Compact crossover fits between BMW X1, X3

Can Lexus NX hit segment's sweet spot?

Compact crossover fits between BMW X1, X3

The NX F Sport model has performance dampers for better handling stability.
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Sixteen years ago, Lexus set the industry on its ear when it introduced the first car-based luxury crossover, the RX 300. Lexus had modest sales expectations for the RX, but the vehicle quickly became the brand's volume leader with annual sales routinely near or north of 100,000 units.

Now, with scads of RX imitators clogging America's roads, Lexus is trying the same play in the compact luxury crossover segment with the NX 200t and NX 300h.

The basics: In a clear sign of "segment creep," the compact NX is larger, heavier, faster and more fuel efficient than the mid-sized RX was when it launched in 1998 as a 1999 model.

Although the NX is based on the Toyota RAV4 platform, 90 percent of the parts are different. And even the similar parts have been retooled with tighter tolerances to give the NX a more luxurious feel than the mass-market RAV4. NX assembly also uses more high-tensile steel and more screw welding and adhesives than the RAV4, for better structural integrity. 

The NX will be the first use of Toyota's new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which it is building in-house. The engine's variable valve timing can switch from Otto to Atkinson cycle instantly, depending on power or fuel economy needs. The oil change interval is a thrifty 10,000 miles. 

NX in line
Lexus is positioning the NX as a competitor to the larger BMW X3.
 2015 Lexus NX 200t2014 BMW X31999 Lexus RX 300
Wheelbase104.7 in.110.6 in.103.1 in.
Length182.3 in.183 in.180.1 in.
Width73.6 in.74.1 in.71.5 in.
Height64.8 in.65.4 in.65.7 in.
Curb weight3,940 lbs.4,068 lbs.3,692 lbs.
Base engine2.0-liter turbo 42.0-liter turbo 43.0-liter V-6
Horsepower235 @ 4,800 rpm240 @ 5,000 rpm220 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.258 @ 1,650 rpm260 @ 1,250 rpm222 @ 4,400 rpm
EPA mpg22 city/28 hwy. (est.)21 city/28 hwy.19 city/24 hwy.
Base price$37,000 (est.)$40,725*$32,045* (1998)
    
*Includes shipping

Smith: NX is agile, athletic.

The turbo's boost curve has been smoothed to avoid the turbo lag sensation that plagued the first-generation Acura RDX and Mazda CX-7. But acceleration is strong through the six-speed automatic transmission, with 0-to-60 arriving in seven seconds. 

A hybrid variant, using the same base 2.5-liter inline-four engine as the ES 300h, also will be available. Both standard and hybrid versions will be available in front- and all-wheel drive. The hybrid gets an estimated 35 mpg city/31 highway. 

The awd system uses active torque control with electromagnetic coupling for the rear differential, rather than a standard torque converter. This allows the system to fluctuate from 100 percent of the power at the front to a 50-50 split with the rear wheels. 

The front suspension is a MacPherson strut design; the rear is a double wishbone setup, with separated springs and shocks so the strut towers don't intrude into the cabin. 

Features include an eight-speaker CD audio system with satellite radio.

Notable features: Standard features include 17-inch wheels, keyless locks, door handle footlights, LED headlamps and turn signal lamps, Siri Eyes Free mode and an eight-speaker CD audio system with satellite radio.

The 7-inch multimedia display has a center console touch pad with adjustable haptic feedback, with drag, pinch, stretch and double-tap functions. 

The cargo cover can fold in half, and fits under the rear storage panel with the spare tire, saving storage hassles. 

A snazzy F Sport model also is offered, but it's more of a body paneling and interior trim kit, with no powertrain performance boost. It does come with stiffer spring rates, shock tower braces and performance dampers. 

What Lexus says: "The NX is a recognition of the next wave of luxury buyers," said Brian Smith, Lexus vice president of marketing. "It is agile and athletic ... with an emphasis on styling and performance."

Shortcomings and compromises: The NX is a "tweener" that dimensionally fits between the BMW X1 and X3. That may mean either that Lexus has hit the sweet spot, or that no one will like it. The NX for the United States won't get some of the more advanced features that will be available in other markets, lest it encroach on RX sales.

The market: Lexus is using the NX's edgy, sculpted styling to try to attract younger buyers from the trendy German brands. Lexus expects the typical buyer to have a household income of $130,000. The model split is expected to be 90 percent turbo/10 percent hybrid.

The skinny: Lexus expects to sell 36,000 units a year, once the NX arrives in November. But Lexus had similarly modest ambitions for the RX when it went on sale. The hard part could be sharing NX allocations with the 80 other global markets that want it. 

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter


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