Review: 2015 Lexus NX200t F-Sport

Lexus is jumping into the compact crossover market with its latest NX.

Although nearly flawless in execution, there was always the feeling something was missing from the Lexus line of luxury automobiles and SUVs. Sterile to a fault, they appeared to just fall a tad short in the passion department. With the 2015 Lexus NX 200t F-Sport, the brand is building on the little bit of soul that first appeared with the introduction of the third-generation IS in 2013.

What is it?Lexus's entry into the ultra-hot compact crossover segment, the NX 200T F-Sport is a five-door, five-passenger vehicle that's the smallest of the brand's crossovers and SUVs. But this one has a brand first: A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 235-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, with peak power coming on between 1,650-4,000 rpm. Mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission, our tester was equipped with Lexus's all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. In standard form, it is equipped with front-wheel-drive (FWD).

The NX is built on Toyota's New MC platform and is somewhat related to the Toyota RAV4 SUV. It utilizes the familiar MacPherson strut system with coil springs in front and a trailing arm double wishbone setup with coil springs at the rear. Steering is through an electric powered rack and pinion setup. The NX F-Sport package includes performance rods which, according to Lexus, help to stiffen up the unibody construction.

Our AWD system is an available option on the standard gas model, with variable torque that can be transferred instantly from front to rear. The system varies traction from 50:50 to 100:0, depending on wheel slip and fuel economy, as determined by sensors that monitor such things. A pre-loaded differential, with yaw-rate feedback control monitors side-to-side grip at low speeds to maintain proper straight-line stability. In the case of a driver making too-wide a turn (understeering), Dynamic Torque Control helps bring the NX back in line.

Available in three trim levels, ranging from base NX 200t, to NX 300h Hybrid. Our tester was the NX 200t F-Sport. Essentially little more than a dress-up kit, the F-Sport pack includes a unique front bumper, with mesh inserts and LED fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, unique seating, aluminum pedals, unique interior trim pieces, a G-meter, paddle shift levers, summer tires, scuff plates, and a sport-tuned suspension. Additionally, the F-Sport features a sound system-enhanced "sweetener” to make the engine sound bigger and badder than it actually is. Our 4,050-pound sampler was good for a zero-to-60 mph time of 7.0-seconds flat, with a Lexus-estimated mileage of 21 city/28 highway and a 24-mpg average.

Available safety features include Lane Departure Alert and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which can bring the NX to a complete stop if the vehicle is traveling at less than 37 miles per hour.

For those who are mean-green, the 300h Hybrid, is complete with a hybrid power system based on a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine. For its AWD exploits, the NX 300h uses a 67-horsepower electric motor on the rear axle, for use in an as-needed basis.

What's it up against? The NX competes in the Compact Luxury CUV ranks with the likes of Acura's RDX, Volvo's XC60, Audi's Q5, BMW's X3, and the Mercedes-Benz GLK. It's actually a good time for buyers who are in the market for a smaller footprint SUV.

How does it look?Looking like a cross between a Transformer toy and a piece of modern art, the Lexus NX features crisp folds and certain cues that draw a comparison to the recently refreshed Lexus IS models. The now familiar spindle grille with F-Sport specific mesh is nicely integrated into this shape, and the car takes on an aggressive appearance that makes it look like an open mouth scrounging for its next meal. The NX's styling stands our for sure, but it may be an acquired taste for some.

Integrated LED fog and running light bars impart a sinister appearance through the entire front fascia. From the side, viewers will notice design cues from the greenhouse of the Lexus IS, which are also accented by character lines that lead up to a nice and tidy rear hatch door. Smoke grey metallic wheels help to disguise the dreaded brake dust that accumulates there. But owners should be reminded that just because you cant see the dust, doesn't mean the problem has been eliminated. Owners must make a concerted effort to keep them clean, lest pitted and filthy aluminum alloy wheels were what you desired in the first place.

And on the inside? The NX F-Sport is a well put-together package with great execution. It's a case where the new design language of the IS sedan carries over with great result. We were a bit put-off, though, by the bits of simulated bovine (NuLuxe) we found on the otherwise comfortable seats. Even though our tester was equipped with heated and ventilated seating, its lack of breathability was a bit tedious in South Florida because of its penchant to quickly reduce anyone, or thing, into a steaming puddle of goo.

The NX was also chosen for the first application of the Lexus Remote Touch Interface. A laptop-like touchpad, it allows you to trace letters as well as move your finger across to activate a function on the premium audio and navigation system's seven-inch display screen. Haptic feedback confirms your input, and is light years better than the joystick device that it replaces. The NX can also be ordered with an available Qi wireless charging tray for one less cord to carry, and also manages to bring Apple's Siri Eyes Free Mode along for the ride.

While just a five- rather than seven-seater, our NX F-Sport still features a 60-40 split rear seat that offered sufficient room for three adults for a short around-town jaunt. With the rear bench seat in the upright position, expect 17.7-cubic feet of cargo space. Fold them forward and that number climbs to 54.6-cubic feet.

But does it go? While providing the power of a V6 in a small I-4 turbocharged package, it is clear that to get the most performance from this engine requires it to be driven hard. That clearly flies in the face of a fuel miser, but truth be told, your actual mileage may very. To that end, the 2.0-liter turbo uses advanced valve control to alternate between conventional- and Atkinson-cycle operations for the most fuel-efficient mapping at any one time.

Steering from the electrically assisted power unit was well modulated and gave good feedback at both high and lower speeds. Road noise was isolated from the cabin, which allowed us to concentrate more on the F-Sport's Active Sound Control (ASC), which piped in an artificially enhanced audio track from the engine note underhood.

Our version managed many nice launches with just the right amount of audio backing track to add to the excitement. This, in turn, only seemed to increase the pressure on the skinny pedal. The re-tuned suspension with AWD managed to grip nicely to the road but, to our feel, still rides a bit on the high side.

Three drive modes including ECO, Normal and Sport modes are on board. Normal drive mode was useful for most situations that didn't involve grades or elevation changes. Our go-to choice was Sport mode, which felt like it was remapping the throttle and holding gears just a little bit longer. Paddle shift levers encouraged more aggressive driving, although they were limited to just six cogs. ECO mode is one we would rather forget, especially in SoFla, where it manages to cut off the air conditioning system while at idle.

Along with the sporty 2.0T engine, and other F-Sport enhancements, our NX included a few other features that may be considered foreign in a family-style SUV. Items like a G-meter were on board to offer visual performance feedback as to g-loads, acceleration and cornering forces, which frankly are some of the last things you would expect to see in a family go-getter.

Leftlane's bottom lineWhile not offering much over a standard model, the 2015 Lexus NX 200T F-Sport ups the excitement levels more than some other vehicles within the brand. Consider it a little Lexus with a whole lot of soul.

2015 Lexus NX 200T F-Sport AWD base price, $37,980. As tested, $TBDPremium package, $-TBD; Navigation package, $-TBD; Blind Spot Warning, $-TBD; Intuitive Parking Assist, $-TBD; Destination Fee, $-TBD.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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