2015 Lexus NX300h And NX200t Test Drive

We take the 2015 Lexus NX300h and NX200t for a quick test drive to check out the tech these new vehicles have to offer.

Introduction

Toyota took a successful gamble when it combined the premium qualities of a luxury sedan and the packaging of an SUV to create its first-generation Harrier, known to Americans as the Lexus RX300. Over the years, the RX spawned evolved into two more generations, growing larger with each update. The compact RX that launched over 15 years ago no longer exists in the same form.

As Lexus' RX grew in size, its customers became empty nesters who no longer needed the extra room. Since the RX was the company's smallest crossover, buyers looking for the ride height of an SUV without hulking dimensions were left without an option in Lexus' line-up. Of course, it doesn't help that the brand is in severe need of rejuvenation.

And so the NX series was born. Lexus claims the car caters to a younger urban crowd that enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, snowboarding and kayaking, though there will undoubtedly be some overlap with the older demographic with kids moving off to college. Is Lexus' NX the next big thing for upwardly-mobile professionals, or will it solidify the company's position with geriatrics? We spent time with the NX200t and NX300h to answer that question.

Don’t Call It A Luxury RAV4

Lexus didn’t have to start from scratch when it began developing the NX; it shares the same platform as Toyota's mainstream Toyota RAV4. We don't count this as a negative. Companies can create completely different vehicles that are architecturally similar. Despite taking advantage of the RAV4's underpinnings, Lexus' NX is a unique vehicle with its own interior, tuned suspension, driving dynamics and powertrains.

In my opinion, the NX sports the best mass market implementation of Lexus’ L-finesse design language. While the IS350 is aggressive, its back end isn't as well executed. To be frank, it looks a bit odd. This isn’t the case with the NX. Its large Lexus spindle grille lends a commanding presence on the road. The angular lines continue around back in a cohesive way. I’m a big fan of wagons and hatchbacks, so the boxed rear end is more visually appealing to me.

Lexus offers the NX with an optional F-Sport treatment, which includes meaner styling. Don’t let the branding fool you; the F-Sport package doesn’t make the NX a sports car. Despite a tuned suspension, you still feel like you're driving an SUV. Rather, the package includes additions like sport seats and access to more vehicle performance information. If we were shopping for an NX, however, the F-Sport option is a must-have, if only for the better-looking front bumper and wheels. It's available for the NX200t and NX300h.

LED lighting is employed throughout the car, including the low-beam headlights and daytime running lights. The high-beams are halogen bulbs on the base models, though an all-LED low- and high-beam option is available for the NX200t; it's standard on the NX300h. You even get LED tail lights and a high-mount brake light.

In terms of size, the new NX is comparable to Lexus' first-generation RX300, give or take an inch. Did you spot the second-gen RX in the photo above? Interestingly, the two cars share a similar side profile, though the NX benefits from somewhat sexier lines.

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Interior

The NX's interior features a fair amount of leather and soft-touch material. Lexus resisted its competition's affinity for capacitive touch buttons and dependence on touchscreens, exposing physical buttons, knobs and displays for infotainment input and HVAC controls. We applaud the company for implementing interfaces we can actually feel while keeping an eye on the road.

The driver's seat features a nice set of analog gauges with a 4.2-inch display sandwiched in-between. Hybrids have a power meter, while turbocharged models have a tachometer to complement the speedometer. The LCD presents quite a bit of useful information corresponding to navigation, the audio subsystem and the car's vitals. F-Sport-equipped models include additional performance meters, conveying g-force and boost for an extra sporty touch.

Gone is the Lexus Remote Touch mouse that was found on every Lexus vehicle since the third-generation RX, and new to the NX is Lexus' first Remote Touch Interface implementation. Its touchpad looks like something from a laptop. That assessment wouldn't be too far off, since it supports multi-finger gestures and taps.

The previous Lexus Remote Touch mouse was annoying due to its lack of a back button. Lexus rectifies the situation with its newer interface. Still, though, my time with this touchpad leaves me conflicted. I have to say I prefer the old effort for its haptic feedback and ergonomics.

Lexus leans on a familiar infotainment system UI user interface for the NX. It's virtually identical to what we saw on last year's IS. That is to say both systems are scaled-down versions of what'd you get in a Lexus LS or GS on a smaller and lower-resolution seven-inch LCD. Of course, since the NX is a smaller car, the more diminutive display is a better fit.

The NX's infotainment system supports USB flash drives, iPhone/iPod connectivity and auxiliary input. HD Radio and SiriusXM come standard as well. Smartphone users can take advantage of the Lexus Enform App Suite that includes Bing, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Slacker Internet radio. If you frequently travel into dense cities, you'll enjoy the NX's 3D maps too, which show tall buildings in greater detail.

Wireless Charging

In 2014 Mazda5 Sport: Say Hello To Tom’s Hardware’s Project Car, we dismantled a desktop Qi for the purpose of adding it to our own project car. Lexus offers an integrated Qi charger as a factory option. It's installed in the center armrest, accommodating and charging my Nexus 5 perfectly. There much wiggle room available though, so a giant phablet like the International Qi-supporting version of Nokia's Lumia 1520 won’t fit. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see car manufacturers offering factory-installed Qi chargers.

