What’s Hot: Highly specced, engine hits the mark, premium value.buying
What’s Not: Six-speed auto not especially sharp, smaller boot than some.
X-FACTOR: Transformed by its turbo engine, the vastly more interesting NX 200t is the SUV Lexus has needed all along.
Vehicle Style: Medium Luxury SUV
Price: $72,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 175kW/350Nm 2.0 petrol turbo 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.9 l/100km | tested: 11.6 l/100km
The NX 200t is significant for two reasons.
One, it’s the first Lexus to be powered by a turbocharged petrol engine (no, we’re not counting those Toyota-badged models from the 1990s, the Soarer and Aristo).
And that turbo is a sign of things to come for Lexus, powertrain-wise.
Secondly, it is Lexus’ most appealing SUV by far - at least until the larger new RX arrives.
Without the burdensome hybrid system of the NX 300h, the NX 200t is a genuine rival to its logical European competitors, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3
We took the top-of-the-line NX 200t Sport Luxury for a week-long spin. It does things a little differently, but this edgily-styled premium SUV has more than a few things to recommend it.
- LED headlamps 360-degree camera, reversing camera, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control, lane-keep assist, head-up display, heated and cooled power front seats, power tailgate, power folding rear seats, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery.
- Infotainment: 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio with dual USB inputs, inductive phone charging pad, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, sat-nav, touchpad controller.
- Luggage capacity: 500 litres minimum, 1545 litres maximum.
Though the engine bay looks dramatically different, there’s not a whole lot to differentiate the 200t’s interior from the 300h.
Yes, the EV mode and hybrid badging is missing, but this is the same decor and furniture as found in the 300h. If you’re fond of edgy design, you’ll probably dig it.
This writer, however, finds it unnecessarily flamboyant, and a bit of a mess in terms of button layout. The touchpad infotainment controller is also finicky and slow to respond.
Material quality and comfort hit the mark though.
There’s acres of supple leather, the steering column adjusts electrically, leg and headroom is abundant and build quality is impeccable.
In the Sport Luxury, there’s also plenty of mod-cons to keep passengers and driver happy, with heated and cooled seats, a glass sunroof, head-up display and a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo.
There are also some cool features which are segment-firsts for the NX, like an inductive-loop phone charging pad and power-folding rear seats (which can even be controlled from the driver’s seat).
Not so good is the 500 litre boot-space.
The floor is high and not especially deep considering the NX’s size, which may limit the amount of stuff you can pack with the rear seats up and (rigid) cargo cover in place (thought there’s enough room for a large pram and some shopping to slide in).
ON THE ROAD
- 175kW/350Nm turbocharged petrol inline four
- Six-speed automatic with manual control. All-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Disc brakes all around, 328x28 mm front rotors, 281x12 mm rear rotors
- Electric power steering
Producing 175kW and 350Nm from its 2.0 litre capacity, Lexus’ new turbo motor is as modern as they come.
This puts its power and torque line-ball with the potent, and similarly priced, BMW X3 xDrive28i. And, like that BMW, the NX 200t feels lively on road.
Peak torque also arrives at just 1650rpm, giving the Lexus excellent low-end tractability.
Maximum power is achieved at 4800rpm, and the power curve is smooth and linear. It’s taken Lexus nine years to develop this engine, but the end result would seem to have been worth it.
On the highway, if you're prepared to sacrifice some fuel consumption, it can be hustled along smartly and has no trouble getting out and around slower traffic.
The six-speed automatic it’s bolted to is not quite as impressive. In its default shift mode, it’s a tad too eager to kick-down rather than maintain a high gear and use the engine’s generous low-down torque.
It could also be smoother in its shifts, and doesn’t have the same level of refinement as the X3 20i’s eight-speed auto. That said, it’s infinitely preferable to the 300h’s indecisive CVT auto.
Ride comfort is more than acceptable on the Sport Luxury’s 18-inch alloys, and though it’s no dynamic star the NX 200t feels more composed than its hybrid sibling.
Roadholding is good, wet-weather grip is boosted by the AWD driveline and the steering is nice and light. Outward vision is pretty good, but the fat C-pillar does impede over-the-shoulder vision.
There’s one big blot on the NX 200t’s scorecard though, and that’s its huge thirst for fuel.
Lexus reckons it needs just 7.9 l/100km on average, but our real-world test cycle had it chugging 11.6 l/100km. It needs 95 octane at a minimum too (though, to be fair, so do its competitors).
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.39 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags are standard, as is ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control.
On the range-topping Sport Luxury grade, the NX 200t gets blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, active cruise control, lane departure warning and a 360-degree top-down camera view.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Though Lexus classes the NX as a small SUV (despite it sharing much of its architecture with the Toyota RAV4, a medium SUV), Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s X3 are the NX 200t’s true rivals in terms of size and retail price.
In Sport Luxury trim the NX 200t has a sizable equipment advantage over the German duo even when they’re specced-up to a similar price.
The Q5 remains a favourite of ours for the way it drives, handles and the amount of interior space it offers.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With a simple powertrain change the NX has been transformed from pudgy and unappealing to lively and exciting. The new 2.0 turbo is every bit as good as similar engines from the brand’s German competitors.
The transmission is a letdown though, it is not nearly as crisp as the equivalent BMW and Audi sports autos. The relatively small boot is also a bit surprising in a new model like the NX.
But, those gripes aside, there is a lot to recommend in the NX 200t. The Sports Luxury model is pricey, but looks and feel the truly premium buy.
This car, in fact, is the mid-size SUV that Lexus has needed all along.
If you’re shopping for a luxo wagon but prefer something a little more compact than an RX, you’d do well to take the smaller and edgier NX 200t for a test drive.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- NX 200t Luxury - 2WD - $52,500
- NX 200t Luxury - AWD - $57,000
- NX 200t F Sport - AWD - $63,500
- NX 200t Sports Luxury - AWD - $72,500
- NX 300h Luxury - 2WD - $55,000
- NX 300h Luxury - AWD - $59,500
- NX 300h F Sport - AWD - $66,000
- NX 300h Sports Luxury - AWD - $75,000