All Rise | Lexus NX 200t F-Sport

BY Azfar Hashim

The turbocharged NX is now here, but does it have the special talents to overtake its European peers?

Photos: Azfar Hashim

Now this is Lexus’s (a) first mid-sized SUV and is also (b) their first time producing a turbocharged engine - the latter took about ten years to develop from scratch. This 4-cylinder 2.0-litre unit, which also runs on Atkinson cycle for better efficiency, is paired to a 6-speed automatic and with that, has 234 bhp and 350 Nm (@ 1,650 rpm) worth of torque available with power going to all four wheels.

Which, when you think about it, is hot-hatch territory. Now, power outputs like this is rather common these days from every manufacturer’s 2.0-litre force-fed engines; that’s how times are now. But the determining factor is how those horsepower is utilized, and how it compliments the car as a whole.

If you’re used to the Europeans, you’d surely agree how the turbocharged lumps in the X3 xDrive28i, XC60 T5, Q5 2.0 TFSI and even Tiguan all work in such a manner as this: dum dee dum, du du du, WHUMP. Power kicks in rather dramatically, like being punched in the stomach by a boxer high on adrenalin. That is ok when you’re driving all alone, but when the family is in tow, things can get rather uncomfortable.

Not the case here in the NX 200t though. Power comes in rather progressively than rudely, even when your foot is three-quarter down the accelerator. If you want more action - a little more brute so to speak - just select the Sport+ mode via the rotary dial and you get an SUV that behaves more like a hot-hatch. True it has an almost 500 kg weight disadvantage over the Golf GTI but looking at how the NX here sprints in a straight line (in Sport S+) and needs only 7.1 seconds to reach 100 km/h from standstill (the GTI needs 6.5 seconds), you can’t help but wonder what sort of magic Lexus has applied here.

Unless you slot it into Sport S+ mode, it’s as refined and effortless as you would expect of any bigger-engined Lexus. Leave it in D and this SUV just hammers along, the four-wheel drive dealing most effectively with any excess torque bad behaviours. Tip in using the paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel and you understand instantly the impact of a torque figure like that: in whatever gears, the NX just accelerates, instantly, and keeps on accelerating at the same rate until it runs out of revs.

It makes a nice sound while doing it too. Lexus fitted the NX with what they call Active Sound Controller, or ‘ASC’; you get a fake growling V6 sound accompanying the tachometer as it climbs up the rev range which you could, of course, control the volume via a dial subtly placed next to the steering wheel. Whether this bit is even necessary in the first place remains highly debatable…

The NX does handle — extremely well considering the laws of physics at work here. The whole thing weighs in 60 kgs above 1.8-tonnes, don’t forget, including that entire engine above the front two wheels.

Just driving it through quick and not so quick bends is something of a revelation. The NX can be driven in four different manners: Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. And they do what they say on their plastic buttons - in Sport S+ mode, the milk in the grocery bag won’t be turned to butter, but there’s just an extra tautness, even more body control. Still in the same mode on an interesting winding road, the NX handles tidier than an X3 or Tiguan courtesy of the stiffer suspension only F-Sport models get as standard; it will hold its line better and for longer. It’s impressive, even if the information from the steering never gets close to being Macan-like.

If by any slim chance you want it to get mucky and do what only 4x4s can do, here is one fact to chew on: At 1,630 mm tall, it is quite superior in terms of ground clearance. It won’t be able to do all that mud slugging actions as well as a, say, Land Rover but at least you know you could confidently do some minor off-roading seeing that Lexus fitted a switchable 4x4 system.

Now to its cabin. In this F-Sport, you have the option of picking the exact opulent black trimming with red stitches along with 3D effect inserts on all doors and center console. At the same time, you also get masses of head and legroom, a big boot (475-litres with the backrest up, 1,520-litres with the seats folded) and that high-opening tailgate which makes putting in bulky items a non-dramatic affair. 

If you regularly transport two other adults in the back, they would all be impressed with the comfortable sitting position. And with the flat floor, it also ensures a third passenger can sit in the middle with ease even if it’s over longer distance.

With all that, the next person who’d ask me what SUV they should buy, I would recommend them this new turbocharged NX without having to think too much. It’s not perfect and buyers would surely be cautious as it’s an entirely new product which has yet to prove its worth, but quite simply because the rest in the fray are all aging and the Lexus here has so much goodness packed into it, it’d be - excuse the language - utterly stupid to dismiss it.

Perhaps this last point would steer you in the Lexus NX 200t’s way: Japanese reliability.