The Lexus NX 200t isn't backwards in coming forwards. Do the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 need to look over their shoulders for this extrovert SUV? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Lexus has pitched the 235PS petrol-engined all-wheel drive NX 200t SUV at a hard market. The likes of the BMW X3 xDrive20i and Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI aren't about to roll over anytime soon, so expect this one to be a rare sight. Still, with sharp looks and an interior that's stacked with equipment, it's an endearing and interesting left-field selection.
When did SUVs become so bland? It's probably just a case of that which was once alternative and fresh gradually, over time, getting subsumed by the mainstream. These days, there's really not that much to choose between a BMW X3, an Audi Q5, a Volvo XC60 and a whole host of other wannabes if you have around £40,000 burning a hole in your pocket. The only problem is, these days everyone seems to have one. They've become suburban vanilla, a kind of lazy middle-class shorthand for a car, the automotive equivalent of an Abel and Cole organic veg box, if you like. If you want something a bit different, there really aren't that many credible contenders. Jaguar's F-PACE shows promise but if you really want to have your neighbours dropping their marmalade in slack-jawed stupefaction in the morning, the Lexus NX200t is your weapon of choice.
The NX 200t is offered only in ritzy F-Sport trim. The engine under the bonnet is a fairly conventional 2.0-litre petrol turbo installation. Some markets get the choice of front or all-wheel drive, but as this vehicle is being positioned as a sporty range-topper, we get the all-wheel drive car only. It's got a fair bit of shove at 235PS between 4,800 and 5,600rpm, while peak torque is 350Nm, delivered from 1,650 to 4,000rpm. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that has been specially tuned for the NX. Thus equipped, 62mph comes and goes in a crisp 7.1 seconds and Lexus reckons it'll keep going to 124mph. The transmission isn't quite on par with the eight and nine-speed boxes that are becoming the class standard, but other than that, there can't be too many complaints about the powertrain. Select Sport mode from the Drive Mode Select unit and the car holds onto gear a bit longer.
Design and Build
The Lexus NX 200t doesn't do shrinking violet. The F Sport exterior treatment includes a massive spindle grille with a mesh pattern featuring the Lexus F-motif, plus a deeper bumper with a metallic-coated lower section. The door mirrors have a black finish and the F Sport 18-inch, 10-spoke alloys have a two-tone black and machined silver finish. The alloys are shod in beefy 225/60R18 tyres. It was a good idea to go for a fairly generous sidewall profile to try to keep the ride quality halfway sensible, which is something to bear in mind if you see those 60-series tyres and suddenly think 22-inch aftermarket alloys might be a great idea. At the back there's a set of twin tailpipes with chrome-finished, trapezium-shaped outlets. Customers get to choose from an eight colour palette, comprising Sonic White, Sonic Titanium, Mercury Grey, Satin Silver, Celestial Black, Mesa Red, Ultra Blue and Velvet Black. The interior also owes little to the premium German brands in its design ethos. Lexus aimed to combine the purpose of a high-performance vehicle with the materials quality of a luxury vehicle. The centrepiece of the dash is a curvaceous H-shaped metal frame that's a world away from a typically slab-fronted SUV fascia panel. Details like drilled pedals and quilted leather seats differentiate the cabin from the usual suburban SUV norm. Practicality certainly hasn't been overlooked though, and the NX offers decent headroom, a generous front-to-rear hip point distance and the longest luggage area load length in its class.
Market and Model
The F Sport theme continues inside, the cabin getting body-hugging sports seats which are electrically adjustable and also feature heaters and lumbar support. The standard-fit leather upholstery is available in two colours: black or, exclusive to F Sport models, Dark Rose. Both are combined with carbon-effect trim inlays. The specification also includes perforated, non-slip aluminium sports pedals and driver's foot brace, plus the F-Sport steering wheel is trimmed in grippy perforated leather. Standard equipment includes a reversing camera, push-button start, an electrically adjustable steering column and power, auto-folding door mirrors. The rear seats divide and fold 60:40 and loading is made easier with a power-operated tailgate. The eight-speaker audio system comes with a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, CD/DVD player and a Remote Dial control, with information presented on the centrally positioned, full colour Lexus Media Display. Safety kit comprises Lexus's millimetre-wave radar-controlled Pre-Crash Safety system and Adaptive Cruise Control, plus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (co-ordinating ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control operation) and eight airbags. In recent Euro NCAP crash testing, the NX proved the best-performing model in its class and secured the highest five-star rating. The asking price for that little lot? A fairly reasonable figure of just over £38,000.
Cost of Ownership
As you're probably aware, there aren't too many takers for these mid-sized SUVs when they've got a petrol engine plumbed under the bonnet. Lexus doesn't really do diesel engines, so the bulk of NX sales will be taken up by the NX 300h hybrid which gets some sterling fuel consumption figures. Go for this turbocharged petrol version and you're looking at 34mpg on the combined cycle, which will probably translate into around 25-26mpg in real life. Emissions are rated at 189g/km, which isn't a bad showing for a petrol-engined SUV that weighs in at 1,735kg. As a result of its 'minority interest' status, you'll need to be very realistic with yourself regarding this NX 200t's likely residual performance. On the plus side, it's a Lexus, so you'll probably have very good reliability to count on, plus excellent dealer backup. It's just a shame that with a car this well engineered, Lexus couldn't have been a bit more generous with the standard warranty.
It's an interesting one, the Lexus NX 200t. It doesn't put in a wall-to-wall performance of consistent excellence, but it's got something about it that's extremely endearing. For a start it doesn't try too hard to impress you. It just does its own, slightly off-beam thing. You'll either get that or you won't, but it doesn't try to slavishly ape the Europeans. There's a confidence there that's refreshing. The styling is extreme and without a crystal ball, we can't really predict how well - or otherwise - it'll date, but hats off to Lexus for not playing it safe. The main issue with the NX 200t will be that not many people are really going to buy it. The hybrid NX 300t will be extremely hard to walk past if you do wander into a Lexus showroom, getting almost twice the miles from a gallon of 95RON. Were the NX 200t a brilliant performance SUV, that would perhaps be forgivable. As likeable as it is, it's not made of that sort of stuff, and that's why it'll likely remain a rare sight on our roads.