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Depending on which way you look at it, the 2015 Lexus NX is either a stylish, avant-garde take on the medium SUV segment, or a fussy and over-complicated Japanese alternative to a range of Euro options.
This is a fertile battleground and one which shows no signs of abating. Each manufacturer makes a more concerted effort to out-do the competition with every new model or extensive facelift of an existing favourite.
In Lexus style, the NX effectively straddles two segments. It's officially classified as a Small SUV and therefore needs to appeal to potential buyers of cars like the Audi Q3, (soon-to-be-replaced) BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, but it also needs to steal sales from the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Discovery Sport (plus the imminent Mercedes-Benz GLC).
Lexus is off to a good start, given it actually topped the sales charts in its segment last month.
With this in mind, CarAdvice has snared the keys to a brand new NX200t turbo-petrol AWD for our long-term garage. We'll see how loveable this luxury SUV is over a period of months, and put Lexus' hyped new boosted engine to greater test.
Shock horror, the plot thickens too. Our NX doesn’t have a single option. That’s right, it’s exactly as the manufacturer intended as a further snicker to the Euro brigade, many of which usually charge into the fray adorned with thousands of dollars of options.
I’ll state from the outset that I’m not a fan of the NX's styling. I think it’s a little too edgy, too funky and over-stylised. That said, it seems to grow on people, so who knows? I might end up loving it. Everywhere you look and from any angle, the NX is all sharp edges and swooping style lines. It’s nothing if not dramatic.
Prices for the NX start from $52,500 plus on-road costs and importantly, we’ll be able to report on what the ownership experience might be like for those of you not wanting to spend more than the entry-level pricing. Our NX200t is the ‘Luxury’ trim grade, with ‘F Sport’ and ‘Sport Luxury’ above it. Our NX200t is also the AWD model, meaning pricing starts from $57,000. So it’s not the cheapest, but the lack of options is a positive in our books.
While the hybrid model might appeal to numerous buyers looking for the ultimate in green satisfaction, the peppy 2.0-litre engine in our 200t is the CarAdvice pick of the range and will appeal to those of you who actually enjoy driving.
It generates 175kW and 350Nm and uses an ADR claimed 7.9L/100km. Thanks to the six-speed automatic that it is matched with, there’s none of the performance-draining feel that you get with a CVT either, a real benefit with a small-capacity engine like this one. Expect the real world fuel usage to be thirstier than the ADR claim, though we’ll report on that in coming months.
The NX200t's interior exhibits everything that is great about the way Lexus puts together a cabin. The fit, finish and cosseting sense of luxury is apparent whether you’re the driver or passenger. Some of the team finds the driver’s area a little on the cramped side, but there’s no doubt the NX feels a lot sportier than an average SUV from behind the wheel.
Part of that luxurious feel comes from the smooth engine and gearbox combination, the almost seamless shifting, and the insulation within the cabin we’ve come to expect from Lexus. The NX is almost silent around town up to 60km/h. Silence might be the most intangible factor of a truly luxurious interior and the engineers at Lexus do it very well.
While the interior mirrors the exterior’s dramatic styling, it certainly isn’t distasteful or ugly. In fact, it manages to catch the eye but remain a little understated. The 7.0-inch screen is ok, while the touchpad (Lexus Remote Touch Interface) might take some getting used to. It works very effectively once you master it though. It’s a vast improvement on the system it replaces, that’s for sure.
Some of the standard equipment highlights include LED daytime running lights, LED headlights, reverse camera and parking sensors, satellite-navigation, a ten-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, leather accents for the interior trim, heated and cooled front seats, stop/start and 18-inch alloy wheels.
On the subject of seats, the NX has some of the best we've ever sampled. There’s something about they way they position drivers of all sizes, that makes them supremely comfortable without sacrificing the ability to hold you while driving round corners. Other manufacturers could learn a lot by studying these Lexus pews.
Our initial drive impression is positive too. It indicates the 200t is also a better all-round package than the hybrid, with better balance, sharper handling and steering, yet the same comfortable, supple ride over poor surfaces - an important factor around town for the family buyer.
Over the coming months we’ll get the NX out on some longer drives, take it away form the urban confines and perhaps out of it’s comfort zone a little as well. Stay tuned for our regular long-term updates, but if initial impressions are a good indicator, it’s going to be an enjoyable ‘ownership’ experience.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn