Is the smallest Lexus SUV a real contender against premium and mainstream rivals?
Luxury cars used to be something most people could only dream of, but these days the ever-competitive new car market has forced the once-exclusive premium marques to blur the lines between mainstream and luxury – at least in terms of price.
As a 22-year-old male who loves nice things, you can imagine the excitement when I was handed the keys to my first luxury car, a 2017 Lexus NX200t Luxury, which will set you back a cool $58,140 (all prices before on-road costs).
While it may sound odd that someone so young is reviewing something that should be well out of their price range, you'd be surprised to see just how many luxury cars these days are wearing P-plates on the windscreen. Is it worth the spend (or your parents') though?
It definitely stands out from the crowd, with its angular 'L Finesse' design language lending a bold, and from some angles, polarising aesthetic. Compared to the related Toyota RAV4, the NX certainly provides a lot more visual drama.
Standard kit includes 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, 'Nulux' faux-leather trim, electric adjustment for the front seats and steering wheel, automatic LED headlights with LED daytime-running lights, DAB+ digital radio, 10-speaker audio system, satellite navigation, automatic wipers, electric folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, selectable driving modes, and the list goes on.
However, to get driver assistance systems like low-speed autonomous-emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, you'll need to shell out an extra $5000 for 'Enhancement Pack 2' which bundles the two systems with a power moonroof – pushing the starting price to $63,140, which is right up there with the German trio.
To get other features like blind-spot monitoring, surround-camera system and lane departure assistance, you need to step up to the F Sport grade (from $64,390).
However, all NX models come standard with eight airbags and hill-start assist – though this is to be expected considering we are talking about a near-$60,000 luxury car in 2017.
First impressions from the driver's seat are pretty good, thanks the chunky steering wheel – inspired by the one used in the LFA supercar – wrapped in a nice leather, steering-mounted paddle-shifters, and features full-electric adjustment; very fancy.
The front seats are pretty comfy, though the leatherette trim can feel a little rubbery. Up front there is a mix of faux-leather trim across the dash and doors along with some cheaper-feeling hard plastics – particularly on the centre stack and around the driver's instrument cluster. Despite some of the non-premium-feeling materials, everything feels very well screwed together – just like any Lexus should.
Our test car featured a black-on-black interior colour scheme, though you can also opt for 'white' ivory, 'garnet' red or 'topaz' brown trim, all of which would add a little more visual appeal.
At the back there's plenty of space, with lots of leg- and headroom for taller passengers. Behind the second row is an adequate 500-litre boot, though it's smaller than the Q5 (540L), as well as the X3 and GLC (both 550L). The high boot floor and protruding rear bumper also make storing heavier items that little bit more difficult.
Infotainment on the other hand, definitely isn't the NX's strong point. The 7.0-inch screen is controlled solely by a touchpad which the company calls 'Lexus Remote Touch Interface', which can be difficult and frustrating to use – particularly when on the move.
At times it would scroll far further than desired or it just wouldn't respond to inputs at all – just let me see the map please!
The graphics of the satellite navigation aren't a highlight either, looking very much like the maps on my dad's old 2007 Toyota Kluger Grande.
It also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, something that a growing number of competitors are beginning to offer.
Another miss is the lack of a digital clock anywhere in the cabin, there's just an analogue clock in the middle of the centre console a-la Bentley or Rolls-Royce. While it may look pretty, it takes a little longer to figure out what time it is considering the clock's hands are similar lengths, and lack of numbers on the face.
The climate control temperature displays can also appear completely blank in direct sunlight, which is a result of the upward-facing design of the centre stack.
On the road, the NX is a bit of a mixed bag. The 2.0-litre turbo and six-speed automatic are incredibly smooth and offer linear acceleration much like a naturally-aspirated V6, but it feels quite lethargic and the engine can get loud and thrashy under hard acceleration.
