Luxury Japmobiles have never been built with small displacement engines ever, not until now. It is a long time coming, but finally the largest Japanese car manufacturer in the world bit the proverbial bullet and pulled a turbocharged rabbit out of the hat, finally joining Acura (Honda) and Infiniti (Nissan). It was inevitable, that someday somehow, the Japanese would reinvent turbocharging for the Millennium, after having successfully implemented turbocharging for their performance variants in the 80s and 90s, many of which remained JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) affairs, and many of which were shipped out of Japan by enterprising individuals with a need for speed. It was undeniable from the very early days of performance automobiles that forced induction offered great promise, catapulting cars that were fitted with turbochargers to the very top of their game, fuel economy and the environment be damned.
Even then, the Japanese automotive industry kept turbocharged engines out of laymen’ hands, offering limited production runs at premium prices to those who could handle one and were adept at working around the limitations of early turbocharging systems. For one thing, turbo lag was a given, and the larger the turbo (for better output), the more laggy the engine behaved below the spool up phase. Of course, there were workarounds in the forms of twin turbos and super-turbos, with the former having two different sized turbos that worked at different rpms and the latter incorporating a supercharger and turbocharger. But those solutions presented their own set of problems, primarily with tuning and heat dissipation and of course, cost. Today’s turbocharged engines however have the benefit of twin scroll turbocharging that spools up near instantaneously, putting paid to the dreaded turbo lag without needing a secondary forced induction device. So to cut a long story short, Lexus has done their homework and the launch of the new Lexus NX 200t augurs well for today’s eco-friendly society, and perhaps an indication of the trickle down effect that would one day allow ordinary folks to drive turbocharged Toyotas with small carbon footprints.
So what is the Lexus NX? According to Lexus, the NX is a luxury compact crossover that sits underneath the ubiquitous RX, and stands for Nimble Crossover. So there you go, the NX isn’t a replacement for the bigger RX, but a first foray for Lexus into the sub-compact luxury crossover market. Revealed at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in 2014, the NX has garnered praise in every market it has since been introduced in. As with all Lexus vehicles, the NX shares the same legacy of superior craftsmanship and attention to detail accorded to each and every vehicle that leaves the Miyata plant in Fukuoka, Japan. Every line and nuance in its design took years to come to fruition, every minor detail within and without carefully scrutinized and supervised before any Lexus is allowed to leave the plant. Some may consider this attention to detail somewhat of an overkill, but that’s just the Lexus way; they don’t care that it costs a lot to produce, they only care that every owner of a Lexus is able to feel and appreciate the perfectionism in each and every car, for many years of proud ownership.
Lexus NX: It Looks the Part
From the moment you take a first look at the Lexus NX, you will definitely know in an instance the unmistakable DNA of the Lexus family. Sporting a very distinctive and aggressive iteration of the famous Spindle Grille, the NX takes no prisoners in the looks department. It looks sharp, forward and sporty. Make no mistake, the NX isn’t a mere soccer mom’s daily ride, it clearly defines the driver as someone who is sharp and has a great passion for life. It doesn’t try to hide its powerful heart behind a demure façade, it looks fast and it is fast, and not just for a compact crossover. It can take on almost 80% of the cars on our roads. I don’t care if you drive a 2.5l executive sedan, if you see an NX coming from behind, you move aside. Period.
The NX is equally stunning when appreciated from its side profile, where the aggressiveness continues to beckon your gaze. The huge flared arches fore and aft perfectly complement the fierce front and rear overhangs, while the muscular shoulder line extends all the way to the rear with precision and grace. A feature line from the bottom of the front door arches upwards toward the rear and adds to the go-fast demeanor of the car. Being the more expensive sibling, the Lexus NX 200t F Sport on test features a more aggressive front styling with mesh grille and 18-inch 5-twin spoke alloys mated to Bridgestone Dueller 235/55 R18 tyres while the regular 200t makes do with 17-inch wheels and a slotted front grille design. All in all, whichever version you choose, the Lexus NX screams luxury performance throughout its outward features and will guarantee to turn heads wherever you go. Every bit of its exterior design emphasizes sharp, muscular lines that will slice through traffic with ease and grace. This is one of the most beautiful iterations of the current Lexus design language thus far; I can’t help but liken the NX to an RCF, albeit a much taller and stouter one.
