Seattle – Belltown, with the Space Needle as its centerpiece and more mixed-use development than you can say grace over, is one unique confluence – at least in the early morning – of the hip and homeless. A walk in-and-around Belltown sees a city stirring, cyclists cycling and joggers jogging, while sleeping bags – whose residents neither cycle or jog – dot the parks and sidewalks. Into this socioeconomic mix Lexus floated its new-for-2015 NX, an attractive merger of RAV-4 roots and oh-so-hip angularity. And given the stop-and-go (and stop) nature of our ride-and-drive, we had more than enough time to consider both the roots and the angularity.
While early to the luxury-utility crossover category (Lexus claims to have created it with the ’98 RX), the luxury carmaker is rather late to the luxury compact segment; or rather, make that way late to the luxury compact segment. BMW’s X3 is well established, Audi’s Q5 is – as we’ve written – almost ubiquitous, and Cadillac’s SRX has become much more than just a design statement for GM; it’s become a big add to the luxury division’s bottom line. With America’s ongoing appetite for high hip points and the aforementioned hip overtones, it’s little wonder Toyota’s purveyor of upmarket goods would want to climb aboard. And with its NX Lexus management takes an almost overtly pointed approach…
Long known for thorough engineering, competent construction and benign design, the NX arrives with sheetmetal more polarizing than Robert Peary or Admiral Byrd. Offering what is described in Lexus press materials as the “boldest interpretation yet of the signature Lexus spindle grille and L-finesse design,” you won’t confuse this with your neighbor’s RAV4, regardless of its similarity in overall footprint. Nor will you confuse it with the relatively bland offerings by BMW, Audi or Acura; only Cadillac’s SRX and the Land Rover/Range Rover/Land Rover(?) Evoque throw out a similarly strong stylistic vibe.
If you can get past the nose, which we prefer in standard guise more so than with the F Sport embellishment, the balance of the shape is certainly adventurous, but potentially less controversial. Aggressively flared wheelwells don’t – thankfully – visually diminish the wheel/tire combo, and while the greenhouse is fashionably low, it retains a reasonable amount of outward visibility. Viewed from the back, the tailgate’s detailing echoes – we’re told – the spindle grille. In short, if (in profile) the front fascia didn’t look like it was cradling a baby ‘roo we’d be rather fond of it.
Inside, a great deal of attention has been paid to tone and texture. Although Lexus PR-types claim that stepping into the NX will feel like “stepping into a sports car” we’ll politely disagree. We’ve seen sports cars, driven sports cars – and the NX is no sports car. I will admit that the center console is the focal point, and that the NX seats are supportive in a way a great many CUV seats aren’t. We liked the personal feel communicated by the NX interior, and enjoyed an emotional connection lacking during recent drives of Acura’s RDX and Audi’s Q5.
Of course, if you don’t bond with one specific NX interior you’re provided another four choices. Beyond Base (so base…), you’re given Comfort, Premium, F Sport and Luxury. We personally don’t buy a compact SUV adorned with F Sport propaganda; better, we think, to buy the IS 350 F Sport. And before checking the option box, know that Luxury gives you Linear Mocha Wood; its availability resulted in the death of god-knows-how-many linear mochas.
In sum, we were more taken with the NX design on the street than photos or press releases might have suggested. Without benefit of pricing info (beyond “very competitive”) we’re hard pressed to predict its success in the marketplace. But if the NX matches the price range of BMW’s X1, you can expect the entry-level BMW to be seen even less frequently than it already is…if that’s possible.