The NX name stands for ‘Nimble Crossover’ and it’s is Lexus’ most modestly sized luxury SUV, positioned below the similarly styled RX but smaller by some degree in every dimension. Despite being the baby of the bunch, the NX’s size places it as something of a halfway house between the more defined compact and mid-size crossovers that exist today.
No matter how it’s categorised, Lexus doesn’t intend for this to be an entry-level offering but rather one that matches their other vehicles for opulence and technology, but with the addition of a high ride height, more practicality, and a more urban-friendly size.
Introduced in 2014, parent company Toyota used their RAV4’s underpinnings to construct the NX, which is why it shares a common platform and wheelbase in addition to some ancillary components.
All the prerequisites to a modern day Lexus are present in the NX: in your face styling, high levels of build and material quality, lots of technology, and even a hybrid powertrain round out its base ingredients.
In Australia, the Lexus NX is offered as the 200t or 300h, each available as either Luxury, F Sport, or Sports Luxury trim levels that are either front-wheel driven or with all-wheel drive.
But the premium crossover market is a crowded one, and if the mainstream automotive landscape is slowly ridding itself of ‘bad’ cars, the upper reaches are already filled with very worthy, very compelling arguments against the NX.
It faces competition from the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, and Range Rover Evoque, each bringing their own unique flavour to the broth. The NX is Lexus’ first attempt at stealing buyers away from these established marques who have had time to cultivate at least a rudimentary sense of loyalty to their premium crossover purveyor of choice.
The NX will have to be a little special to sway them over to the Lexus camp.
“Style is a personal choice, but I will say this: I have warmed to the NX now from having seen it in the flesh.” - Motoring
Lexus’ unapologetically angular design language is on full display here, doing its best to make it as visually distinctive as it can while not going overboard. It manages to pull this off, but only just, and some may still find its styling a little hard to swallow on first blush.
Viewed from the side, the NX manages to mask its more striking design details, which are heavily focused on the front and rear of the car. The protruding ‘spindle grille’ makes a big impression when approaching it head-on, and its only when observing the car from a three-quarters perspective that the dramatic contours become very evident.
The angular theme continues to the rear where we find one of the most intricately shaped tail lamps on an SUV that adorn an otherwise conventional hatchback. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels are actually quite tasteful and understated, which is refreshing when contrasted against the rest of the car.
The F-Sport trim adds even more visual accoutrements by way of a more aggressive front chin and fascia while Sports Luxury adds a moonroof.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The Lexus NX can certainly be competitive when it comes to engines, however, courtesy of a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that is the brand’s first ever boosted petrol engine.” - CarAdvice
The NX comes in two flavours under the bonnet. And as is usual with Lexus, they have eschewed diesel entirely in favour of either petrol or a petrol-electric hybrid. We start with the NX200t which, like the IS200t, receives motivation from an 8AR-FTS 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that can cycle between the Otto and Atkinson combustion cycles, for more power or better fuel efficiency, respectively.
It produces 175kW and 350Nm while consuming a claimed 7.7-litres/100km on a combined cycle and can accelerate the NX to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds while mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, though we’re hardly inclined to think Lexus buyers care about things like acceleration.
Now that the more conventional powertrain option is covered, we move on to the hybrid NX300h. This uses a common Lexus hybrid combination of a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder thats augmented with an electric motor for a combined output of 147kW while sipping a claimed 5.7-litres/100km. It’s driven through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of a a conventional automatic.
“Attention to detail in the cabin is brilliant, from the blend of real and faux leather on the doors, centre console, parts of the dash and seats to the stitching that adds visual depth.” - Drive.com.au
Stepping inside the NX’s interior and the immediate sense of a very high levels of build is becomes obvious, second only to Audi and their rock-like cabin structures. But unlike the Audi, it lacks cohesion both in design and in functionality, though the design is different enough to be a refreshing change of pace.
We can’t fault the materials, but there are angles everywhere again, which don’t lend themselves to touch points involving humans. This sense of product confusion can be observed in the way the infotainment system operates, which we’ll cover below.
