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Although many shoppers seem to think the Lexus NX was designed to compete with the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA or Audi Q3, it is in fact a solid X3 / XC60 / GLK / Q5 competitor. Where does that leave the Lexus RX? Excellent question. The RX is a half-step larger and slots between the Lincoln MKX and Cadillac SRX in size.
While Land Rover arguably invented the concept of a luxury SUV with their first Range Rover, the 1998 Lexus RX is the vehicle that’s had the single biggest impact on the luxury industry. Initially derided by the press as a lifted Camry with delusions of grandeur, calling the RX a run away sales success would be an understatement. Lexus’ original crossover now accounts for over a third of the brand’s total volume in America and holds the crown as the best selling luxury vehicle on our shores. Trouble is, the RX has grown over time and is now a half-step too big for European tastes. In the hopes of dominating a third of Lexus brand sales in Europe, Lexus engineers went back to the drawing board and created s little brother for the RX: the 2015 Lexus NX.
The right-sized Lexus crossover is, as you’d expect, almost exactly the same size as the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, BMW X3 and Acura RDX. That puts the NX slightly ahead of the Mercedes GLK, four inches ahead of the 2015 Lincoln MKC and a full foot longer than the Range Rover Evoque. With 6.9 inches of ground clearance the NX should be just as dirt-road capable as the average luxury soft-roader and interestingly Lexus bothers to publish approach and departure angles. In case you’re now wondering, approach is 28.7 degrees in 200t and 300h trim and 16.8 deg in the F-Sport because of the flatter front end. Departure remains 24 degrees on all models.
Before you ask, the NX isn’t a shrunken RX and it isn’t a luxury RAV-4 either. Lexus claims that 90% of the parts are unique to the NX and those that are shared are primarily related to the optional hybrid system. Thanks to the clean sheet design, the NX is the first Lexus that looks comfortable in the new corporate uniform.While other Lexus models (namely the LS) wear the “spindle” grille surprisingly well, other aspects of the new design language haven’t translated well to the luxury brand’s utility vehicles. The “Nike swoosh” LED daytime running lamp modules that look oddly out-of-place on the IS sedan actually work on the NX and I found myself wondering why. I think the answer can be found in the headlamp module which is much sleeker than in other Lexus models thanks to standard LED low beams. Overall the combination allows for a more balanced front end.
From tip to tail there’s no doubt that the NX’s design won’t be for everyone, but I find that refreshing for a brand long known for design-restraint. I wouldn’t exactly call it the looks ground breaking or polarizing, but this is as close as Lexus has even been. Although Lexus is making an NX F-Sport Hybrid, Lexus has chosen to not offer the aggressive grille and fuel-sipping engine combo in America.Under the hood beats the first turbo engine Lexus has sold in America: an all-new 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine. While the engineers spent most of their time telling members of the press how fantastic their turbo design is, I was more intrigued that this seems to be the first non-hybrid drivetrain that can switch between an Otto and an Atkinson cycle. (Mazda tells me they do not consider the SkyAcitv design an Atkinson cycle.) The technology behind this is a new variable valve timing system that can adjust the intake and exhaust cam timing independently allowing for a late intake valve closure when efficiency rather than torque is required. Also on the trivia list is an air-to-water intercooler instead of a more typical air-to-air unit. The result is 235 horsepower from 4,800-5,600 RPM and 258 lb-ft from 1,650-4,000 RPM.
Rather than borrowing the 8-speed automatic used in the RX350 F-Sport (and the XC60), Lexus chose to refresh an existing 6-speed auto and tweak it for the turbo engine’s low-end torque. The engineer I spoke with claimed that the rationale behind the missing gears was that “an 8-speed automatic isn’t as much fun with paddle shifters.” Make of that what you will.
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