Lexus NX to offer a 235 hp turbo or 194 hp hybrid in U.S.

UPDATED: 4/20.14 11:40 am -- updates from Beijing

Lexus unveiled the production version of the Lexus NX compact crossover at the Beijing auto show Sunday, offering a U.S. sales forecast of 2,200 units a month.

For the U.S. market, Lexus will offer a choice of a 235 hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, or a 194 hp, four-cylinder hybrid. The turbo engine is mated to a six-speed automatic.

The hybrid system is basically the same as used in the ES 300h, though the all-wheel-drive version gets a rear-motor layout similar to that of the RX. The battery is nickel-metal hydride.

Although Lexus didn't give official fuel economy estimates for the hybrid, a source said it should get in the 34-36 mpg range in combined driving cycle.

The turbo drivetrain likely will account for up to 85 percent of U.S. sales, Lexus International Executive Vice President Mark Templin predicted. "In the U.S., they want fun to drive, a little more power," he said.

Templin said Lexus tuned the turbo to deliver smooth acceleration, rather than jerky power thrusts.

"I think ours is going to be more refined than the rest of them in the market," he said. "Ours is more linear, smoother. Much more luxury-like."

With a 104.7-inch wheelbase and a 182.3-inch overall length, the NX is slightly smaller than the Acura RDX, and slides between the BMW X1 and X3.

The NX is 5.5 inches shorter than the RX. But rear legroom is only 0.4-inch shorter and luggage space surrenders just 0.8 inch from the RX cargo bay, Chief Engineer Takeaki Kato said.

"Packaging was our biggest challenge," Kato said. "But we were able to make the interior much roomier than anticipated."

Both the turbocharged and hybrid models will be offered in front- or all-wheel drive. The NX is derived from the Lexus CT platform with some RAV4 underpinnings and goes on sale this fall.

A non-turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine will be offered only in China and Russia.

The NX receives new engines as part of a sweeping powertrain overhaul unveiled this month by Toyota Motor Corp. The engine can switch between a lean-burning Atkinson combustion cycle to save fuel and a traditional Otto cycle for more power. Similar tuning will also be deployed in the upcoming Lexus RC coupe.

"Through valve timing, when you want performance, you get Otto cycle," Templin said. "When you want efficiency, you get Atkinson cycle."

The NX will be manufactured at Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus assembly plant in Japan's southwestern island of Kyushu.

In an interview at the New York auto show, Lexus Division General Manager Jeff Bracken said he expects Lexus to sell about 2,200 NX units a month in the United States. He added, however, that Lexus' U.S. dealer council has informed him that such an estimate is too conservative.

"From a sizing standpoint, it's basically the same size as the original RX 300," Bracken said. "Nobody has made any analogy to it being an over-sized RAV4."

When Lexus launched the original RX 300 in 1998, it had the same sales estimate. RX demand quickly jumped above six figures a year, and it became Lexus' best selling product.

Templin was bullish on the NX's potential.

"In a lot of markets, it could be our No. 1 seller," Templin said. "Every market wants more."

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com

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