Smallest Lexus SUV continues to be a winner
By Jim Bray
Take Lexus' top selling vehicle, the RX 350, shrink it to the next market niche down, and resist the urge to add a bunch of over styled cues and the result is the NX 200t, a wonderful little crossover/SUV that Lexus has made even more wonderful for 2017.
Well, mostly. It still has that awful "spindle" grille that's infecting all Lexi currently, and you have to use a trackpad to navigate its central stack's LCD - but other than that the NX continues to be my favourite current Lexus, the nicest of a very nice line of luxury vehicles.
Think of it as kind of a Rav4 on steroids, though that isn't really fair to either vehicle. But they both operate in that basic size niche, though of course at different areas of the marketplace. And they're both very good vehicles, the NX also having the honour of being the first Lexus to sport, a term used not to describe its driving experience, a turbocharged engine.
That engine is very nice, too, so much so that I'd love to see Lexus drop it (if possible and/or feasible) into their little CT 200h wagon that would be a really fun vehicle if it weren't saddled with a hybrid power train only.
The NX' turbo four displaces two litres, and is a four cylinder Atkinson cycle engine. It cranks out a reasonable 235 peak horsepower and "up to" 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It's more than enough to motivate the NX, and would probably make the CT a real competitor to the Audi A3.
The engine gets the power to all four wheels (in Canadian trim) via a six-speed automatic transmission with paddles that are welcome, though rather sluggish - the NX seems to shift more when it wants to anyway, regardless of your input. Still, paddles are wonderful even if you only use them to help with engine braking when going down hills.
NX' base price starts at $42,750, but Lexus Canada's sample also wore big boy pants, via the F-Sport Series 3 package that added $12,250.00 to the tally. The base trim features an eight speaker Lexus Display Audio system, 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels, NuLuxe ("leatherish-compatible") seat material, variable intermittent wipers, and - as befits a Lexus - lots more.
You can package it with the Premium, Luxury or Executive options if you like (starting at $46,750, $51,750 and $54,550 respectively). Premium adds and new for 2017 Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert safety systems, as well as a power tilt and telescopic heated steering wheel, driver's seat memory, power tailgate, integrated compass, power tilt/slide moon roof, 18 inch alloy wheels, ventilated front seats, etc. The Luxury package ups that with clearance and backup sensors, voice-activated (annoyingly so, if you don't shut off some of the prompts) navigation system with that damn track pad, premium woodgrain interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, premium LED auto-levelling headlamp system, leather seating, etc.
The Executive packageadds a handy Head Up Display (the only way you can get a digital speedometer, though it's hard to read when you're wearing polarized sunglasses), a wireless charging system for your toys, power remote release for the rear seats, unique 18 inch alloy wheels, and the Lexus Safety System + (Lane Departure Alert with steering assist, Pre-Collision System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam). And, yes, you can shut off the most annoying of these.
That brings us to the F SPORT packages, of which there are three. The base one ($49,300), adds the paddle shifters that should be standard, a G-Meter that's probably superfluous and a sport-tuned suspension. You also get F SPORT specific interior and exterior tweaks (fog lamps, grille, shift knob, seats, etc.) as well as stuff you'd get on the Premium trim level. $52,150 gets you the F SPORT 2 package, which adds the clearance and backup sensors, navigation and track pad, rain-sensing wipers, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert safety systems, etc.
Which brings us to the sample's F SPORT Series 3 livery, (starting at $55,000). It gives you the HUD, wireless charging system, front and rear Adaptive Variable Suspension systems, and the Lexus Safety System +. Clearly, this is the one to get, though it certainly doesn't come cheaply.
The adaptive suspension is a nice touch. I generally kept the NX in sport or sport plus modes, and it was a pretty neat driving experience - never forgetting that Lexus is more about luxury than sport. I wish that, like the nannies staying off, the NX would default back to whatever driving mode you left it in, but such is not the case (Lexus isn't alone in this). And, fortunately, it isn't a big deal to crank the knob on the centre console a time or two.
Naturally, the brakes are discs all around, with ABS and the other usual aids; you also get an electric parking brake.
As one might expect from Lexus, the workmanship is first rate, and the interior is both comfortable and as roomy as you could expect in this class.
As noted above, I really hated the "Remote Touch" track pad - and the NX is by no means the only Lexus that's shackled with this. I've whined about the Remote Touch system since I first tried it a few years ago; back then it was more mouse-like but the track pad is worse, because it requires too much of your attention to be focused on the central LCD screen so you can keep track of where the cursor is. It's a great idea on paper but in real life driving it's an accident just waiting to happen.
Also, for some reason, the NX didn't like my cell phone; it paired fine and worked great as a phone, but it wouldn't stream my radio and/or audio apps. Well, that isn't quite true. It would stream enough of the data that the station or track would show up on the LCD screen, but the sound still came from the phone's dinky little speaker instead of through the Lexus. This may have been specific to my phone, however; I tried another one with the NX and it worked fine (and doesn't that just figure?). Make sure you check your phone's performance here before signing on the dotted line.
I got a kick out of the message that comes up on the NX' well laid out instrument panel, telling me that if I wanted to fire up the vehicle I should "depress the brake pedal." I tried that, calling the brake pedal names, telling it that it's useless and would never be anything more than an object to be stepped on and pushed down, but it didn't seem to do anything. I guess it's a good thing that machines have no feelings.
The NX comes with the usual bevy of belts, bags and the like, including eight airbags, a back-up camera, LED headlamps (and tail lights, stop light, daytime running lights, clearance and fog lights), a direct tire pressure monitoring system, whiplash injury-lessening front seats, an onboard first aid kit, and more.
If you're part of Gang Green, you may be glad to know you can choose the NX 300h hybrid instead of that lovely little turbo. You'll have to put up with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), though, so if it's like most CVT's you can forget about a compelling driving experience.
Immediate competition includes the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Even though the NX 200t will never be thought of as a "Sports" utility vehicle, it's still a darn fine motor vehicle - as mentioned earlier, it's currently my favourite Lexus. And for 2017 it's an even nicer vehicle than it was already.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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