Lexus has dominated the midsize luxury crossover market since its RX lineup debuted back in 1998. Its small size, fuel-efficient engines, and long list of luxurious amenities make the RX a hot seller. In 2013 alone, the RX sold over 103,000 units within the U.S. Lexus seems bent on gaining even more sales and growing its SUV lineup by offering a completely new product, the NX. Smaller than the RX and with striking features inside and out, the NX is poised to further solidify Lexus’ position as a luxury leader. The NX is all-new for 2015 and comes with two available powerplants, front- and all-wheel-drive, and room for five. Two separate models — the 200t and 300h — offer a wide range of choices and additional packages for customers looking to buy that just-right crossover.

Lexus says it only plans on selling roughly 36,000 units per year within the States, but if the RX and other crossover sales have any indication, the NX will easily surpass Lexus’ conservative estimates. The NX is also going global, selling in more than 80 markets worldwide. And while the official pricing hasn’t been released, the NX is estimated to undercut the RX’s price by some $5,000, meaning it will start in the mid-$30,000 range.

I recently spent some time behind the wheel of the new 2015 Lexus NX in the rolling hills of Nashville, Tennessee. What I discovered was a competent-handling, fun-to-drive vehicle that makes the trade-offs of owning an SUV less impactful, while still retaining all the benefits of a utilitarian crossover.

Click past the jump for the full review of the all-new 2015 Lexus NX

  • 2015 Lexus NX - First Drive
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    235
  • MPG(Cty):
    22
  • MPG(Hwy):
    28
  • Torque @ RPM:
    258
  • Energy:
    Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7.5 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    124 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine; FWD, AWD
  • Price:
    35000 (Est.)
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

TopSpeed Garage


Exterior

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Exterior
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2015 Lexus NX - First Drive High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Lexus NX - First Drive High Resolution Exterior
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It looks like nothing else on the road, but is unmistakably Lexus

Calling the Lexus NX distinct in its styling is an understatement. It looks like no other crossover on the road. It does, however, carry a rather bold interpretation of the Lexus ‘Spindle Grille’ and arrowhead, LED daytime running lights. The NX comes with two unique front grilles: the standard and the F Sport. The standard 200t and hybrid 300h models get a less aggressive front splitter and grille, while the F Sport enjoys a larger, more authoritative styling cue. LED headlights are also available and come as standard on higher trim levels.

A steeply-raked windshield flows back into an almost coupe-like roofline and an equally-raked rear glass panel. The side profile is full of angles, swoops, cuts, and accent lines that give the NX an almost flowing appearance. Lexus says its designers took inspiration from diamonds.

The rear end is equally as interesting as the front. Bold LED taillights enjoy a strong 3D construction with the red lens cover having numerous surfaces. The F Sport also enjoys bespoke, 18-inch wheels colored in a beautiful gunmetal gray. The standard NX models get either 17- or 18-inch wheels that correspond to the different trim levels. Non-hybrid models also get unique exhaust tips. The designers left the sides visible, citing motorcycle’s exhaust design as their inspiration.

An all-speed radar cruise control is available to make daily commuting an easy task. A Pre-collision system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure alert keep the vehicle out of trouble, while eight standard airbags and high-strength steel keep passengers safe in the event of a crash.

Interior

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Interior
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2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Interior
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2015 Lexus NX - First Drive High Resolution Interior
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Fun Fact: the cupholders are designed to be extra grippy, allowing for one-handed bottle opening.

Inside the new NX is a cabin that almost seems familiar to those used to Lexus’ other products. The Spindle design is found the center stack and the center console features the same elements as other models, namely the current IS sedan. A rotary dial offers the driver three drive modes: eco, normal, and sport. A new track pad controls the Enform infotainment system, yet it works much like the mouse-like design of other Lexus products. Haptic feedback pulses give it an engaging feeling and confirm inputs. Behind that lies a unique cubby area designed to hold sunglasses. The lid is completely removable and has a mirror glued to its underside. Vanity knows no limits, and Lexus seems to be catering to that.

