Timing is a funny thing. As I’m writing this mini-review of the Lexus NX 200t, which has been out for several years and used the brand’s first turbocharged engine in America, a newly-revised NX just debuted in China. It doesn’t have much bearing on my thoughts about the CUV, but it does go to show the growing importance of China for luxury manufacturers like Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.
It’s been almost three years since we drove the NX 200t for the first time. Back then, our reviewer was impressed by how different it felt from the RAV4 – the two vehicles share a platform, although Lexus claims 90 percent of the NX is distinct from its Toyota cousin. The biggest differences are styling and, more important, the powertrain. With turbocharging going very mainstream in the intervening years, how does the NX200t hold up? I spent a week in an F-Sport trim in a striking orange color to find out for myself.
- It took a little while for me to warm up to the powertrain. Even in Sport mode, things seem … well, they seem a little sluggish. The NX has a funny way of expressing its slightly more than adequate horsepower and torque by requiring a hefty punt to spool up the turbo and get things moving along. Normal drive mode could pass for an economy setting.
- Back in 2014 when this thing was new, it was clear that the RAV4 connection doesn’t matter as much as we, as enthusiasts, would think. It’s easy for us to fixate on what vehicle is related to what platform, and which way its engine sits. And that’s good! We need to do that. But Lexus determined that they didn’t need it to sit on a rear-drive sportscar platform because of course not! It’s a little crossover. From a packaging standpoint, that’d be idiotic, and from a marketing standpoint likewise. Not to say that buyers of the NX 200t aren’t discerning. But I think their priorities and desires probably align with what Lexus decided to produce. This is good and proper. Also, it beats the heck out of a RAV4.
- I love the seats. Every body is different, sure. But these seats are completely spot on for what my body needs. They’re sporty-looking without resorting to immense bolsters that pinch the torso, and they’re very supportive. I wouldn’t say they’re the best seat’s I’ve tried out of the hundreds of cars I’ve driven over the years, but they’re probably the best small crossover seats I can recall. To put it in different terms, on some long road trips you need to stop just to stretch – that’s not the case here.
- The spindle grille isn’t for everybody, but I think the NX in particular looks rakish for a compact crossover. The low-looking roofline (thanks, high window sills!), the long and tapering front end, the heavily sculpted lower door sills, and the muscular rear fenders all look like elements yanked from a legitimately sporty vehicle rather than just a modestly enhanced RAV4.
- I’m one of the few defenders in the office for the interior design, and I blame this on a childhood enjoying Japanese space cartoons like Voltron. The bilevel center console is functional and aesthetically-pleasing in minimalist sort of way. Physical climate control buttons are greatly appreciated, and even though the RAV4 offers a very similar bi-level console the design around it is vastly different. The Remote Touch Interface (the touchpad for the screen) is a bit of an acquired taste to operate, but take a moment and think about the benefits: very positive, notchy haptic feedback and no fingerprints like you get on a touchscreen. As we said in our first drive, pair it with a slicker graphic interface – Lexus Enform’s looks dated and runs slowly – and it’d be a winning combination.
I’m not sure the glossy orange metallic paint on the NX 200t F-Sport I drove works for everybody, but it sure is nice that there are at least two bold colors NX drivers can choose from. This one’s called Molten Pearl, the other is Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0. In a sea of white, silver, and black crossovers, the orange NX 200t was always easy to spot. I’d probably choose the blue, which is a little less flashy, but it’s heartening to see some real color choice. There are two silvers, two whites, and a grey if standing out isn’t your thing.
Overall, the NX 200t has aged well. It’s still a distinctive choice that hides whatever RAV4 bits haven’t been altered well. What it isn’t, and arguably shouldn’t be, is a truly sporty small crossover – yes, even with a turbocharger and cyborg xenomorph styling it’s basically a practical suburban cruiser. And like the RAV4 it’s loosely related to, it has a generous amount of room inside, particularly in the second row. And it still looks fresh even with a restyled model on the way.
If you only share 10 percent of your personality with a RAV4 buyer, it might suit you perfectly.