Lexus recently unveiled the production version of its all-new NX compact crossover in majestic Whistler, British Colombia, a couple hours northeast of Vancouver. While the automaker essentially created the crossover segment with its wildly popular RX, this is its first offering in the compact arena, which is literally bursting at the seams with talented options like the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK....
It's the nose, isn't it? You're still looking at the nose. And I don't blame you.
How could you not? The NX's fascia has the most Predator-like design of any modern Lexus. In profile and from a distance, the NX reminded me of one of those phallic-shaped three-wheelers driven by Goldmember in an Austin Powers movie. But that image faded as I started my walk around the mini ute, and the awkward looks grew on me after a couple of days in the saddle.
One could mistake the NX for a mini version of RX, the superstar in the Lexus stable. But comparing the two vehicles side-by-side dispels any real comparisons. Unlike the RX, which is based on the Camry, the NX gets its bones from the Toyota RAV4. While that raised some concern, Lexus promises that 90 percent of the platform has been upgraded, strengthened or modified, so much so that the two vehicles wouldn’t feel related at all. And they were right.
Set to ship late this fall, the NX will be offered with two engine options. The 200t will use an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder, a first for Lexus. Using a twin-scroll turbocharger, the new engine produces 235 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque — landing between the boosted 2.0-liter found in the Audi Q5 (220 hp) and the BMW X3 (240 hp). Lexus claims the AWD NX should achieve 21 mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway.
For the Toyota hybrid crowd power, the NX 300h employs Lexus’ Hybrid Drive system with a 154 hp, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine paired to a 141 hp electric motor. It’s basically the same setup found in the ES 300h, but makes a little less power. In addition, the 300h is also outfitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), instead of the 200t’s six-speed automatic transmission. The 300h should realize 33 mpg city and 30 on the highway.
If you can get past the bulbous nose — and that's a sizable "if" to overcome — the NX is a rather attractive machine, incorporating Lexus’s spindle grille, which is surrounded by pair of LED headlamps, fog lamps, and daytime running lamps. Inside, the NX is stylish and comfortable. The front seats are designed with a low hip point for an improved driver position as well as increased headroom. Both the regular and sport seats are comfortable and support you in all the right areas. However, the sport seats are not designed for “big boned” lads like myself, and come off a bit claustrophobic.
The rear seats are spectacular; Lexus spent extra time ensuring adult passengers will fit comfortably. Like most compact utes, it looks like a full-size person will have to be shoe-horned into the back (officially rated at just 36.1 inches of legroom). The NX feels far more spacious in the back than those numbers would suggest, and is one of the roomier compact crossovers I’ve sat in. In fact, we coaxed one of our 6-foot, 3-inch hosts to sit in the NX’s rear seat and he had plenty of head and leg room to move about, even with the front seat set far back. (Well, more room than an economy seat in any airplane.)
That spaciousness takes a toll on storage, where the trunk only offers 17.7 cubic feet — or roughly half of the RAV4, and less than any other competitor. You’ll have to pack prudently for a weekend getaway, especially if you have kids.
Technlogy-wise, the NX is a little above average. All of the latest driver assists are on tap like a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning; inside, there's a new touchpad controller in the center console that operates all the navigation and radio functions.
Despite Lexus’ efforts to position this crossover as a sportier vehicle, it just isn’t. That isn’t to say the car was a pleasure to drive; The steering is responsive and lively, it held the road admirably during fast sweeping turns, and absorbed all road imperfections quite well. The ute did heel a little more than I would’ve liked, but that won’t be a problem, unless you drive the vehicle like a sports car.
Lexus claims the NX will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in seven seconds flat with the optional all-wheel drive (AWD) system. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is a tad slower. On the road, both engines provided adequate get-up-and-go, but the nearly 4,000-lb. vehicle could use more power.
Determining value is quite hard here as Lexus wasn’t forthcoming about price. However, it did say the NX will be positioned competitively with its peers and lower than the $42,000 RX. We’re guessing the NX will carry a price tag between $37,000 and $40,000. At that price, luxury buyers should be happy. Yes, the NX could use more power, but offers top-notch styling, superb comfort and an above average ride. And a surprising amount of interior room.
That is, if you don't mind people looking like they've just seen a Predator.