Lexus NX: What’s inside
From the moment that you open that solid door and peer into the cabin of the luxuriously appointed NX 200t F Sport, you will surely be impressed by the fit and finish emanating throughout the interior domain of this very special, hand-built super crossover. The specially crafted red and gray perforated leather seats invite you to plant your derriere into the driver’s seat right away; it looks so inviting. Take a look around and imagine the many hands that worked on every inch of this piece of art before you. Hand-stitched red trimmings adorn the door panels, center console, steering wheel and dash, raising your blood pressure ever so slightly even before you touch the Push Start button to bring the beast to life. Grasp the leather-clad steering wheel and feel the solidness of the car, and take a peek through the wheel at the meter cluster as your thumbs rest on the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, readying yourself to feel the rush of more than 200 ponies to blast your carriage through the streets with a vengeance.
The center console is adorned with as many dials and switches as you can imagine, which I will take any day over a simplified touch screen with soft buttons. It’s simply so much quicker to be able to access oft-used controls via dedicated buttons or switches rather than having to wade through swaths of menus and sub-menus of a centralized touch screen cockpit. Sure, the latter looks a lot cleaner, but those things tend to be fingerprint magnets which irk people like me with OCD tendencies.
The gearknob is a mix of polished aluminum and leather, with a red-stitched boot, keeping in line with the F Sport design language within. Next to it is the ubiquitous drive mode dial that allows you to become Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde with a quick turn of the knob. Sitting behind the drive mode dial is Lexus’ latest iteration of the control pad system dubbed Remote Touch that controls myriad parameters on the 7-inch screen. This latest version employs a touch pad that operates very much like a touch pad on a laptop and is easier and more intuitive to operate than the previous joystick variety. It’s still a question mark if this system works better than a knob like on luxury continental makes, but in practice it sure works faster and more accurately than the former joystick.
A vast panoramic roof offers front and rear occupants a breathtaking view of the sky, a really important feature to have when you need your passengers to be on the lookout for any pesky birds flying overhead, ready to drop their load onto your precious ride. Jokes aside, a pano roof is sure to be a conversation piece when you have visitors from abroad whom you’d like to ferry around town to show off our beautiful cityscape. The rear seats offer some degree of recline, so rear occupants can choose to sit up straight or laze about as they wish. Being a compact crossover, the NX seats four adults comfortably, with 5 being a bit of a squeeze and definitely not recommended for long haul runs. Leg and headroom are fairly adequate for a sporty crossover, but don’t expect ES or GS levels of space, for the NX was never intended to be a barge.
Lexus NX: It’s Got the Heart
The topping on the cake lies within the engine bay in the form of a fire-breathing 2-liter Twin Scroll turbocharged transverse 4-cylinder powerhouse with direct injection and variable valve timing (VVT-iW). The latter allows the engine to operate seamlessly in either Otto or Atkinson cycles for best in class fuel economy and power on demand without resorting to stop/start technology or other systems like regenerative braking. Said engine is Lexus’ first turbocharged engine to ever debut in a Lexus variant, so it had to be special, being so late to the party. Lexus stakes a claim as being the first in the world to produce a twin-scroll turbocharged engine with a cylinder head that integrates a 4 to 2 exhaust manifold within its design. This design is claimed to be more efficient and cooler in operation than traditional turbo manifold designs, offering near-instantaneous response as and when you feel like smoking other cars on the road. A quick note about the twin-scroll turbocharger; this is a proprietary turbo designed and built entirely by Lexus. As for intercooling all that hot air before it gets into the intake manifold, Lexus designed the intercooler behind the engine bay to take advantage of cooler atmospheric air.