Under The Hood

Lexus debuted its NX with the first new motor from Toyota in nearly a decade. Although competitors began deploying turbocharged four-cylinder motors in place of higher-displacement V6s a couple of years ago, Toyota was behind in its engine development.

But the NX200t features a brand new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine (code 8AR-FTS) that puts out 235hp at 4800 to 5600 RPM and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1650 to 4000 RPM. As its numbers suggest, the motor has a flat torque curve, and theoretically delivers much more low-end motivation than a linear V6. This is achieved through a twin-scroll turbo. Also, the engine does benefit from an intercooler.

Lexus rates the NX200t for a 0-60 time of 7.0 seconds in AWD trim and 7.2 seconds if you go with FWD. Either way, the top speed is electronically limited to 124 MPH. Fuel economy is respectable: 21/28/24 city/highway/combined for AWD and 22/28/24 for FWD. Unfortunately, you're required to fill up with premium 91-octane fuel or higher.

A Familiar Hybrid Option

If pricey gasoline isn't your thing, there's always the NX300h. The AWD version of that model is rated for 33/30/32 MPG, while the FWD version is listed at 35/31/33 MPG. Toyota's hybrid powertrain is similar to what's found on the Camry, which we looked at in 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE: Technology In A Mid-Size Sedan. It remains a 2.5L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder that puts out 154hp and 152 lb-ft, paired with an electric motor. The combination manages 194hp.

Exclusive to the NX300h (and a first for the hybrid powertrain) is the addition of AWD, powered by an additional motor that puts out a maximum of 67hp to the rear wheels. Lexus continues using nickel-metal hydride batteries in its hybrids. The NX300h has 204 cells with a nominal voltage of 244.8V.

Unfortunately, the trade-off for fuel economy is slower acceleration (both versions get to 60MPH in 9.1 seconds). Also, the top speed is electronically limited to 112 MPH. At least the hybrid only requires 87-octane gasoline.

Driver Assists

Lexus also offers its pre-collision system (PCS) with dynamic cruise control on the NX. This radar-based system actively monitors the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to help prevent accidents. If it detects an impending collision, it can prepare the brake assist system that applies maximum pressure with a simple tap of the brake pedal, or automatically apply the brakes if it deems necessary. Aggressive drivers beware: it's downright unnerving when you perform a maneuver and the brakes engage as you try to accelerate out of a situation.

All-speed cruise control is Lexus’ name for its adaptive cruise control, which can completely stop the car. That's a great feature for your daily commute.

A blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is optional on Lexus' NX. The system operates as a typical blind spot monitor, detecting hard-to-see vehicles. If it senses one, an indicator flashes briefly in the side mirror. If you miss that warning and put on your turn signal, the flashing is accompanied by an audible alert. Of course, this relies on you actually using turn signals. We trust that you do.

A back-up camera with gridlines comes standard on the NX. Lexus installs it below the chrome beauty bar on the tailgate. The camera is concealed well enough that it doesn't look like an afterthought. Picture quality isn’t extraordinary by any means, but the output is adequate for seeing whatever's  behind the car in ample detail.

Choose Your Driving Style

Lexus deploys the same drive mode selector found in its other vehicles, offering Eco, Normal and Sport settings that alter steering and throttle response. Hybrid models additionally boast an EV mode to force pure electric power at low speed. My personal driving style favors Sport mode for the improved throttle and steering response. It makes the car feel less like a Camry and more like an IS.

All models include an electronic parking brake, which is accessible through buttons below the drive mode selector. It includes an automatic brake hold function.

Active Sound Control

Standard on the F-Sport-equipped model is Lexus Active Sound Control. This isn’t an active cabin noise cancellation system, found on higher-end luxury cars.

Rather, in the company's pursuit of refinement, Lexus muffled the engine's sound. More enthusiastic drivers might miss this from their position in the cabin. So, the company installs a dial to let you pipe engine sounds in through the speakers. I played with the feature briefly, turning it on and off while driving, and found the feature too insincere to leave enabled. We’re not sure that anyone in the NX's target market would want this option; it's both cheesy and useless.

Conclusion

Lexus most likely has a winner on its hands with the NX series. It’s quiet, comfortable and smooth, regardless of whether you pick the new turbocharged or hybrid powertrain. The infotainment system is designed well, and we love its detailed 3D maps. USB connectivity and streaming Internet radio are expected at this level, and both work well. While we don't care for the new trackpad as much as the old mouse, it's not a bad input device by any means.

Still, the Lexus NX does not appeal to me at all, even though I fall into its target market. If you've read my stories in the past, you know I gravitate toward a certain dynamic, and the only thing exciting about this overly refined luxury crossover is its optional F-Sport package. Otherwise, it's an absolute snooze to drive. Lexus made its turbocharged four-cylinder so smooth that you could mistake it for a better-balanced I6. That's great if you'd rather disconnect during your commute. But for automotive enthusiasts...well, you know it's just not an ideal match. Mash the gas petal until you're blue in the face; the NX doesn't have that throw-you-back-in-your-seat torque available from the beefier German powertrains.

Despite my reservations, the NX will naturally appeal to Lexus' existing buyers. It just won't rejuvenate the brand to bring in younger customers. If you find yourself wanting more from your ride, try the rear-biased BMW X3 or Mazda CX-5, if you’re on a budget.

Anh T. Huynh is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Automotive. Follow him on Twitter @driveseoul, on Facebook and on Google+.

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