Seattle ? If the luxury crossover market has a sweet spot, the 2015 Lexus NX should be hitting it dead center. From its cutting edge design and innovative technologies, Lexus has shed its cloak of conservatism to create something completely different. Looking more like an auto show concept vehicle than the typical Lexus showroom model the NX has an aggressive styling that resembles a stealth aircraft with sharp edges, headlight slits filled with LED lighting and the bold (and somewhat controversial) Lexus spindle grill.
Lexus has always done interesting interior treatments, and the NX design pushes limits even farther with a multi-dimensional center stack with user-friendly controls, easy to see gauges and the large screen mounted above the dash level so checking the map requires only a sideways glance.
Lexus designers even questioned their own innovation from past cars replacing the mouse-like screen controller with a new touch pad, similar to the one on my laptop, only easier to use thanks to the ergonomic palm rest next to it. Sinking into the soft and nicely bolstered seats behind the thick multi-function steering wheel and well-placed controls I felt right at home in the NX.
At 182-inches long, the NX is 5.5 inches shorter than its big brother/sister the Lexus RX and about the same length as the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Porsche Macan and Mercedes GLK crossovers. The Lexus NX is derived from elements of the Toyota RAV4, but that?s where the comparison ends.
Initially it seemed strange to build a second model so close to the size of the best-selling Lexus model, the RX, but the NX reaches for a different market. Lexus expects NX buyers to be younger and looking for a sportier model. Although pricing won?t be announced until closer to the November release date, it?s expected to be lower than the RX which starts around $40,000.
Aside from great styling, the NX 200t opens up a new era of engine technology for Lexus by using a turbocharger. The last turbocharged Toyota product was the Supra, which was discontinued in 1998 (Toyota is the parent company of Lexus). The new Lexus engine architecture uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It has direct injection and an advanced valve control to achieve maximum fuel economy. The engine is rated a 235 horsepower and produces 258-lb.ft. of torque. The transmission is an all-new six-speed sequential unit designed to work in conjunction with the turbocharged engine. Lexus unofficially estimates 0 to 60 mph acceleration times of about seven seconds, but I have a feeling it will drop into the high six-second range when buff magazines start their testing. The turbo?s fuel economy is rated at 21mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined for the AWD. The FWD model is listed at one mpg more in the city.
The turbocharged engine drives the front wheels but it is available in Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive too. The AWD system powers the front wheels under normal conditions but monitors vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, throttle angle and yaw rate. When slippage is detected it activates an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential housing, directing up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels.
The Lexus crossover is also offered as a hybrid, the NX 300h, and it becomes the sixth offering in the Lexus hybrid lineup. A 154-hp 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor brings total horsepower to 190. The hybrid shares the same enthusiastic performance as the turbocharged engine thanks to a new ?Kickdown? feature of the new automatic transmission. The Kickdown configures with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to produce greater acceleration performance as the driver pushes down on the accelerator.
The transmission has a sequential Shiftmatic feature allowing the driver to shift manually and also switch between a Normal, Sport and Eco drive modes. Like other Lexus hybrids, the NX 300h allows the driver to select an EV mode which keeps the vehicle in the pure electric operation longer at low speeds.
The NX 300h, too, is standard front-wheel drive, and optional all-wheel drive. It works similar to the gasoline powered version, except when power is applied to the rear wheels it uses an electric motor. The rear motor also acts as a generator when the NX 300h is in its regenerative braking mode. Zero to 60 mph acceleration is estimated at 9.1 seconds by the manufacturer. The hybrid is expected to get 35 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined fuel economy.
The Lexus NX plays it luxury roll with an extensive offering of technological equipment. I especially appreciate the available Blind Sport Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control features. Another must feature is the lane departure warning system and a Pre Collision System that help avoid crashes at lower speeds.
For added comfort it has optional heated and ventilated front seats and a climate control system detects a front passengers and sends airflow only to the seats with passengers.
In the convenience column, I like the power liftgate, power folding rear seat backs and the cool wireless charging tray in the console box that charges smartphones and other electronic devices without using a cable.
Of course, the NX has the Lexus Enform system that helps you do an Internet search through Bing?, buy movie tickets, listen to Internet radio and even check Facebook Places?. Enform?s main function is safety with features like calling for assistance in case of an accident, finding the vehicle if it?s stolen and opening the doors when you lock yourself out.
I had a chance to drive all three 2015 Lexus NX models and they all felt quick and fun to drive, especially the F Sport. The NX combines with the high level of luxury appointments and excellent utility quotient to make this a very desirable crossover.