The 2017 Lexus NX 200T may look like it’s about to kidnap you and teleport you to a world where giant Gundams rule the Earth, but in reality, it’s as easy to live with as your average Toyota RAV4. It’s just a whole lot nicer to sit in.
My biggest gripe with these entry level luxury crossovers, especially the German ones, is that they never quite feel like the premium product their badges promise. As if the carmaker were punishing you for not dishing out enough dough.
The BMW X1 has more in common with a Mini. The Mercedes-Benz GLA and Infiniti QX30 twins are badge engineering travesties, and the Audi Q3 feels like a posh all-wheel-drive Golf. I’ve driven all of them, and they all feel like they were commercialized to make a quick buck.
But the Lexus feels like a better collision of compact convenience and earnest luxury, even if it is a little torpid and you might think it looks like, well, like it’s already been in a collision.
I took one out for a drive, an F-Sport model. While it was no RC-F behind the wheel, I assure you this bad boy is every bit a Lexus as the giant L on its front grille would have you believe.
(Full disclosure: Lexus Canada wanted me to drive the NX 200T so badly, it lent me one for a week with a full tank of gas.)
Introduced for the 2015 model year, the Lexus NX (“Nimble Crossover”) was supposed to look wild enough to wrangle in young buyers without straying too far from the company’s core competency of practical luxury.
The NX aimed at taking what made the RX so popular, which is blend the duties of our everyday lives with the creamy luxury and banal comfort of a Lexus, and encapsulate it into a more compact, affordable and “sportier” package.
Yes, the NX is heavily based on the Toyota RAV4. But its 2.0-liter turbocharged four was built exclusively for the NX when it came out. That engine powers other Lexus vehicles now.
Lexus says its tiny high-riding hatchback is good for 235 horsepower, and 258 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill is achieved in a stoic 7.1 seconds. The only gearbox available is a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive is standard; all-wheel-drive is optional.
This is the compact luxury crossover segment, baby! And every automaker that leans into it seems to turn dealership parkings spots into dollar figures, because you can’t stop buying this body style.
The NX now faces a full battalion of Micro Machine luxury mall crawlers in the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mini Cooper Countryman, Infiniti QX30, and Acura RDX. Even Jaguar is hopping on the bandwagon with the new E-Pace. So the NX is a key entry in a high-traffic marketplace for Lexus.
And so far, the NX is succeeding. Lexus sold more than 149,000 NXs in North America alone since its inception, outselling all of its rivals except the Acura.
In fact, you guys bought more NXs than IS sedans last year. Are you happy now?
The immediate standout feature I noticed when sitting inside the NX, or any recent Lexus product for that matter, were the seats. The seats, guys. In the NX, they’re damn good.
Actually, comfort and luxury isn’t just the NX’s main selling point, it’s what sets it apart from the crowd.
While the German compact crossovers benefit from sexy branding, the excellence and personality you go out of your way to get in a BMW, Mercedes or Audi doesn’t seem to trickle to the base-model everyman movers like you might hope.
But the NX, even if it is a heavily modified Toyota RAV4, doesn’t feel at all like a Toyota.
It feels just as of good quality as the rest of the Lexus lineup. For instance, the electric motor for the power windows slows down before the window arrives to a halt, like in a $75,000 RC-F. The climate control system increases the rate at which it blows air in your face in a progressive, smooth manner, like in a GS sedan. And the entire ride is as quiet as a Victorian library.
There are no signs of cost cutting in the NX. And that feels great.
Lexus’ infotainment system gets worse every year. And the sad part is, Lexus is actually trying to improve it. Unfortunately, it still sucks.
I’m not sure where to begin, but I’ll attempt to keep this short. First, there’s the weird little trackpad put there to operate it. There used to be a mouse, which didn’t work either. That silly pad is also vague and imprecise.
Then there’s the sheer complexity of the menus. It’s a total mess. Doing simple things like changing the radio source is time consuming and distracting. Those menus also lag when commanded to open and the interface is getting old.