And, while Lexus claims a 0-100km/h time of 7.1 seconds (two seconds faster than the hybrid), it definitely doesn't shove you into the back of your seat like the sprint time suggests.
Using the paddle-shifters, however, is actually quite fun, with snappy shift times despite the six-speed automatic being a conventional torque converter as opposed to the quick-shifting dual-clutch variety used by some other manufacturers.
Meanwhile, the ride wallows about on undulating roads and crashes over sharper bumps, despite riding on chubbier 225/60 rubber. Not exactly something you'd call comfortable around town or country back roads.
It just feels heavy and clumsy, which probably isn't helped by the AWD Luxury's hefty 1860kg kerb weight – heavier than both the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC despite its slightly smaller dimensions.
Handling is definitely not the Lexus's forte either; while the steering weights up with more lock, it can get almost too heavy and lacks feel. In corners the NX tends to roll about, though you never feel like you're lacking grip.
Under brakes the NX requires a little more pedal than you might expect, due to a lack of pedal feel and, of course, its porky mass. It's worth noting that, unlike the Mercedes-Benz and BMW which have ventilated brakes all round, the NX has ventilated stoppers at the front with solid discs at the rear.
The driver's seat is quite comfortable on longer journeys, while a couple of front passengers complained that the side bolstering was a little too much for their liking.
Another gripe on the move is the very basic driver's instrument display slotted between the analogue speedo and tacho dials.
Despite a slightly different colour scheme, the display is lifted straight out of a RAV4 (and several other Toyota models), and doesn't have a digital speedo nor does it display the cruise control speed.
Speaking of the cruise control, to activate it you need to use the aftermarket-looking stalk behind the wheel, another Toyota component, which again cheapens the feel of the car.
While it's worth noting that Audi and Mercedes-Benz generally have separate cruise control stalks as opposed to having buttons on the steering wheel, the Germans's controls don't look like an afterthought, while also featuring digital speedos and cruise control speeds.
As mentioned before, there's no blind-spot monitoring or adaptive cruise control, something that many models at this price point – mainstream and premium – offer as standard.
Fuel consumption, on the other hand, was pretty good – averaging an indicated 9.2L/100km in a mix of driving conditions favouring freeways and highways – though a little more than the company's 7.2L/100km claim.
The NX200t's relatively small 60-litre fuel tank means you have a realistic range of around 550km, which is fairly average, and that would likely drop with more driving around town.
It's worth highlighting the NX200t's idle stop/start system, which is seamless in its operation – unlike some of the jerkier systems employed by European brands – however, on hot days it will rarely engage unless the climate control's fan speed is less than half.
In terms of ownership, the NX is covered by a four-year, 100,000km warranty with four years roadside assistance, with maintenance scheduled every 12 months or 15,000km.
At each service owners have the option of a complimentary loan car, or can elect to have their vehicle picked up from their home or office and returned once maintenance is complete. Lexus does not, however, offer a capped-price servicing program.
While the NX200t Luxury isn't a fundamentally bad car, considering the front-wheel drive version is nearly $5000 cheaper for what is essentially the same vehicle, this all-wheel driven model makes very little sense.
Lexus's main trump card used to be that it offered the technology and quality of the European luxury marques for a lower price, along with an unbeatable reputation for reliability.
However, some of the brand's latest products lack the materials quality, tech, and driving dynamics of its German competitors and are nudging the same price bracket – the NX200t Luxury is a prime example.
It's not as luxurious as the Mercedes nor as engaging to drive as the BMW, while the new Audi Q5 (to be launched in the third quarter of this year) will be far more technologically advanced.
Those unaffected by luxury badge snobbery should even consider a fully-loaded Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI, which offers better performance, more up-to-date technology and connectivity, a more practical cabin, and it's cheaper.
Unfortunately for the Lexus, the game has already moved on since it debuted in 2014, but, if you really like the look of the NX, save some cash and get the front-wheel drive Luxury, or spend a few grand more and get the F Sport – both of which would be deserving of a 7/10.