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The Lexus NX200t arrives in Australia as a landmark car for the 25-year old brand, given it premieres its first turbocharged petrol engine — a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit nine years in development.
For a company so entrenched in hybrid technology, that’s a big deal, though many would say Lexus is simply just playing catch-up to the Germans (though the reverse could be said about hybrids). In a few years, this 2.0-litre huffed engine will almost certainly replace the 2.5-litre V6 used in the likes of the IS250 and GS250 sedans.
We became acquainted with the Lexus NX mid-sized crossover when we drove the NX300h petrol-electric hybrid at its Australian launch in October, coming away impressed with the value it offered but less enamoured with some of its driving characteristics.
And of course, we’ll leave the critique of the polarising design to you, save to say that at least it’s a brave approach from a historically conservative brand.
This Lexus NX200t derivative seems quite promising, given it replaces the at-times underwhelming hybrid drivetrain (unless you never leave the inner-city) with the new turbocharged engine, and sports a $2500-cheaper price across the board to boot.
That means it kicks off at $52,500 plus on-road costs in front-drive Luxury guise, climbing to $57,000 for the front-biased (though up to 50:50) AWD version, $63,500 for the F Sport AWD, and $72,500 for the Sports Luxury AWD.
At this point it undercuts the opening gambit of the (AWD) Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI and BMW X3 x20i, which start at $63,600 and $60,765 respectively. The upcoming Land Rover Discovery Sport due in May costs $59,000 in petrol auto form.
And, importantly, each version of the Lexus NX comes loaded with specification, which we'll cover in more detail shortly.
Small surprise then that Lexus expects the 200t to be the bigger seller of the two drivetrains, with a 12-month split in its favour of 60:40. More impressively, the company says it has taken more than 230 firm orders from customers for the NX200t — in just the past five days.
The big news is the engine, so we’ll start there. It may be late to the party, but with nine years of development, 10,000 hours on the test bench and one million kilometres of road testing under its belt it should at least be fashionable.
It’s a 1998cc unit that operates on both Atkinson (efficient) and Otto (conventional) cycles, and pumps out 175kW of power between 5800-5600rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1650-4000rpm. That torque band means a conventional six-speed auto with paddles replaces the NX300h’s CVT.
We’ll keep the tech talk brief, but there’s a more efficient twin-scroll turbocharger and an air-to-water-to-air intercooler mounted to the engine to minimise intake volume downstream of the turbocharger, and the single integration of the head, exhaust manifold and turbo allows for the high 10.0:1 compression ratio.
On first local impression — albeit from a brief stint at the wheel — it's a pretty impressive unit, refined and free of lag, with plenty of gusto down low and acceptable, though not class-leading, huff higher up for overtaking.
It’s two seconds faster from 0-100km/h than the hybrid, at 7.1sec. At the other end of the scale, towing capacity is listed as 1000kg, which is quite low despite Lexus claiming to have put the engine through arduous tow tests. Still, Toyota’s figures are generally conservative — something to bear in mind.
In short, given its hushed tones and linear delivery, it’s precisely in keeping with the Lexus character. The company fits an electric bypass valve and fits a resonator in the intake system in a bid to remove turbo ‘sigh’. It’s never raucous or gruff, its note sounding distant behind the firewall.
It’s matched to a six-speed auto that is generally good but occasionally fails to intuit to the level of the BMW X3’s ZF eight-speeder, taking that tenth too long to kick down. In manual mode it automatically upshifts when you approach the 5500rpm redline.
That said, it beats the hybrid’s graceless CVT. Furthermore, the Sports mode (and S+ on the F Sport) encourages it to hold lower ratios, making the car feel livelier.
Lexus claims fuel economy on the combined cycle of 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres in 2WD form and 7.9L/100km in AWD guise. Stop-start is standard. That’s compared with as little as 5.6L/100km on the NX300h, though that car’s $2500 premium means it would take many miles to recoup the initial hit.
Truth is, our early drive was not diverse enough to offer a fair combined-cycle economy reading, but we'll get an NX200t through the garage very soon and report back on that.
As with the hybrid, the NX200t’s ride borders on firm, though it is generally composed over gravel or rutted bitumen. However, the F Sport’s firmer dampers can pick up corrugations a touch more than we’d like. Road roar from the 18-inch wheels on 225/50 rubber (235/55 on the F Sport) is kept commendably at bay.
The steering remains pleasant enough in terms of weight, and the car’s turn-in and lack of body roll is better than many SUVs out there. On gravel, you’ll notice the grabby stability control system — generally a Toyota bugbear. It’s really not such a bad steer.
The removal of the batteries means it’s also up to 60kg lighter, though not much is over the nose where you might reasonably expect to notice the biggest difference.
Inside the cabin, it's essentially the same as the NX300h, meaning some strange styling and a touchpad that takes some acclimatisation, but also a feeling of pervasive quality and a list of standard equipment longer than both of your arms.
There is a protruding fascia with tiers topped with a floating screen, synced up to a touchpad rather than a rotary dial. The Sports Luxury has one of the best full-colour head-up displays in the business. There’s also a wireless inductive phone charger in the console of the F Sport upwards.
As we noted on the NX300h launch, small touches such as the silent way the various cubby holes shut and the hefty doors that shut with a thud are nice. It makes tiny touches such as the Toyota Corolla cruise control switch seem all the more incongruous, however.
Standard equipment is excellent, and worth a quick run-through here. The base variant gets niceties such as sat-nav, reverse-view camera and sensors, electric tailgate, heated electric seats, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloys, push-button start and an electric hand brake, 10-speaker audio with DAB+/USB/Bluetooth and electronic steering column adjust.
All models come with eight airbags and the identically equipped hybrid version gets a five-star NCAP safety rating.
The $63,500 F Sport costs $6500 more than the Luxury AWD but picks up performance dampers, an S+ driving mode, adaptive suspension, 360-degree panoramic-view monitor, paddleshifters, F Sport-specific cabin inserts, LED headlights, and heated and cooled seats with memory.
The $72,500 Sports Luxury adds (over the base car) features including higher-grade leather seats, a pre-collision safety system, radar-guided all-speed cruise control, the bird’s eye monitor and adaptive dampers, lane departure warning, a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, LED headlights with auto high-beam, a sunroof and full-colour heads-up display.
Critiques as ever include outward visibility that is compromised by the raked window line and fat C-pillar, and smaller storage areas and door pockets than some rivals, though they’re still acceptable.
As we noted previously, rear seat space is decent for both heads and legs in the outboard seats and moderate in the middle. The pews themselves are soft and long in the cushion. The rear windows might make kids claustrophobic.
Rear seat occupants get air vents. The back row folds down 60:40 (electrically on the top-spec), but annoyingly cannot be flipped down from the cargo area — either by levers in the back or mounted on the top of the seats.
Despite the absence of batteries, rear cargo space grows only 25 litres over the hybrid to 500L, and the area itself is shallow with a high lip. Under the floor sits a new cubby, and there’s a space-saver spare wheel offered as with the NX300h.
From an ownership perspective, Lexus always fares well. The Lexus Encore Privilege aftersales program gives you four years/100,000km of warranty, free loan cars or pick-up/drop-off come service time and a comprehensive roadside assist program.
When all is said and done, there is little doubt that the NX200t is more palatable than the NX300h, and the fact it is $2500 cheaper across the board is music to the ears.
Is it enough to be class leader? Hard to say, though in areas outside of spec we suspect not quite. Either way, a twin-test with the BMW X3 xDrive 28i awaits.
No matter the result, the NX is now even better value than before, and if standard equipment is your key shopping point in the luxury market, this is your car — provided you like the looks. It’s not German, but it is different, and in turbo petrol guise, a notably better proposition than the hybrid.