...now let's see some of this on your other, Peek-a-Boo underhoods.



INTERIOR:

Inside, like outside, the new NX is unmistakably Lexus, though, on the base model at least, the console lacks the quirky mouse-controller for the dash-screen found on some other Lexus models. But the typical Lexus 3-spoke leather-covered steering wheel with spoke-controls, large round easy-to-read primary gauges, block-shaped shift-lever, round Infiniti-style analog clock, wide dash-panels, and large, flowing side-railed console are all there. I've complained before about the zig-zag shift-patterns in Lexus and other products, and the zig-zag is still there in the NX....but in a new, narrower, much easier to use format than before, so I didn't list it as a complaint. The sun visors and headliner were covered in a nice soft ivory-white brush-fabric...you'd be surprised how even some upmarket vehicles nowadays are using hard plastic for the sun-visors. The optional ($1100) sunroof's housing does cut into some of the front seat headroom a bit, and I had to adjust the drivers' seat-cushion all the way down AND recline the seat back a title to fit my 6' 2" frame and baseball cap in. In back, headroom (mostly because of the raked-roofline) and legroom were both tight for tall persons....don't expect to ferry any NBA guys back there to ball-practice. The secondary gauges for coolant-temperature and fuel are a little on the smallish side, but still easy to read. The stereo sound quality is excellent, though this base NX lacked one of the fabulous Lexus Mark-Levinson units which (trust me), has to be heard to be believed. The overall fit/finish level of the interior was quite good...the only thing I didn't particularly like in that regard were the small, somewhat flimsy-feeling flat-black knobs for the stereo-adjustment and the generic, attached-on look of the square dash video-screen. Some NX reviewers have mentioned cheap-power-window switches, and I agree that the black color of them may have looked cheap, but they didn't FEEL cheap. In fact, IMO, they felt quite solid. The glove-box door and latch, though not of Rock-of-Gibraltar grade, were a noticeable step up in solidness and quality from those some other new Toyota and Lexus models I've seen, particularly the ES and Avalon.

Most of the interior trim-materials were decent quality, well-applied, and soft or padded. Wood trim is available, but only on the Luxury Package. My base model had Dark Umber, something that looked like a brownish-tinged carbon-fiber, on the dash and door-panels. Four different interior colors are offered....including nice wine-red-colored seats on the F-Sport models. In non-F-Sport models, depending on trim-level, three different interior colors are offered in both leather and NuLuxe (imitation leather). My base-trim NX had the tan NuLuxe. Personally, I think that when most people see and feel the NuLuxe, they won't want leather (and a lot of cows will be relieved). I particularly liked the NuLuxe that was used in Lexus's sister CT200h (it was clearly first-class), but the NuLuxe used in the NX is nothing short of superb, and I mean SUPERB. It was as smooth and silky as a baby's butt, and blindfolded, you probably couldn't tell it from the famous Connally leather in older classic Jaguars (yes, I've also reviewed some older Jaguars years ago). Not only that, but, especially compared to the somewhat hard, uncomfortable seats found in a number of small SUVs, the seat cushions both front and and back were not only well-shaped but quite cushy and well-padded, especially in back, where, in contrast, I can remember the new Ford Escape's rear seats being as hard and thinly-padded as park benches. The drivers' seat-back was (maybe) just a half inch too narrow for my wide torso (probably not even that much)....and a couple of days, on my part, of easing up at meals would probably solve that problem. But, though headroom and legroom could be better, Lexus clearly didn't cheap out on the seats themselves.




CARGO COMPARTMENT/TRUNK:

Open the rear hatch-lid (my base-model test car lacked power opening/closing, and the lid closes somewhat tinny), and the cargo area itself is pretty nicely-finished. The steeply-raked rear roofline does impact some on the available cargo area (styling pays its price), but the area itself is trimmed in nice materials. The cargo area is, of course, too small to include even a small third-row seat. But, as mentioned previously, because the NX is the new entry-level SUV for Lexus, the next-generation Lexus RX will probably be lengthened enough to include one. Nice, semi-plush black carpeting lines the floor, with somewhat thinner (but still fairly nice) black carpeting on the walls. On the right, attached to the wall, is a First-Aid kit, an item found in many Lexus products and other vehicles in this class. On top of the floor, at least on my test car, was both a thick-carpeted black mat AND, on top of that, a nice Subaru-style molded vinyl/rubber floor tray to keep moisture and dirt off the carpets...part of the aforementioned $225 floor-mat option. The rear seats, of course, fold down to increase cargo capacity. My test car lacked a built-in cover to keep trunk contents away from prying eyes. (one, of course, can always simply use a blanket). Built into the floor are nice, flexible, REAL metal/chrome tie-down rings (no cheap plastic there). Underneath the floor is a gray molded-styrofoam pull-put piece with two cubbie-holes in it, and, beneath it...... .(yep, as usual).......a temporary spare tire. I'm going to defer to one of the suggestions that some readers have made, and (probably) not going to specifically list a temporary spare tire in the MINUS section as a complaint any more. That's because, as annoying as I find temporary spares and donuts, some new vehicles are even worse....they come with either a compressed-air, Fix-a-Flat bottle that is useless if the puncture is severe, or with run-flat tires that are only good for about 50 miles without air, which doesn't help in remote areas.




