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Lexus NX 200t: In the Red Hot Compact Luxe Utility Class

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 19th, 2015

There's a bandwagon rolling through the automobile countryside and Lexus has jumped on with its 2016 NX crossover utility vehicle.

Manufacturer photo: The Lexus NX 200T injects more fun into the luxury utility vehicle lineup for 2016 model year
Manufacturer photo: The Lexus NX 200T injects more fun into the luxury utility vehicle lineup for 2016 model year

It's not alone. In an industry where it takes years to develop a new model, it seems as if every manufacturer is muscling its way into the compact crossover sport utility territory, especially luxury purveyors.

Buyers are flocking to vehicles like the Acura RDX, BMW X1 and X3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLK, and Audi Q3 and Q5. They are regarded as the prime competitors to the new Lexus NX 200t and 300h, though there are many other compact crossovers across the price spectrum.

At Toyota, it's the RAV4, on which the NX is based. Honda's best-selling CR-V was the underpinning for the RDX. Porsche introduced the exciting Macan. Hyundai offers the Tucson, Kia the Sportage, Nissan the Rogue, Infiniti the QX50, Mazda the CX-3 and CX-5, and Subaru the Forester and XV Crosstrek. Ford's entries to the segment are the Escape and Lincoln MKC. Chevrolet has the Equinox, GMC the Terrain, Buick the Encore, and Volkswagen the Tiguan. Fiat/Chrysler sells the Fiat 500X and 500L, and Jeep the Cherokee, Renegade, and Patriot.

The segment is bursting with choices, and they are taking over not only in the U.S. but in Europe and China as well. In most cases, they provide the passenger space of a mid-size sedan, generous cargo area, a high-driving position, and a choice of all-wheel or front-wheel drive.

Manufacturer photo: The Lexus NX 200T injects more fun into the luxury utility vehicle lineup for 2016 model year

Performance ranges from adequate to outstanding; especially the powerful Macan and Audi SQ5, which are more sports cars than utility vehicles.

The Lexus NX makes no such claims. Its forte is quiet competence with luxurious surroundings and good fuel economy. With its turbocharged 235-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission, it is rated at 22/28/25 mpg with front-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive model checks in at 22/28/24. Driver selectable eco, normal, and sport settings adjust the transmission for economy or performance.

One big question is what the NX's impact will be on the RX, the biggest-selling Lexus model. The RX was the first luxury crossover when it made its debut in 1998 and it has been a solid success since.

With an overall length of 15 feet 8 inches and passenger/cargo volume of 102/40 cubic-feet, the RX is classified as a midsize crossover SUV. The compact NX is smaller but not by much, especially from a people standpoint. It is 15 feet 2 inches long and has 98 cu.-ft. of passenger space with a nearly flat floor in back, so it can accommodate five adults -- as long as they're not too portly. With 18 cu.-ft. for cargo, it won't haul as much as the RX.

Of course, there are other big differences. A 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine powers the 2016 RX 350. That compares to the 235-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the NX 200t. The gasoline/electric NX 300h hybrid delivers a total of 194 hp from its electric motor and 2.5-liter gasoline engine combo. The RX 450h hybrid is rated at 308 hp.

Manufacturer photo: The Lexus NX 200T injects more fun into the luxury utility vehicle lineup for 2016 model year

Lexus officials believe that the NX will have a minimal impact on the RX, which has a substantial following and operates in a higher price range. Besides, the NX is intended as a worldwide vehicle.

The tested NX 200t has a starting price of $37,205 and, with a list of options that included a navigation system, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, parking assist, garage door opener, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and memory settings for the outside mirrors, driver's seat, and steering wheel, had a bottom-line sticker of $43,805.

Standard equipment includes Siri Eyes Free Mode, which incorporates features from Apple iPhones that respond to voice commands. Other standard equipment includes full safety equipment, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, power front seats, remote locking, acoustic glass for sound deadening, and a clever hard cargo cover that folds and stores neatly under the cargo floor.

There's also an F Sport version of the NX, which costs $2,100 more. It comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, tighter suspension and shock absorber settings, sport seats, and up styled exterior trim pieces.

Driving the NX is all too familiar because it functions in the Lexus tradition: It does everything -- engine and transmission performance, handling, ride comfort, and silent running -- with quiet competence and no annoyances.

Manufacturer photo: The Lexus NX 200T injects more fun into the luxury utility vehicle lineup for 2016 model year

With its reputation for reliability, Lexus NX 200t promises to be a good choice for anyone seeking a luxury compact crossover SUV.

Specifications

Base price $37,205 (as tested: $43,805)
Curb weight 4,050 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbocharged 4-cyl. w/EFI
Epa mileage rating 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 15.9 gal.
Horsepower (net) 235 at 4800 rpm
Overall length 182.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 258 at 1650-4000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize CUV
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