Lexus NX 200t enters the compact luxury SUV market

Record sales prove that Lexus’ midsize RX 350 SUV has been a tremendous hit among car buyers. Women in particular, seem to be the largest segment. So if that vehicle is so good, why not introduce a slightly smaller version?

And that’s what Lexus did. Their NX 200t compact SUV is somewhat smaller than its big brother, but not by much. Lexus designers also wanted to give the NX a bit more pizzazz so they created a chiseled front end that is considered uniquely eye grabbing. There’s no mistaking the NX for any other competitive SUV, especially with its LED headlights, running lights and fog lights.

Along with this distinctive styling, comes a new engine and transmission. A new 2.0-liter four-cylinder is the brand’s first turbocharged engine. It produces 236-hp and 258 lb/ft of torque that sends power to the wheels through a new 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA rates this combination 21 city, 28-highway mpg.

If you desire better mileage, the NX is also available as an NX 300h hybrid and more sporty F Sport. The AWD hybrid differs from the gasoline version in that it comes with Lexus’ E-Four AWD that uses an electric motor to drive the rear axle when needed for better traction.

While the RX comes standard with a six-cylinder, the NX is equally as peppy with two less cylinders. It’s been 0-60 tested in 7 seconds putting it in similar numbers of others in this segment. There was no want for power as acceleration and passing power were more than adequate.

With an exciting exterior, Lexus also designed a pleasing and comfy interior with carbon fiber look trim and contrasting stitching on all leather seams. The vertical stack looks like it came from a corporate jet. An 8.5×4-inch display takes on an iPad appearance as it sets atop the stack. Controlling it is Lexus’ Remote Touch mouse pad that selects audio, GPS nav and other apps. But it shouldn’t be used when driving as it does take the eyes off the road.

Inches away on the console is a rotary dial to select Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes. There’s also an integrated Smartphone charger in the console box for select phones.

Back seat comfort is good and rated for three provided they’re not adults. Step-in is a low 18 inches while ingress and egress could be better if the rear doors would open a bit wider. The backs split and fold in 60/40 fashion for added cargo space. Rear seat headrests, however, are too tall and block rear visibility somewhat. Low profile rests would solve this problem.

Speaking of which, the cargo area measures 36 inches deep, 40 wide and 27 high. Flip the backs and depth extends to 70 inches. With the seatbacks upright, cargo capacity is rated at 17.7 cubic feet, or 54.6 with them folded.

Ride and handling are a bit different when compared to the RX 350. The NX rides somewhat firmer even in the Normal mode but that translates into good handling in sharp turns and cloverleaves. Switch to Sport mode and things tighten up even more.

Steering is responsive and parking is easy because of the vehicles shorter (than the RX) wheelbase. In Normal mode, road bumps and tar strips are nicely dampened.

Engine noise is virtually nonexistent. The cabin is nicely hushed making for a quiet, smooth ride, which is to be expected from a Lexus.

While the test car was a prototype, a window price sticker was not available. But the car did have a nav system, Pre-Collision system, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Intuitive Parking Assist, Power hatch door, wireless charger, and the Premium package that included heated/ventilated front seats, moon roof, 18-inch wheels, Electrochromic outside mirrors and probably more.

List prices for a FWD NX tested start at $34,480 while an AWD model fetches $35,800. For this price the vehicle also received good safety ratings. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association gave the NX five overall stars, four for frontal driver/passenger barrier, five for side crash, five for side barrier and four for rollover. The Institute for Highway Safety gave it “Good” ratings for three tests.

The hot compact SUV market has gained a formidable competitor with the NX. It’s so good it may affect RX sales.

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