ON THE ROAD:

Start up the small 2.0L turbo four, with an electronic ignition-fob and engine START/STOP button. As Hoovey2411 noted in his NX review, there is a hidden access in the drivers' door handle for an emergency key if the electronics fail, and that can also be used near the start button. I consider this powerplant acceptable, but, overall, one of the car's weaknesses. The engine comes to life fairly smoothly, but lacks some of the idle-refinement found in other Lexus power plants (or even in the similar 2.0T from VW/Audi)....you can hear the idle as a light but noticeable purr....possibly (?) because of the small underhood insulation pad. On the road, it also lacks some of the smoothness and quietness found in most other Lexus power plants, though more so in the ECO mode of the ECO/NORMAL/SPORT drive-mode knob than in the other two positions. There is a fairly large difference between ECO and NORMAL in throttle-response, and less of one between NORMAL and SPORT.......but even in SPORT, while noticeably stronger, it is clear that this is not a Mustang or Camaro-baiting muscle car. Of course, the AWD hardware adds some weight and drag......FWD models can be expected be slightly better on both acceleration and gas mileage. What this vehicle actually needs, IMO, is a small V6...perhaps the 2.5L from the Lexus IS250 adapted for transverse-mounting. Without turbocharging, the 2.5L V6 may not have as much torque as the 2.0T, but it easily wins in refinement.

The 6-speed transmission shifts with typical Lexus smoothness/refinement and quietness, even in manual sport-shift mode, though according to the sales-reps, one has to buy the F-Sport version to get column shift-paddles. Otherwise, one simply bumps the shift-lever fore/aft in the usual manual-gate slot, over to the left. Still, I like the fact that the NX comes with a conventional 6-speed automatic......not a quirky CVT, like with many other newer vehicles (I'm generally not a fan of CVTs).

The chassis is generally well-done, with a good ride-handling combination by small SUV standards. Steering response is much quicker than average for this class (almost sports-sedan quick), though that quick response generates some noticeable body roll. The generally compliant suspension and relatively tall-profile tires produced a rather comfortable ride over bumps (just the way usually like it). I've read in other NX press-reviews about the NX's (supposedly) firm ride, and, of course, I'm usually quite sensitive to discomfort over bumps, but I really didn't have any complaint with the NX's ride, at least on the base model. Now, with the more sport-oriented F-Sport package, I can't say, since I didn't' sample it. Press-reviewers, of course, are more likely to sample the F-Sport, since they generally want sharp handling. The sound-insulation levels on the road, though generally muted, weren't quite up to those of some other Lexus models. Noticeable (but not severe) road noise gets into the cabin, even on some non-porous road surfaces. Some light but noticeable wind noise also gets past the window/door seals into the cabin. But, to be fair, today was a rather windy day, with winds gusting to occasionally 25-30 MPH, and that, added to the car's own speed, didn't help the wind-noise level any. Perhaps (?) it would have been a little quieter on a less-windy day. The brakes were smooth, evenly-proportioned, and effective, though there was tiny bit of sponginess in the pedal, and the pedal itself was placed too high and close to the brake pedal, so my big size-15 circus-clown shoe had to be lifted off the gas rather carefully to avoid it getting hung up on the underside of the brake pedal. (This is a very common problem in my reviews......I wish designers would spend more time testing the pedals with larger feet and shoes before placing them in production).



THE VERDICT:

Lexus may have been late to the upmarket small-SUV party with the new NX, but, in general, the company has delivered a credible and competitive product. It's smaller than the RX, and may (?) draw in some former customers of the RX who don't need a third-row seat (as the next RX will probably have one). But it will also (probably) draw in some former buyers of German, Swedish, or British competitors who looking for better reliability....an area that Lexus has always done well in. Like the also-fairly-new Lincoln MKC, it only offers four-cylinder engines without a V6 option (a mistake as I see it, but perhaps something being forced on the auto industry by the upcoming CAFE fuel-mileage regulations). Like the MKC, Audi Q3, Acura RDX, and some other upmarket small SUVs, it is based on a similar-sized but less-expensive SUV in its parent corporation, but with extensive interior and exterior changes for a more upmarket feel an drive.

And, by doing so, Lexus has delivered. No, the NX is not perfect (no vehicle is), and, IMO, it could use a small V6 option, wood-trim options on all versions, some more room in the cargo compartment and headroom in the rear seat from a less-stylish roofline, some brighter paint colors, and maybe just a tad more road and wind-noise insulation. But, like with the Lincoln MKC I reviewed last July, I'm certainly not going to pan it.......like the MKC, it is a credible, honest, and well-done first-attempt, and some of the shortcomings it has maybe could get addressed in future refreshenings. In the meantime, if you like it (and I suspect a number of people will), go for it. Your money probably will not be wasted.

And, as always......Happy car-shopping. :)

MM
 
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