Faithful readers know it: we always value very highly mechanical refinement in cars. There is one make which goes to the greatest lengths in ensuring their products drive and handle as smoothly as possible, and that is Lexus. Needless to say that we are keen to test for you their automobiles, and see what they have in stake for you.
This time we were behind the leather covered wheel of a sporting member of the Lexus family: the NX 200t F Sport, which is built to deliver outstanding performance, combining this with equally top level refinement and premium class comfort. All this packed in a dramatically styled compact SUV body and cabin, and you will agree that this Lexus is a car which certainly merits a closer look...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Bold, angular styling language
This Lexus NX is a SUV with a distinct visual personality. The body contours are quite sharp, and give this Lexus individual looks, bearing at the same time a strong family resemblance with the other Lexus models. We personally like the angular grille profile, and this design is becoming a Lexus styling hallmark. The angular lines evoke simultaneously fluidity and the flair of speed, and no one doubts that they are also quite aerodynamic, and indeed, the Cx is a creditable 0,33. The proportions of the whole car are well balanced, and this Lexus looks good from any angle, no small feat for a big(ger) SUV.
Inside, this angularity is further continued, but is well set against the nice rounded shapes of the instruments, the instrument console and the dashboard contours. The touchscreen is again very angular, as are styling details in the centre console. A nice premium style touch is the well sculpted round analogue clock, neatly set in the centre of the console.
Sliding behind the wheel, we find ourselves fitting snugly into the contoured seats, wrapped in as it were between the door armrests and the wide centre console. Here, a leather covered centre armrest fits "just right" and supports ideally your right arm for an easy command of the gearlever and central touchpad, which lets you control all the commands in an ergonomically ideal position. You guessed it, we found ourselves instantly well at home in this Lexus.
Indeed, again all the controls are almost self explaining, and finding all the commands is a breeze. Of course, steering wheel position and seats are electronically adjustable and soon one finds this ideal position behind the wheel. When one shuts down the engine and steps out of the car, the steering wheel and seat slide nicely back to give you more room, but whizz back into position when you push the ignition knob and start the engine.
Of course, the Lexus has all the premium class amenities one could wish for, and last but not least there is an excellent sound system, with easy commands and a CD player, faithful readers know we like it... Hooking up the I Phone and streaming the music through the Bluetooth connection was a piece of cake, and we also tried the DAB feature of the radio, and what excellent acoustic delights this delivered...
We also liked the touchpad on the centre console, which lets you breeze through all the functions without having to reach for the screen surface, barely needing to lift your wrist from the central armrest. Soo nice! The gearlever is rather small, but actually fits ideally in your hand, and who needs a big, clunky gearlever on an automatic box with a very well laid out selection grid?
The old adage, which multiple world champion Jacky Stewart once told me and my father when he was at the Zandvoort circuit instructing us into the secrets of "Formula Finesse" driving, is still quite valid behind the wheel of the Lexus.
Jacky told us "Any car behaves well when you drive it with verve, in a sporting manner. But drive it very slowly, and watch out for any jerks, small jolts and shocks or vibrations in the drivetrain. That is were a good, well balanced car really makes the difference."
Well, we believe that the Lexus engineers and test drivers must have this adage hanging above their bed. Because indeed, this Lexus drives smoothly
Whether you drive away with caution, or floor the throttle with vigour, never ever will the slightest jerk or vibration enter the cabin. Even under full acceleration, the box changes up smoothly, and the engine revs with turbine-like smoothness into the redline, all this with even more alertness when you choose the "Sport S" or even "S+" mode, which is done by giving a short twist to the round knob on the central console.
The drive mode of your choice also shows clearly in the central screen right in front of you between the two round instrument clusters for rpm and speed. By the way, we left it in the "eco" mode most of the time, enjoying the Lexus velvet-like comfort in dense urban traffic.
We also loved very much the head up display, which not only informs you about the driven speed, but also your chosen radio station, navigation, and much more. It lets you keep the eyes on the road, and contributes to the relaxing driving style this Lexus suggests to you every metre you drive it.
State of the art petrol engine and gearbox technology.
The four cylinder 2 litre dual cam engine features advanced technology, as you could guess. The 16 valves are actuated through continuously variable valve timing, monitored with intelligence software. The manufacturer dubs this as "VVT-iW". The results are nothing short of baffling. This turbo driven (also a Lexus first here for petrol engines) unit produces 235 HP or 175 kW between 4800 and 5600 rpm, with also an impressive torque of 258 lb/ft or 350 Nm over a very wide rev range between 1659 and 4000 rpm.
Efficiency and thoroughbred engine character reigns here, but, and repeat ourselves, this is combined with utter refinement. The same can be said about the silk smooth 6 speed gearbox. Agile, clever, with any degree of sportiness you wish. It is actually ideal in the normal "D" mode, being somewhat more sedate in the "eco" mode, and yes, somewhat sportier in the S and S+ mode. Just enough to provide excellent responsiveness and accelerations, the velvet Lexus way. 0 to 100 is reached in some 7,4 seconds, and the beauty is, everybody can do this, no expert racing driver talent is ever needed.
Top speed is a good 124 mph or 200 kph, and this will satisfy most. Aided by the clever gearbox, which will keep you between 1000 and 1400 rpm in sedate urban driving, the fuel economy is quite reasonable, considering engine power and weight of this SUV. Average consumption is around the 8,5 litre mark during our test, driven with caution and anticipation, consumption figures down to around 7,5 and less (!) litres are possible.
The Lexus feels very well at home in the city, but also on winding roads and of course certainly on the Motorway, where we appreciated the subtle operation of the radar assisted distance and speed control.
Handling and comfort setting benchmarks...
What surprised us almost as much as the excellent drivetrain is the admirable behaviour of chassis, steering and suspension. Although the Lexus will not invite you to throw it around corners, and will rather suggest a "Zen" driving style, it handles quite well, neutral with slight understeer under (full) power, with excellent high speed and straight line stability. It steers very precise, with good feedback, and inspires confidence also when you are in a hurry.
But all these good qualities are not at the expense of comfort. Even with the sports suspension on our F Sport, this SUV rides never harsh and feels also at home on our famous Belgian cobblestones. What is astonishingly good is the low speed comfort, the suspension absorbing road irregularities and ridges even at crawling speeds.
It is therefore fully justified to say that this Lexus in terms of refinement and comfort is setting benchmarks in its class.
The same goes for the superb sound insulation. Not only is the engine and drivetrain virtually inaudible, road and tyre roar as well as wind noise ar absent and the cabin is also very well insulated from exterior (traffic) noise. A stint behind the wheel of this Lexus is therefore undoubtedly a true Zen experience, and one feels invariably quite relaxed after a ride with this NX.
The NX is a midsize SUV and is therefore also a practical companion in everyday life. Rear view camera, self lifting tailgate, split folding rear seats, the Lexus will not let You down in any circumstance. Everything is also very logical to use, turn on or off, the vast experience of a world class manufacturer certainly tells here.
The Lexus NX offers you benchmark-type world class refinement, superb finish, premium quality substance and feel. It is immensely relaxing to drive, has very good performance and handling, combined with very good practicality. It is also offering personality and style, nothing less than a "must" in this segment.
It proves amply the vast experience this car maker has acquired in building premium cars, also in the midsize segment. Last but not least, it has one of the most wonderfully smooth four cylinders we have come across, and as the first turbo driven petrol Lexus engine, it certainly has succeeded in convincing us that there the adage "there is no substitute for a six" is gradually becoming less certain...
Hans Knol ten Bensel