I was also expecting the NX to be more engaging to drive than this, but it’s not. It’s actually quite boring behind the wheel, and not really all that quick.
Oh yes. This is where the Lexus badge gets its merits. Smooth. Quiet. Sumptuous. Relaxed. The Lexus NX is all that.
But beyond the creamy leather seats, the compliant suspension and the subtle bronze window tint that prevents the cancerous sun from destroying your delicate rich-person skin, the NX works rather well at being a compact utility vehicle.
For starters, it’s small, but the interior is spacious. It’s also easy to park and maneuver through a crowded city. And, when equipped with all-wheel-drive, it pulls a decent 25 mpg combined.
Most importantly, unlike the Infiniti QX30, which looks dashing, but totally fails at hauling passengers and gear, the Lexus NX can still handle basic family cargo duties.
Sure, when those rear seats are raised, the trunk is one of the tiniest ones in the segment at 18 cubic feet. But push that bench down to the floor, however, and that number changes to 55 cubes. That’s just a smidgen under the class-leading BMW X1 (59 cubic feet). It’s also more than a Volkswagen Golf, but still a good 20 cubic feet less than a RAV4. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately this is where the NX kind of fails. Lexus markets this thing as an “engaging” and “nimble” urban vehicle, but sadly, it drives every bit like a RAV4.
To Lexus’ credit, the NX drives like a highly refined and well put together little crossover should: drama-free and serene. But we’re far from “fun” and “quick” superlatives here.
In that respect I do prefer the power delivery and faster off-the-line acceleration of the Infiniti QX30, which gets to 60 mph approximately an eternity quicker than the NX with an identical 2.0-liter turbo under its hood.
That probably has something to do with the fact that the transmission in the Lexus only has six speeds, versus its rival which has seven. It’s also an automatic, not a dual-clutch unit.
So gear changes do lag behind a bit.
But it’s not just the engine and transmission that disappoint when driving the NX hard. The handling is always plush and soft. Even in its most “aggressive” Sport + mode, you never get a sense that it wants you to drive it hard, or allow you to corner it like a hot hatch.
Instead, you get intrusions of stability and traction control, over-average body roll, and a not-that-entirely satisfactory engine note.
In terms of what you get for your dollar, the Lexus NX is neither a tremendous bargain, nor a rip-off. But it’s competitive.
A base, front-wheel-drive NX200T kicks off at $35,285, about three grand more than an Audi Q3, or a BMW X1, and a whole five grand over an entry level Infiniti QX30.
However, once equipped with all-wheel-drive, the Lexus comes neck-to-neck with the BMW, and only about $1,000 over an Audi or Infiniti at $36,485. But then, the Lexus out-cargos both of them.
My tester was an F-Sport model, with all the bells and whistles added on. You can get one of those for $42,360. The hybrid, NX300h tops the lineup at around $45,000. By comparison, you can drive out of a BMW dealership with a similarly spec’d BMW X1 xDrive28i for $42,500.
If you’re willing to trade off some cargo space, you could get a fully equipped Audi Q3 with a Sport Plus Package or a Premium all-wheel-drive QX30 for a few thousand less. But even though we don’t have a lot of data about the long-term reliability of that 2.0-liter turbo engine yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lexus outlives its rivals.
The Lexus NX200T is a bit more than some trendy compact luxury crossover put on the market for affluent millennials to flaunt their recent social statuses.
Its quality, refinement, and luxury don’t take a hit to its more affordable pricing. Its radical “check me out” styling doesn’t hinder its cargo and occupant space too much, and it favors everyday comfort over acceleration times and levels of cornering grip – elements that make more sense in this segment.
Like the Toyota RAV4 on which it’s based, the 2017 Lexus NX 200T is boring and not all that inspiring to drive, but it works for the duties of your everyday lives and won’t do you shame when you’ll pull up to your next office cocktail party in one.
As far as this silly crossover trend goes, this one simply works.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.