The Lexus NX is an unconventional Lexus, the brand’s first compact crossover, the first with a turbocharged engine, and the first example of an aggressive design theme that’s starting to show up elsewhere in the line.
When it debuted as a 2015 model, it turned out that the market was eager for a spunky five-passenger alternative to family-style crossovers, especially one with the Lexus brand promise of refinement and luxury. The 2016 Lexus NX receives some new colors and expanded smartphone capability. Otherwise, the NX lineup carries over unchanged for the 2016 model year.
The Lexus NX offers nimble handling, plenty of technology, and a choice of engines. The standard turbocharged four-cylinder provides appropriate power for an entry-level luxury vehicle. The available hybrid system is designed for efficiency, rather than performance, and is EPA-rated to deliver up to 35 mpg.
The Lexus NX F-Sport model features enough performance upgrades to make this five-passenger crossover genuinely fun to drive.
Buyers looking for that plush Lexus experience can find it in the NX with a full pallet of available convenience features and interior finishes like those found on the brand’s larger, more expensive vehicles.
Despite its adventurous styling, the NX is just as practical as boxier competitors. You get a reasonably spacious backseat, a highly configurable cargo area, and the option of all-wheel drive for year-round capability.
The Lexus NX is designed to compete with the premium-brand small crossovers: BMW X3, Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX, and Mercedes-Benz GLK.
The Lexus NX 200t ($34,965) carries a 2-liter charged four-cylinder engine with 235 horsepower, matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) Standard equipment includes a rearview camera, power front seats, smart key entry, a reclining rear seat, HD radio, and selectable driving modes.
The NX 200t F Sport ($37,065) gets a more aggressive suspension setup, larger wheels with summer performance tires, and unique trim throughout.
The NX 300h ($39,720) carries a hybrid power plant consisting of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors. Total output is 194 horsepower.
Options include leather upholstery, wood interior trim, a navigation system, and advanced collision-avoidance technology. The standard Lexus Enform Safety Connect system offers automatic crash notification, emergency assistance, and a stolen vehicle locator.
When it comes to styling, the NX is on the aggressive end of its class. The sharply creased body features high door sills, a swept-up rear end, and an oversized version of the Lexus signature grille. The effect is angular and futuristic. The LED-accented door handles are a nice touch and practical in the dark.
NX F-Sport versions take the look-at-me theme even further with a black mesh grille face, black mirrors, and metallic lower bumper moldings. When equipped with the optional 20-inch wheels, the F-Sport looks especially rebellious.
Overall length is a tidy 183 inches. We found the NX is no more challenging to park or maneuver through traffic than a compact car.
The NX looks and feels more like a proper Lexus on the inside, highly refined and tastefully appointed. Seldom do you find such a level of interior craftsmanship on crossovers of this size. The optional leather upholstery and wood trim would look right at home in a much more expensive vehicle. The center stack and console have a distinctive Z-shape profile, which adds a dose of sportiness without going overboard. F-Sport models get eye-catching aluminum pedal covers.
The seats aren’t elevated like on other crossovers, which increases headroom and gives the sensation of driving a passenger car. The seatbacks on the optional power-folding rear seat recline independently, a valuable asset on long trips.
Instead of a rollup-type cargo cover, the NX gets a two-piece folding tonneau board for a more finished look. There’s a storage compart under the cargo floor, and an impressive array of cubbies and pockets arrayed throughout the cabin.
The NX 200t has a sportier personality than other Lexus models, which are primarily tuned for comfort. The standard engine is energetic and willing, and handling is quick, if not exactly sporty. Switching the NX to the Sport driving mode changes the transmission’s shift points for snappier acceleration. The 200t is always quiet.
With its upgraded suspension and beefier tires, the 200t F-Sport is truly rewarding to drive. Roadholding is impressive for this class. The F-Sport tackles curves with gusto and simply feels more confident at higher speeds. Unlike the standard 200t, engine sounds are permitted into the F-Sport cabin to enhance the experience, but they aren’t unpleasant.
Front-wheel-drive versions of the NX 200t are EPA rated at 22/28 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. Adding all-wheel drive reduces the Combined rating by 1 mpg.
Of course, the mileage champ of the line is the hybrid-powered 300h, which is EPA rated at 35/31 mpg City/Highway, or 33 mpg Combined with front-wheel drive; with all-wheel drive it’s rated 33/30 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. The 300h features a novel EV mode that allows it run on electricity alone at low speeds (under 30 mph) for up to a mile. There’s also a kickdown switch that delivers an extra burst of power when needed.
In terms of handling dynamics, the hybrid-powered NX 300h behaves very much like the gas-powered NX 200t. However, overall performance does suffer a bit. The 300h needs a lengthy 9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph, whereas the 200t does the sprint in 7 seconds.
The NX moves and looks like a different kind a Lexus because it is. Singles and active couples are bound to be drawn to its bold design, eager performance, and overall freshness. Other small crossovers have similar appeal, but only one bears the Lexus stamp of quality and reliability.