There’s no complaints of space for either the front or rear passengers, with plush seats and a clever use of space ensuring that all occupants are treated to plenty comfort as well as head and leg room. The boot measures a very reasonable 475-litres and is accessed with a virtually non-existent load lip and a nice square boot floor. Fold the rear seats and load lugging expands to 1,520-litres.
Behind The Wheel
“The ride is way too firm, even in standard guise, and the steering is dead, so the NX has a weird combination of not being sporty and not being comfortable. It’s the worst of both worlds.” - Top Gear
Curiously, Lexus has decided to give the NX a firmer suspension setup than what one might be expecting from the Japanese luxury marque. This doesn’t make the ride too uncomfortable, however, but this compromise doesn’t seem to have had any effect on its dynamic ability.
Yes, the ride is harder, but that doesn’t mean it’s sporty. Shame, too, as Lexus hasn’t managed to retain the level of supreme refinement found in some of its competitors, perhaps owing to the reusing of the Toyota platform. Or not.
Either way, it is for this reason that we’d suggest you avoid the F-Sport trim and its sports tuned suspension that makes the NX even more unyielding in the hopes of sportiness that never arrives. It’s not totally devoid of talent, though, and the car does manage to control body roll well when dipped into a tight corner. Unfortunately, given the steering is quite numb, driver’s are likely to approach such bends with apprehension rather than confidence.
Safety and Technology
“With lots of different layers and no shortage of digital displays, the NX’s dashboard is certainly different. The downside is that some of the systems are complicated to use.” - Telegraph.co.uk
ANCAP tested the NX in early 2015 and gave it a full 5-star safety rating with an impressive overall score of 35.39 out of 37. Front and side airbags are standard for the driver and front passenger while curtain airbags are available for both front and rear occupants - 8 airbags in total.
Lexus’ Pre Collision Safety System (PCS) is only standard on the most expensive AWD Sports Luxury trim, unfortunately, with the other trim levels having to opt for it as an optional extra that we highly recommend. It adds active cruise control, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
With the infotainment system, Lexus clearly was aiming to mimic Audi’s MMI or Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND interface with its palm pad located right next to the gear lever. However, the manner in which the system receives touch commands are by way of a laptop-style touchpad that’s inaccurate and difficult navigate while driving.
Satellite navigation is standard and audio is delivered through either a standard 10-speaker Pioneer array or, in the case of the AWD Sports Luxury variant, a 14-speaker Mark Levinson hi-fi system.
There certainly is more room to occupy in the premium compact-to-mid size crossover and Lexus certainly is well aware of this. The NX is a fine car and indeed one that could be a home run winner if Lexus can give the car some clear focus.
By all other indications, this is a crossover more adept at wafting about rather than having anything to do with driver engagement, so the decision to firm up the suspension has left the NX feeling somewhat confused. But it’s well built, luxurious, practical, reasonably fast, looks like nothing else on the road, and hey, since it’s a Lexus will probably never break down.
The Japanese automaker isn’t far off from a top-tier contender, here, but they had better iron out the niggles with their first attempt at a small-ish SUV now before vigilant and/or more experienced rivals come rushing to snuff out a potential threat.
Edmunds - “Looking for a small luxury crossover SUV that stands out in a crowd? The 2017 Lexus NX 200t certainly qualifies thanks to its aggressive exterior design.”
CarAdvice - 7.5/10 - “The Lexus NX isn’t going to upset the establishment in quite the same manner but it's unquestionably competitive. How uncomfortable it makes life for its rivals, however, could also be determined by how buyers respond to that aggressive styling.”
TopGear - 5/10 - “A car with an identity crisis - can't decide if it wants to be a refined urban cruiser or a sporty SUV”
Telegraph.co.uk - 7/10 - “The Lexus NX300h makes a compelling option for company car drivers, who could no doubt overlook its shortcomings to benefit from the savings they’d make. For private buyers, however, the BMW X3 remains the most complete car of this type.”
Drive.com.au - “It's a convincing effort that slots neatly in between two more distinctive market segments. Less convincing is the way the NX drives. The turbo engine doesn't have the backup of a world class gearbox, while the suspension isn't as adept as that of European rivals.”
Motoring.com.au - “A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine transforms the Lexus NX from an also-ran hybrid-only range to a compact luxury SUV worth considering against the established champs in the segment.”