The driver enjoys a upscale gauge cluster with four analog gauges, fuel and coolant temperature, along with the larger tachometer and speedometer. A TFT display between the two large gauges allow for customizable views of information, including a G-meter and turbo boost gauge. While the gauges look great, I wish the speedometer’s number range were more detailed with smaller intervals. Who drives 160 mph in a crossover anyway?

The NX also features a ‘cache radio’ that will record up to 15 minutes of music while the audio is on mute. Acting just like a DVR at home, the radio will resume playing your favorite station when an interrupting phone call is ended. That’s pretty clever, to say the least.

With the infinitely adjustable driver’s seat, the steering wheel falls perfectly at hand. Its power tilt and telescope design allows for a great range of seating styles. The controls on the center stack and console fall nicely at hand. Everything is in reach, through the high placement of the HVAC controls take some getting used to. Padded armrests keep elbows happy and two seat types keep backsides in the same condition. F Sport models get unique seats with more bolstering. They feel superbly cushioned too; no flat seat bottom issues like I’ve had in the ES sedan before.

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Interior
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In the back, rear seat passengers enjoy a decent amount of leg, hip, and shoulder room. Headroom will be tight for those folks any taller than six feet, thanks to that sloping roofline. The rear seats fold 60/40 style, allowing for a good amount of cargo room. If you’re hauling large stuff on a regular basis, the RX will likely be better suited for that, but the NX works for moderate stuff.

Drivetrain

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Drivetrain
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The dual overhead valves seamlessly switch from the conventional Otto cycle to the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle

The 2015 Lexus NX comes with two separate engine options. The standard engine is an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged, inline four-cylinder and the second is the familiar 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder mated to Toyota’s Hybrid Drive. The two engine options are also accompanied by the option of either front- or all-wheel drive.

2.0-liter Turbo

The turbocharged, 2.0-liter I-4 is an all-new engine for Lexus. In fact, it’s the automaker’s first ever turbocharged gasoline engine. With its first turbo attempt, Lexus decided to go all-out, throwing massive amounts of technology into the engine for high performance and good fuel economy. The engine uses direct fuel injection to precisely place the fuel in the cylinders while the dual overhead valves seamlessly switch from the conventional Otto cycle to the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle.

The engine features an integrated exhaust manifold built directly into the cylinder head. The twin-scroll turbocharger is then bolted onto the head to make turbo lag nearly nonexistent. Also hanging off the block is the water-cooled intercooler. A variable wastegate control system reduces backpressure during low engine loads. All told, the 2.0-liter turbo is worth 235 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 258 pound-feet from 1,650 to 4,000 rpm. The turbo is rated to push 17 psi of boost at wide open throttle. An all-new six-speed automatic transmission is mated to all NX 200t models.

2.5-liter Hybrid

The 300h hybrid utilizes the older, but still capable, 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder. The engine runs continually in the Atkinson cycle, giving it the best chance and delivering good fuel economy ratings. Helping it along is a version of the Toyota Hybrid drive. For the sportier NX, Lexus split the battery pack into two units, each sitting under the second-row outboard seats. All told, the battery pack only weighs 88 pounds, and combined with the gasoline engine, produce a total of 194 horsepower. Though it’s not the performer the 200t is, Lexus claims the 300h hits 60 in 9.1 seconds.

An AWD option is available with the 300h. Rather than the mechanical driveshaft and rear differential utilized by the AWD system in the 200t, the 300h uses electric motors to drive the rear wheels. No mechanical connections from the engine are involved. The hybrid also gets its own transmission; an electronically controlled CVT with a manual shift mode.

Driving Impressions

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Interior
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‘Active Sound Control’ literally reproduces engine noise via a special speaker within the cockpit.

Lexus has done its homework on the NX’s driving dynamics. With a younger demographic in target, the ride is much sportier than the RX. This is especially true for the NX 200t F Sport. Three season or summer sport tires wrap 18-inch wheels, while the suspension benefits from stiffer dampeners and sway bars. The steering is also tighter in the F Sport, making turn-in much more crisp and enjoyable.

