Just the other day, a good friend of mine piqued my interest when she mentioned that she had bought a new Lexus. I became even more attentive when she told me that she had opted for the all-new NX 200t, instead of Lexus’ stalwart seller, the larger RX. Naturally, I asked if the car was parked nearby so I could check it out real quick, so we took a brief stroll outside to look the vehicle over. My jaw dropped when I saw that she had bought a bonafide F-Sport edition of the NX that was fully outfitted with every imaginable dealer add-on. Without a moment’s hesitation, I begged her to let me test drive it, and she graciously accepted to let me put it though its paces later in the week.
Well, it’s now later in the week.
This was a very interesting car to test drive for a multitude of different reasons, chiefly being that Lexus has never made a turbocharged car before. This is the sportiest version Lexus makes for the new NX line-up, and I later found out that this was also the first NX 200t F-Sport sold in the city of Cincinnati, and therefore attracted a fair degree of attention. The aggressively sharp lines that have become synonymous with the F-Sport range are impossible to ignore, and it being a brilliant shade of “Exceed Blue” surely warranted some level of attention as well. But this car isn’t built just for looks, it is built to go places, and for the F-Sport edition it goes everywhere with both the grace and the pace of a nimble fox.
To give a fair assessment of the vehicle, I put it through its paces on a series of highways, in an empty parking lot, and on city streets to see what real life driving conditions felt like in the little crossover. And while I was not entirely overwhelmed by the car’s details, the potent turbocharged engine and intuitive all-wheel drive sport suspension certainly did make me smile a few times behind the wheel that afternoon.
Contrary to common belief around the water cooler at work, the NX does not fold into a Gundam suit (even though it may look like it should), and while it may be both sporty looking and have a turbocharged engine, this still is a two-ton SUV. It also isn’t the roomiest crossover on the market, being just a hair larger than the nippy Nissan Juke. But Lexus didn’t design this car to be overly spacious or insanely powerful, they have plenty of other cars that meet those requirements. What they wanted to do was create a sporty crossover that could appeal to younger drivers who want more than just a luxurious interior. The only questions now are, how did the NX do when we test drove it the other day, and more importantly, who is Lexus targeting with this car?
Plopping down into the driver’s seat, I immediately noticed the aggressive bolstering of the NX’s F-Sport seats, and I wondered if my spleen was going to survive. The cockpit was cozy, but not too tight, and as I familiarized myself with the myriad of controls around me, I began to take notes. As with any Lexus, the fit and finish was superb, and nary a rattle could be heard from anywhere within the quiet cabin the entire trip. There were pockets and cubbies aplenty, and the instrument cluster was both practical and tech-savvy at the same time, with an analog clock in place to remind us of our roots. The auto-telescoping steering wheel gave me a bit of a startle when I hit the push-button start, and thankfully I was able to press the recline button on the seat before my lower abdomen received a thorough squeezing. After I had my seat set the way I wanted, I clicked the performance knob into “Sport Mode,” flipped the shift knob into a manually controlled paddle shifter position, and away we went.
To say that this car is a bit sporty for a small SUV would be an understatement. The F-Sport’s clever steering system is both effortless and effective, and there is no denying the fact that the twin-scroll turbo system on this car is both fast and efficient, with practically zero turbo-lag being noticed the entire afternoon. The brakes on the NX proved to be firm but not overly sensitive, and the paddle shifters brought smooth gear changes all the way up to gear number six. Another performance positive was the car’s sporty suspension, which felt quite attached to the road while still being soft enough to keep passengers’ spines intact. And while potholes could be felt when plowing through downtown Cincy, we cannot forget that this is still a sport model and that its tightly-wound suspension is designed to gouge, not glide.
After a while I grew tired of shifting in sport mode, and decided to pop the car into “Eco Mode” to see how the car runs in an around-town setting and to have a moment to familiarize myself with the cabin. Lexus packed as much technology as they could into this little crossover, and small touches like customizable LED mood lighting at key points in the cabin, surprisingly large auto-adjusting side-view mirrors, and a heated steering wheel all make the driving experience quite enjoyable. Being six-feet tall, I was a little concerned about headspace at first, but the NX had plenty of room for both me and my hat, and where the backseat lacks in the legroom department, it makes up for it with spacious headroom and reclining seats. The infotainment system proved to be quite detail-oriented as well, and I could write a whole page about the computer features on this car alone.
