2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport review: Great stuff, if you like how it’s canned

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

The advertising tag line for a jelly maker goes, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” Well, with a face like the 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport, it must to be great. Or else.

The Lexus spindle grille is, well, controversial, and that on the NX 200t is the largest yet, at least compared to the size of the vehicle. Overall the NX looks like it had been styled by a Lego and Transformer enthusiast. The Lexus NX has more angles, lines and edges than a Euclidian geometry textbook.

The shape, however, was inspired by Lexus designers pouring molten steel over a die of the spindle grille to see how the shape would naturally form. The result is what Lexus calls the NX’s “angular, integral shape.”

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport interior

The 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport has trim on the passenger-side dash that looks like a knife blade. (click to enlarge)

The result is a drag co-efficient (Cd) of 0.33 (for the NX 200t), aided by six underbody aero panels and a standard roof-mounted spoiler. With production cars hitting a concept car-like 0.26 Cd, that may not seem impressive, but the Lexus NX isn’t a car. It’s a relatively short and tall shape with enough interior room for a golf bag to fit transversely at the rear.

A note on aerodynamics: Much of that massive grille is partially blocked off. The engine doesn’t need that much cooling, and by reducing the open area of the grille, air takes the more aerodynamic trip around the car rather than through engine compartment. And the knife edge front corners aren’t wholly for style. The black inserts enclose small scoops, and the inner front fender linings have slots that look like vents. They appear too small to have an air curtain effect—blowing air around the front tires as an aero aid—as on the Mustang or some BMW models but, well, there they are.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport dash

The design of the 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport dash mimics the spindle grille. (click to enlarge)

The 2015 Lexus NX shares a platform with the Toyota RAV4. But while the RAV’ster and NX have the same 104.7 inch wheelbase and MacPherson strut front/double wishbone rear suspension, suspension tuning for the NX was performed by driving dynamics expert Keiichi Nishiyama, an automotive enthusiast who competes on racing karts. The development crew had Hiroshi Inoue, who races in club events, as product planning chief, along with project chief engineer Takeaki Kato, a class winner in long distance racing at Fuji Speedway.

Powertrain specialist Sunao Ichihara, who was part of the team for the ultra-high performance Lexus LFA V10 engine program, helped develop the engine in the 2015 Lexus NX 200t. The Lexus NX is also available in as a hybrid, the NX 300h, but we’ll save that for another day, as the NX 200t powertrain is fascinating enough.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport back seat

The 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport back seat is roomy for two. (click to enlarge)

The Lexus NX may share a platform with the Toyota RAV4, but the NX 200t engine is entirely new. The two-liter four is the first turbocharged engine from Lexus, and it is, to use the non-cutting edge phrase, cutting edge. Motor geek stuff follows: Valve timing goes beyond the usual advance/retard range with the ability to go from the usual Otto cycle timing, best for performance, to efficiency-maximizing Atkinson cycle valve timing, typically found in hybrids for fuel saving. The new turbo four also has the combination port injection/direct injection fuel system used in other Toyota and Lexus engines for economy and performance tuning.

The turbocharging setup follows the current practice with four-into-two exhaust manifolding to smooth the flow of exhaust gas into the turbo’s turbine (not a dual scroll turbo, however). The turbo system does include computer-operated active wastegate control to reduce pumping losses by limiting backpressure during low engine load. The system also uses a water-cooled intercooler that’s mounted directly to the engine, and the dual exhaust system reduces backpressure and, Lexus claims, noise. And more about that later.

The result is 235 horsepower at 5,600 rpm with 258 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,650-4,000 rpm. It creates a moderately spritely 0-60 mph time of 7.0 seconds, according to Lexus.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport cargo area

The rear seatbacks fold to increase luggage space in the 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport, but don’t fold far enough to make a flat floor. Cargo net has a zipper pouch for stowing when it’s not in use. (click to enlarge)

The engine isn’t the only part of the drivetrain that’s new. The 2015 Lexus NX 200t is equipped with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. We drove the NX 200t F Sport, which adds paddle shifters to transmission operation, and as expected, the transmission has rev-matching downshift, and as one might expect from Lexus, is works smoothy, neatly avoiding jerkiness when going to a lower gear.

The S Sport version of the NX 200t also adds sport seats which are fitted for the narrow of derriere. They’re not full racing seats but there’s more bolstering than on what’s commonly called a sport seat. The interior has soft touch surfaces almost everywhere, and those few places it doesn’t—do you really reach over the steering wheel to feel the top surface of the dash to the left of the wheel?—don’t matter. Otherwise the interior is accented with contrast stitching and non-Lexus-like “metallic” trim (instead of wood, though there’s a package for that).