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Review: Lexus 2015 NX 200 F Sport

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Review: Lexus 2015 NX 200 F Sport


by Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor at Large
The Auto Channel

My expectations and perceptions of Lexus vehicles are based on several years of testing many its vehicles. With rare exceptions Lexus has an undeniable regard and reputation for its luxury image, quality, engineering, drive-ability, comfort, power, customer service and distinctive styling.

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Following the devastating tsunami of 2011 the brand suffered drastically but engaged in developing several new vehicles and adopted an aggressive, speed and racing attitude. It worked. The brand recently regained its position as the most popular brand in the luxury category beating the usual German entries as well as wannabe's of Infiniti, Hyundai, Kia and Jaguar.

One of the new and important vehicles in Lexus dealers is the NX 200, a smaller SUV with three variations, aimed at a new much younger demographic for Lexus not the backbone of its business -- members of AARP who are the brand’s loyal customers.

The NX is smaller, is less costly than other Lexus vehicles, has some attributes of the big-boy-brand, has a variety of techno and infotainment features and is priced below what one usually expects from Lexus.

But candidly I must call the NX not a true Lexus rather its: Lexus-lite. It has to do with quality, image, panache and status. Lexus enjoys an enviable reputation for all the previous characteristics and the new special trims and other enhancements aimed at this new generation of customers. But transference to the uninitiated of a new vehicle is good in concept but difficult to achieve. Relying upon reputation and image is a difficult task at best.

To design, engineer and build a smaller SUV in a highly competitive marketplace Lexus had to cut corners here and there to offer value pricing to new customers. I know why and what they did it but do not necessarily agree with the cut corners.

Exterior Design

One of the major areas that was not cut was visual appeal. The test vehicle I drove is distinctive and unique from the sea of SUVs in every parking lot in America. It stands out – in a good way -- and makes a positive impression from every angle of sight. It is smooth and flowing. It is not a doppelgänger of an SUV from the mother ship like many of the other smaller luxury sports utility vehicles.

The front of the NX is impressive with the unique Lexus Spindle grill (one either likes it or hates it) and good looking headlamps equipped with LEDs for low beam and halogen for high; there are the ubiquitous logo like "L" running lights and most appreciated corning lights. The rear of the NX is less distinctive but has an integrated spoiler, good looking tail lamps and dual exhausts. There are nine colors in the NX paint palette some with a shimmering luster -- my test car was a very nice blue.

There’s an intriguing hint of what to expect inside the new vehicle even before you enter the NX. A single LED streams a welcoming beam of light along the top of the handle and also to the ground as the driver approaches the vehicle. Which is very nice.

Interior Design and Features 

Upon opening the driver’s door to the interior there was a surprise: the interior of the NX was not what I expected. My first impression was disappointing based on remembrances of other Lexus vehicles. The interior color scheme of the test car was dark. Everything was mono colored boring: seats, console, dashboard, and carpeting. The impression was not that of superior quality and perceptions I associate with Lexus in color, materials and design. It was not what I expected.

Naturally there was simulated hand-stitching -- one of the hallmarks most manufactures use as an indication of quality -- on doors, seats, steering wheel and dashboard but it seemed forced. The leather-like plastic, one of the cut corners - was odor free and not shiny but lacked panache or character: it was obviously plastic. The seats were comfortable and to use the Lexus description, “coddling” and had electronic controls that met expectations. The instrument cluster of tachometer and speedometer were clear and legible during the day and night.

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But the center console was an architectural and functioning disaster. It is not attractive, lacks consumer use focus is organized oddly, some touch controls are well hidden and not exactly easy to use. Amazingly there was not a button, lever, knob or touch point to use or access the navigation system – it is app based -- which caused some consternation. Lexus’ the touch pad was frustrating especially when I wanted to change stations or channels. the drive selection knob was much better and moved from normal to eco and sport easily.

Dynamics, Driving and Drivability

There are two engine options available: a traditional and a hybrid. My test NX was powered by a 4-cylinder (not indicated on the Monroney which is really odd) 2.0 liter turbo powered engine putting out 235 horsepower and 258 pounds of torque. The 6-speed transmission was acceptable not exceptional. Bottom line: The NX Y seemed underpowered when acceleration was necessary to merge on to an expressway. And I'm not lead-footed. Normal in-city driving was adequate.

An interesting feature is the all-weather drive introduces Dynamic Torque Control AWD that provides maximum traction and cornering stability. The system continuously controls torque transfer between the front and rear wheels, using sensors for vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, throttle angle and other engineering feats. I liked this but …the MSRP of the NX was $37,980 but options upped to an almost stratospheric $45,214. Ouch.

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