After driving around in Eco Mode and getting an average of 23.8 miles per gallon, we opted to park the car under some overpasses for a brief photo shoot, and so that I could better appreciate the car’s lines. Lexus really went all out on this car when they designed it, and the F-Sport model sees even more zany external mods with its aggressive fascia, darkened front and rear lights, integrated angular LED lamps, and brushed aluminum front lip leading the way. It really is a love it or hate it kind of car from a styling standpoint, and while the overall lines and shape of the car are crisp, the sharp lines around the nose of the car are a little overkill in my book. I was also appalled that Lexus had the audacity to put gray plastic trim on lower areas of the rear bumper, around the wheel wells, and in areas supporting the front air dam. This makes the car look cheap, even though we know it is not. And after stepping back from the car, I found that the profile looks a bit empty without side skirts or a running board to fill in the gap between the wheels.
After combing over the car’s exterior and snapping as many photos as possible, I put my finger on the the nifty little “Smart Access” nick in the driver’s door handle and instantly unlocked the car. My friend tells me this feature is great for women who hate having to dig for keys every time they need to unlock the car. As I reflected on it later, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by all of the things I found wrong with the car.
One of the first things I disliked about the NX is that it has a “Remote Touch” mouse pad that flip-flops between being overly sensitive one moment and clunky the next, and not having a touch-screen makes navigating the on-board display a hassle to say the least. I was also dismayed to find that the audio control knobs were made of some cheap gray plastic that surely was recycled from a Toyota Echo from the late 1990s. While this may seem like a small gripe to some, I am a firm believer that if someone is going to spend $43,000 on a luxury car, they at least deserve to have some metal or high-grade carbon accents on their audio controls. The cabin also felt a little bit too busy, as buttons and switches seemed to be spread about in rag-tag fashion.
Speaking of buttons, I find it infuriating that the NX’s designers thought it would be a good idea to angle a half-dozen buttons underneath the steering wheel toward the floor. This hampers a driver’s ability to see the control switches while driving, which is not only inconvenient, but dangerous as well. The sunroof is another issue, as it runs on two different switches, one on each side of the headliner-bound control box, which seems ridiculously unnecessary when we all know that one button can handle tilt and open functions effectively. Another small setback came when I realized that the wireless charger in the center console was too small for my Note 3. Notably, iPhone users will have to buy a special case to get their phone to charge.
The vehicle’s rear visibility was sub-par at best as well, with sizable blindspots courtesy of the beefy C-pillars blocking the view. And after feeling around under the dash for what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to flip on the blindspot warning system, but was dismayed to find that the system flashes at even the slightest movement, so I turned it off again. The car also needs more metal trim pieces and inserts. Lexus did a fantastic job stitching areas of the dash with leather, and then seemed to get tired of working and tossed a crappy plastic shift knob into the mix before calling it a day. The NX has a year of phone-based remote start for free, but the program doesn’t offer remote AC or heat control options. And while the F-Sport does come equipped with Lexus’ “Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Full Speed Range” for partially autonomous driving on the freeway, getting it set-up properly requires taking one’s eyes off the road for long periods of time, and the five necessary programming steps really take some getting used to.
So all in all what do I think of the NX 200t F-Sport? I think that this car is a great start, and that it has a solid powerplant that proved to be quite capable of hauling all two tons of the car and my portly posterior around town in quite a zippy manner. The car has a good ride height, and doesn’t suffer from too much understeer or body roll in the corners. It has tech gadgets galore, and a satisfactorily spacious interior that is both compact and quiet as well. But I get the feeling that Lexus went so far out of the box on this one that they may have forgotten who their target audience was in the first place.
The F-Sport version of the NX suffers from an identity crisis of epic proportions. It cannot appeal to most mothers, due to a general lack of space, overly stiff suspension, and tech features that are merely unnecessary. The paddle shifters and tiptronic shift knob are nice and sporty, but moms don’t want to worry about downshifting when they are cruising around the ‘burbs. And with features like a little pop-out hand-held mirror in the center console, it is pretty obvious that Lexus wants to target the female demographic. Lord knows I wouldn’t have any need for a small detachable Lexus mirror.
While this car is certainly compact, sporty, and super stylish by some people’s standards, it cannot make up its mind if it wants to be aggressive or refined half the time. This makes me wonder how many people are going to be interested in coughing up the extra cash for a car that is still just a crossover at the end of the day. Sure, it has features galore and tech to back it up, but most people don’t buy a small SUV for sports car-like characteristics. Just the sound of it borderlines on being an oxymoron.
So would I buy one? No. Would I consider one down the line? Yes, I most certainly would. Especially if Lexus does away with all that hideous gray bumper and fender trim, ditches the touch-pad for a Euro-style knob control with touch-screen capabilities, and makes the cockpit a little less cluttered and more user friendly. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t try and feed us artificial throttle sounds via the speaker system. It’s a Lexus, it’s supposed to have a quiet and refined cabin.
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