2015 Lexus NX200t F Sport AWD Review
By Ken Glassman
Lexus is breaking ground by introducing their first compact SUV crossover, and by putting their first turbocharged engine in it. And with engine technology improving, and stricter gas mileage rules fast approaching, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more turbos in the Lexus lineup soon.
Lexus is certainly no stranger to SUV’s. Their landmark RX mid-size is the best selling luxury vehicle in the country with over 100,000 units sold each year. Only time will tell if the NX 200 will be able to match that, and if it does, will it take some sales away from it larger brother?
The engine is a 2-liter turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, with an aluminum block and head, and with port and direct fuel injection. It pumps out 235 hp @ 5600 rpm, and makes 258 lb-ft of torque @ 1650 rpm. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode - with a driver choice of paddle shifting, or lever shifting. And for the most part, the transmission does its job, by shifting quickly and smoothly when rowing through the gears manually.
Those numbers sound good, and zero to 60 times are listed at 7 seconds, but they’re not class leading, and despite Lexus’ attempts at keeping the power flowing smoothly, there is some turbo lag at around 2100 RPM. Still, the engine revs freely and feels peppy, but it is hindered by having to schlep around over 4,000 pounds of weight. That’s more than 500 pounds heavier than Toyota’s Rav 4, which contributes many of its underpinnings to the Lexus cousin. The engine is quiet, as you’d expect from a Lexus, at least until you push the "Active Sound Control" button, which sends artificial engine noise through the speakers. Call me crazy, but if I wanted fake digitized engine sounds, I’d prefer listening to the sound from one of Chrysler’s hemi engines, not a turbo 4. Still, the Lexus engine hits respectable fuel economy numbers, with 22 City and 27 Highway.
The F Sport trim gets you a higher-effort steering system and sport-tuned suspension aimed at raising the NX’s handling to BMW X3 or Audi Q5 altitudes. Unique strut tower braces, firmer springs, dampers, and bushings collaborate to offer the driver a bit more sporting driving experience. On the highway, the ride is taut, yet comfortable, and feels very stable at speed. Throw it into the twisties, and it turns in crisply, with decent enough steering feel. But force it, and you’ll feel the understeer pushing through turns. That’s understandable when a tall vehicle, with 60% of its weight sits over the front wheels, but is has some ways to go before it can run with the boys from Germany. The brakes, however are wonderful.
The cabin is a quiet place to relax and enjoy the drive. The memory, heated leather seats are comfortable but a bit too narrow – not Spirit airline seat narrow, but they could use another inch or two of width, and there seems to be enough room for that. Rear seat room is good for head and leg room. The seats are comfortable and fold down and recline. But there is a cheap feeling to the headliner material. The cargo area is nicely appointed and has some under floor storage, and an electric liftgate. But at a smallish 17.7 cu.ft. of capacity with the rear seats up, it doesn’t haul as much as many competitors. Unfortunately, no seat release in back, and the moonroof is not a large panoramic affair that has become so popular in many vehicles these days.
We loved the very stylish interior – The hooded driver gauge package flows across to the passenger side, and the center stack is a smart looking layered and tiered affair, with nice stitching on top of the dash, and some carbon fiber looking trim underneath door sills and in rear doors, too. Driver gauge package is easy to see, with round dials and an info screen in center. You can toggle to see a turbo boost screen and a g-force screen, (which is a bit silly for this car), or get Nav directions, or messages and MPG information.
But it’s the electronics and infotainment package that irritates me. Lexus uses a haptic touch pad, like those on a laptop computer, which is VERY sensitive to inputs, and difficult to control when the car is stopped, and ridiculous to control when in motion.
Sliding the cursor to alight on the place you wish to be is hard to do, and then you have to press down on the very center of the pad, without causing the cursor to move off the mark. It’s difficult, and very distracting to have to take your eyes off the road to look at the screen in the center stack, and keep your eyes focused there while trying to fiddle with the pad. It’s also very difficult to put an address into the Nav system with the pad, and even more frustrating to try to use the voice command to do it. I don’t know why luxury carmakers think they have to have gimmicky controls to overcomplicate things. Simple is always better.
At first I thought my disdain for the system could be a generational thing, with my gray hair influencing my position. But at a press event, I polled about 10 journalists all younger than me (hard to find older ones) who were familiar with the system, and 8 of 10 strongly disliked it. And that wouldn’t be the only question I asked about this car. More on that below.
The exterior styling captured me at first look. The profile is sexy - with the swooping roofline ending with a nice spoiler lip over the rear glass, and then bows out to the rear liftgate. The glass in the front doors to the rear doors, drop to a sharp point just behind the rear door glass and are highlighted with chrome. Bulging wheel wells give it a muscular stance, and the chiseled rocker panels have an upswept line adding to the dynamic look. The rear has uniquely shaped dual exhaust tips, and the taillights, are sculpted jewel-like pieces of black and red plastic that wraps around deeply into the rear fenders. I thought that for a company never noted for cutting edge styling, this is a huge leap forward. The best looking SUV I’ve ever seen, including the Porsche Cayenne.
But then I looked at the front end with its grotesque slab of black grill that seems better suited to grace the front end of a Mack truck. It looks like an 8 year olds first try a carving a Halloween pumpkin, or the clown’s open mouth at the local Putt-Putt golf course. The black plastic lattice grid work looks like the Bar-B-Q grates found on grills at the local public parks. And because it’s so large from top to bottom, the only place to hang a license plate is right in the center of it, sticking out like a buck tooth on an old horse. Whomever designed this grill for the F-Sport went off their meds for this effort. And that’s a shame, because the front end could be as striking as the rest of the car, because the front headlights, like the taillights, wrap smartly around into the front fenders, and beneath them the running lights look like Nike swooshes following the same lines. At least the grills non F-Sport versions are a tad smaller, and they have horizontal lines of brightwork to break up the mass.
Again, I polled other writers, and the most positive answer I found was, “Well, I’m getting used to it.” All others found it ugly, horrible, or unattractive.
The NX200t starts at $34,480 for a front wheel drive version, and the front drive F-Sport starts at $36,580. A hybrid NX300h starts at $39,720. Our all-wheel-drive F-Sport began at $37,980, but as with all luxury cars, the number spools up pretty quickly in the real world.
Our tester added the $2,100 Nav package, which also includes a 10-speaker premium sound system, and the Lexus Enform system.
For $2,045 the Premium F-Sport Package adds the heated front seats, the moonroof, the power tilt and telescope steering column, and 10-way power driver seat with lumbar.
$660 buys the auto-dimming outside mirrors, with blind-spot monitoring, and rear Cross Traffic alert. For $220 there is a wireless phone charger in the console, but it only works with Android phones. And $1,550 bucks for separate items like cargo nets and mats, Homelink garage door opener, power rear liftgate, intuitive parking assist, and the heated steering wheel. The bottom line, came to $45,313.
In closing, the NX200t is a fine, expensive small SUV. It’s enjoyable to drive, and to spend time in. While I find the front end to be ugly, I suppose I could live with it. Heck you don’t have to see it all that often. But the deal breaker for me is the touch pad system, which you’d have to use every day and for most of the things you need to control. That’s something I can’t live with.
By Ken Glassman