Lexus NX200t is a sporty and stylish SUV

The Lexus NX200t is the brand’s first turbo petrol model. -- PHOTO: TOYOTA MOTOR CORP
The Lexus NX200t is the brand’s first turbo petrol model. -- PHOTO: TOYOTA MOTOR CORP

The Lexus NX is an SUV that is surprisingly sporty and stylish

The NX is not a smaller version of Lexus' popular RX sport-utility vehicle. Neither is it a classier version of the Toyota Harrier, with which it shares a platform.

The newcomer is a standalone model with its own set of attributes and attractions, and it takes Lexus straight into the premium crossover segment to join cars such as the Audi Q3/Q5, BMW X3/X4, Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC60.

The NX certainly looks ready to engage its rivals in a style shootout, thanks to an exterior design with plenty of curves, creases and "slashes". It just about toes the line between "edgy" and "busy", but one thing is for sure - nobody will mistake the NX for the RX. Or any other SUV for that matter.

There is admirable attention to detail too. For instance, the standard black plastic cladding that frames each wheel arch has a metallic-flake finish, while the optional LED headlamps have low-beam elements in an L-shape (to signify Lexus). Like the RX, 10 body colours are available for the NX, but Sonic Quartz (a special white paintwork that is more reflective than usual) is unique to the NX.

Making the NX look even sharper is the F Sport package, which includes a more aggressive spindle grille, black outer mirror-covers and darker, "more wavy" 18-inch alloy wheels.

The exterior's design scheme is repeated on the inside, which would appeal to urbanites who want both fashion and function in their wagons.

The "function" bit is well taken care of, thanks to superb interior space (the larger RX with its 80mm longer wheelbase is roomier, but not by very much), sensible storage points within the cabin, and versatile rear seats with optional powered folding/unfolding (plus three sets of controls - one on the dashboard, another on the sides of the seats and a third in the boot area). The NX also offers a powered tailgate, with a choice of five pre-set opening angles.

In terms of onboard equipment, the NX has a few goodies that even Lexus' LS flagship does not have (at least not yet): a wireless charging tray for supported smartphones, a panoramic all-round camera system for safer manoeuvring of the vehicle and a redesigned Remote Touch Interface (RTI).

The new RTI, which will also equip Lexus' RC coupe, has replaced the previous mouse-joystick controller with a touchpad, while retaining the original's haptic feedback capability. It is a neater device that is also more ergonomic than the rather tentative RTI that came before. Other Lexus models are expected to adopt it in due course.

What I did not expect from play-safe Lexus is the peculiar features in the NX. The reverse side of the lid covering the central accessory pocket doubles as a vanity mirror, there are cheesy "cosmetic screw" bolts (apparently inspired by the cockpit of the LFA supercar) affixed to the sides of the centre console, and the F Sport interior option for the NX200t includes a Playstation-ish digital turbo- boost gauge.

With just a press of a steering-wheel button, the gauge can be "swopped" for a digital g-force meter, which is equally gimmicky (or brilliant, depending on the driver's frame of mind).

In either case, it is difficult to watch the real-time data animation on the "Playstation" panel while simultaneously keeping an eye on the more important main instruments (which can include a nifty head-up display if you wish). Therefore, the novelty of the boost and g-force gauges might wear off long before the next Japanese game console is launched.

The turbocharged performance of the NX200t, however, is likely to remain interesting for some time, and not just because it is Lexus' first-ever turbo petrol model (they once did a turbo- diesel IS220d for Europe).

Developed in-house, the 2-litre direct-injection four-cylinder employs a twin-scroll turbocharger. It produces 235bhp and 350Nm - figures which are competitive against 2-litre turbo units found in European SUVs.

But the NX200t's six-speed automatic transmission might not be geared up to fight its Continental competitors, whose gearbox repertoire boasts a seven-speed dual-clutch (Audi), an eight-speed automatic (BMW) and even a nine-speeder (Range Rover Evoque and Jeep Cherokee).

Indeed, the six-speed automatic is a chink in the edgy armour of the NX200t. The autobox changes gears less enthusiastically than the engine changes tempo, and it always slurs every gear-change, even one selected manually and urgently by the driver using a paddle-shifter.

The turbo drivetrain is otherwise a delight. It needs at least 3,000rpm on the tachometer before it pulls with gusto but the in-gear acceleration from that point on is excellent. The motor is tofu- smooth too and sounds lovely in the upper registers of the rev counter.

Driven on 225/60 R18 tyres, there is more road noise than in the Lexus RX, although drowning it out is easy with the powerful 14-speaker Mark Levinson hi-fi system (it is less easy, though, with the standard eight-speaker system). The slightly noisy ride is offset by the admirably low wind noise around the side mirrors at speed and the compliance of the suspension over Canadian tarmac - be it perfectly paved or broken in places.

The test route, which is almost entirely on long, wide highways and trunk roads, has far fewer curves than the bodywork of the NX, so the car's chassis is barely challenged.

This could be the reason why there does not seem to be much of a difference between the default mode and the sporty mode of the Adaptive Variable Suspension. In either mode, the NX200t cruises comfortably and takes corners accurately enough to readily maintain the motoring rhythm, and with stable body control too. Both the driving position and the driver's seat support are good.

The test route has no off-road detour, so there is no opportunity to put the all-wheel-drive through its paces in the British Columbia countryside. In any case, the only hill the NX will ever climb in Singapore is probably Mount Faber. I reckon the AWD Lexus will have no problem tackling suburban, shopping-mall and wet-weather conditions.

The NX200t is such a capable and attractive crossover, I believe that when it makes its Singapore debut in the last quarter of this year, it will steal sales from the entry-level RX270.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

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