So with all this technology behind the engine, here are the hard facts. 235hp between 4,800 to 5,600rpm and 350Nm of twist between 1,650 to 4,000rpm mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with Sport G AI-Shift harnessed to all 4 wheels in real time, good enough to propel the 1,860kg crossover from nought to a hundred in 7.1 seconds! This is nearly as fast as a Golf GTI Mark 6 (6.9s) and puts it within striking range of the BMW F30 328i (6.1s). Imagine the same engine in a 1,555kg Lexus IS 250; that would surely give the Bimmer a run for the money.
Has It Got the Drive?
The Lexus NX 200t F Sport has got a lot to live up to, being the first forced induction version in the lineup, and having to carry the F Sport banner along with it. And boy, it does live up to expectations, and does it in style. Crank the engine to life and you can barely hear the engine tick over while you’re cosseted comfortably within the luxurious cabin. Sound proofing is one of Lexus’ superlatives, and you won’t find anything less than super quiet within the NX. In Normal and Eco drive modes, the car behaves like a well-pedigreed cat, purring along and playing nicely, thanks also to a subdued throttle response. The F Sport variant comes with AVS (Adaptive Variable Suspension) that tightens things up when you feel like searing the tarmac in Sport Plus mode.
Piddling along our usually “super smooth” roads in Normal or Eco, the NX isn’t the most cosseting ride, certainly not up to the standards set by Range Rovers that cost 3 times more, but it is well put together, dispensing with corners and long bends with relative ease, especially for a tallish SUV where lesser variants would’ve faltered. It handles more like a continental rather than an oriental, which to the younger crowd is a good thing. In actual testing, young hearts certainly welcomed the taut nature of the ride and handling while older uncles and aunties complained about the stiff ride at the back. Perhaps the regular 200t with higher profile 17-inch rubbers and regular suspension would suit the older crowd better.
The seamless nature of the twin scroll turbocharger effectively takes away any feeling of turbo lag, and responds in a flash to your beckoning, especially in Sport or Sport Plus modes. Forget about gossamer-like ride quality, the NX 200t F Sport transforms into a deranged beast, ever ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims who didn’t know that a Japanese luxury crossover could disappear into the horizon just like that. With the tightening up of the shockers, the steering response stiffens up as well, in anticipation of increased G-forces.
When you’re not in the mood for tarmac-burning, switch back to Normal and let the Mark Levinson 14-speaker premium surround audio system lull you into a subdued, civic-conscious mood. Said audio system boasts an impressive surround sound quality complete with center staging speaker up front with a host of playback options. Soundstaging was one of its key points, but I couldn’t help comparing it against the excellent Lexus Premium Audio system in the ES 250 that was tested a while back. In terms of overall sound quality, I felt that the system in the ES 250 sounded a tad better, with a larger soundstage, smoother tonality and greater detail. Overall cabin acoustics plays an integral role in how an audio system pans out, and it is safe to say that a large sedan like the ES 250 had a naturally better acoustic environment. Having said that, the differences aren’t night and day; only picky listeners would be able to discern.
Is It Worth It?
No one can answer this question better than a prospective buyer. To consider a Lexus, one mustn’t look purely objectively at all the cold hard facts. The engineering and painstaking detail that goes into the production of each and every Lexus goes beyond mere objectivity, appealing more to one’s right brain, where your senses and emotions take over. Much like owning a masterpiece from a renown painter, the value proposition goes beyond the cost of the canvas and paint. If you’re a person who appreciates a work of heart, then by all means, put your money down now. At RM362,432.45 a pop (including GST, without insurance), the NX is reasonably priced for a vehicle that has everything but the kitchen sink, and represents a competitive option against continental rivals with much less kit and less flair. And, if you factor in the legendary reliability of a Japanese luxury mobile, you won’t go wrong with this one.