The NX F Sport also comes with ‘Active Sound Control,’ a system that literally reproduces engine noise via a special speaker within the cockpit. The volume is adjustable with a simple roller wheel just right of the steering wheel. While it does change the volume of the engine, I found it only reproduced the harsh four-banger noises most folks find grating.

The NX’s overall handling is surprisingly nimble. Flat cornering, a tight suspension, and a peppy turbo engine makes the 200t and 200t F Sport a pleasure to drive briskly. The driver’s interactions with the NX’s controls are all well engineered. Buttons and knobs are right where they should be and nothing detracted from the experience, though rearward visibility is rather limited thanks to the small rear window.

My rather informal 0 to 60 test returned a time of 7.5 seconds. I’m positive Lexus’ claim of 7.2 seconds for the front-wheel-drive and seven seconds flat for the all-wheel-drive are reproducible.

Pricing

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Emblems and Logo Exterior
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As of 7/31/2014, Lexus has yet to release the official pricing information on the 2015 NX. The Lexus folks I talked to say the NX will have a staring price in the mid-$30,000 range while the F Sport will come ‘under $40,000.’ There wasn’t much talk about how much the 300h hybrid would cost, but expect its MSRP to be several thousand more than the F Sport, likely starting around $42,000.

Competition

2015 BMW X3

2015 BMW X3 High Resolution Exterior
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The BMW X3 is a benchmark in this crossover category, thanks to its reserved styling, swanky interior, and long list of optional equipment and drivetrains. The X3 gets a revised look for 2015, with sharper lines and a somewhat different kidney grille. New twin-circular headlight and a front bumper complete the front end’s refresh.

The engine bay still enjoys three powertrain options, including the 240-horsepower, turbocharged, 2.0-liter I-4, the 300-horse, turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, and the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel making a nice 280 pound-feet of torque. Rear- and all-wheel-drive are available with the base gasoline engine while the diesel and 3.0-liter come standard with AWD.

The X3 sDrive28i starts at $38,400 while the xDrive option starts at $40,400. Opting for the 3.0-liter turbodiesel will set you back $41,900 and the 3.0-liter I-6 starts at $45,100.

2015 Audi Q5

2014 Audi Q5 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The Audi Q5 is a strong competitor to the new Lexus NX. The Q5’s dimensions closely mirror that of the NX, so inch-for-inch, the two crossovers are on equal territory. The Audi does enjoy its German heritage, just as the BMW, which can go a long way with buyers in this category.

The Q5 comes powered by one of three engine options: the 2.0, TFSI I-4 making 220 horsepower, the supercharged, 3.0-liter V-6 making 272 horses, or the 3.0-liter TDI making a rather respectable 428 pound-feet of torque. All are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Of course, with it being an Audi, all-wheel-drive is a standard thing.

The starting price for the current 2014 Q5 begins at $38,900 and tops out at $52,400. Options are extra, of course.

Conclusion

2015 Lexus NX - First Drive Exterior
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Overall, the 2015 Lexus NX appears to be a very promising entry into the midsize crossover category. Its tight dimensions, wide range of options and packages, and solid pair of powertrains mean the NX will make a good alternative to the competitors above.

Sure, it looks very radical and even a little outlandish from certain angles, but looks are always subjective. Personally, I found the NX, especially the F Sport with its larger grille, rather appealing. The non-F Sport models, on the other hand, have a rather high approach angle, thanks the lack of a lower fascia. It’s definitely a unique look.

With the combination of its sporty character, vogue styling, and estimated moderate price, the NX seems to offer the best of both worlds between a full-size crossover and a smaller sports sedan. One thing’s for sure, no one will mistake it for anything other than a Lexus.

  • Leave it
    • The exterior look is either love or hate
    • Small rear cargo area
    • Where’s the eight-speed transmission?
    • Rearward visibility is limited
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