Nature abhors a vacuum, we’re told, and regardless of nature’s opinion of household appliances, we know that car makers don’t want voids in their lineups, absences that would send market segment intenders out of dealers’ showrooms to get what they want somewhere else. So with the choice of premium compact crossover/SUV‘s expanding, Lexus had to go play in that sandbox. And thus we have the new 2015 Lexus NX lineup.
The Lexus NX is aimed directly at the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Acura RDX, all within an inch and a half of overall length, though the NX has a notably shorter wheelbase than its rivals, at 104 inches, compared to 110 for the X3 and Q5, and almost 106.7 for the Acura. Ironically, the NX is actually two inches longer than the original Lexus RX 300. Maybe Lexus had it right the first time.
Whatever, Lexus mimics the RX lineup with a standard model, the 2015 Lexus NX 200t, and adds a hybrid—the 2015 Lexus NX 300h hybrid—along with the model we’re examining more closely in this first drive evaluation, the 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport. Our evaluation model also had all-wheel drive, a feature available on the other Lexus NX models.
Although a new model in the Lexus lineup, the NX isn’t “all new” but rather “loosely connected,” according to Owen Peacock, national marketing director for Lexus, to the Toyota RAV4 crossover/SUV. Loosely connected is defined as based on the RAV4 but with 90 percent newly engineered parts.
The result is a 20 percent greater structural rigidity, from just sticking the NX together more, with special adhesives, a lot of screw welding and additional conventional spot welds, to using aluminum and hot stamped and high-strength steel. Want specifics? A front suspension brace was added, tunnel bulkhead added, rear suspension brace thickened and left and right connected, bulkheads and spot welds added at the rear cross floor member, and so on and on.
Front suspension is via conventional MacPherson struts, and the rear by double wishbone suspension with separately mounted springs and shocks, enhancing handling and allowomg a lower cargo compartment floor without intruding shock towers.
The Lexus NX 300h is powered by the familiar Toyota/Lexus hybrid system. The NX 200t, as the model designation suggests, has a two-liter direct-injection turbocharged engine, a first-ever for Lexus. It’s also a brand new engine with a unique feature, variable valve timing with a wide range of camshaft advance and retard for the intake valve. With the intake valve able to stay open later—well after the piston is into the compression stroke—the engine actually goes from the traditional Otto cycle to the Atkinson cycle typically found with hybrid systems.
The advantage of the Atkinson cycle is fuel efficiency. It’s not exactly a torque abundant operating system, however, so the ability to alternate between Otto cycle and Atkinson cycle combines the best of power and efficiency, especially combined with turbocharging and direct injection.
The two-liter four-cylinder engine also combines an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head with in-house-developed dual-scroll turbocharging (two inlets into one turbocharger for quicker response and less lag), and an air-to-water intercooler.
The engine also features friction reducing elements, a system that promotes faster engine warmup for decreased emissions and a system that reduces oil delivery to the engine under certain operating conditions. Expect to see this engine spread to other models in the Toyota family.
A new six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the two-liter turbo engine, along with a “pre-loaded” front differential (front wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive an option) that operates like a limited slip differential under light load helping to maintain a straight-line departure from stop.
The all-wheel drive-equipped Lexus NX 200T has an electronically-controlled center differential capable of varying torque between 100 percent front to 50:50 front to rear. Engaging all-wheel drive relies on front/rear and side-to-side G-sensors, a steering angle sensor and wheel speed sensors. The torque split is determined not only by wheel slip but also, as an example, steering wheel angle. With the steering wheel turned all the way to one side, the all-wheel drive system will reduce locking the center differential to prevent the four-wheel drive binding effect. Another example of the all-wheel drive system disengaging when he brakes are applied, providing full braking effect.
The brake system has what’s expected in a premium class vehicle (and more and more in less expensive models) including brake anti-lock, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, and stability control as standard equipment. The NX also has Brake Hold (keeps the brakes on while stopped without the driver’s foot on the pedal because, you know, that takes so much effort), Smart Stop (brake override of the gas pedal), and hill-start assist (keeps the brakes on when facing uphill until the gas pedal is touched).