Few things send pangs of excitement up the spines of nuclear families like a new Lexus suv. With distinctive styling and trademark interior comfort, the 2016 Lexus NX 200t definitely fits the bill. Slotted below the midsize Lexus RX, the NX easily seats five people with generous space. Lexus rolled out the luxury compact SUV last year and has implemented minor improvements since then, targeting 5-seat heavyweights like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Stealing market share in this segment is no small feat—the Jaguar F-PACE and Porsche Macan have since debuted as well—and Lexus relies on lofty expectations of value, civility, and reliability to set it apart. Does the NX 200t pack the goods? Our road test review will fill you in.
2016 Lexus NX 200t Road Test and Review
What Makes It Different?
The NX is Lexus’ first foray into the emerging luxury compact SUV market, one that has boomed recently as SUVs have shrunk and buyers have begun to expect more for their money. This is right in the Lexus wheelhouse, and it's positioned the NX neatly as the affordable small luxury suv that families can, above all, rely on. Peace of mind may be the ultimate luxury, and thanks to near-bulletproof mechanicals, this is where the NX butters its bread. Based on the Toyota RAV4 platform, but tightened for improved rigidity and ride quality, the base NX 200t starts with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive, an aggro F Sport design package, and the 300h hybrid are all available.
The 2016 NX 200t is fronted by the large, pinched front "spindle grille" design seen on all Lexi in the company's lineup these days. I suspect history will not reflect kindly upon this era of Lexus styling. Adding the F Sport package creates a more full, confident presence, and some may find the NX a refreshing burst compared to more reserved German and American offerings. Still, others are better at expressing their personalities. A BMW X3 is active; an Audi Q5 is composed; a Mercedes-Benz GLC is modern. What is the NX saying? As you'll read, the impression the NX design gives off is not necessarily reflective of the driving experience. Lexus is trying awfully hard, but the company never lets you forget it.
Soft is the name of the game inside the NX 200t. In base trim, the Lexus NX shines with sumptuous 10-way power leather seats and great design. The dash swoops into the door rests and envelopes the front passengers cozily. The center console and controls, while largely plastic, are simple to figure after a couple of spins. Big windows and a wide windscreen provide an excellent outward view, which is much appreciated from the high seating position. The steering wheel is refreshing, with a prominent Lexus logo and deftly organized controls. This is where the personality of the 2016 NX 200t shines through—there's no need for pretense, no chasing trends for the sake of doing it. Just a pleasant place to be.
Such an aggressive design and the promise of a turbo—the “t” in 200t—might give off the wrong impression. Despite figures of 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is not here to spike your adrenaline meter (though Sport mode does hold onto gears longer). The turbo and dual variable valve timing are tuned for smooth power delivery. The result? The NX 200t prefers to get up to speed and stay there, cruising in concert with its baby-soft suspension alongside the best in the segment. Codenamed the AR, this engine has become the heart of base Lexus models, shared with the IS, GS, RX, and RC.
Performance & Efficiency
Keep the NX 200t in a straight line and you’ll be rewarded with the smooth and crisp ride to be expected from a luxury SUV in the $40,000 range. The engine is quiet, the electric-assist steering feather-light. Tossing the NX around, though, with quick darts of the wheel or hard take-offs and braking, disrupts its comfort zone. With its short wheelbase and high center of gravity, the NX drives best when driven delicately. That's true with fuel economy as well—in the city, I found the NX returned MPG in the high teens, but on the highway, it easily reached into the 30s. Overall, the NX 200t returned 24.7 MPG, right in the middle of its EPA ratings of 22 MPG city/28 MPG highway.
Technology & Infotainment
One thing about Lexus models: They know how to make you feel special. Ambient lighting greets every approach to the door handle, and the gauges and interface screens provide bright and convenient information. An optional Navigation Package ($1875) includes 10 premium sound speakers and an app suite. Some may find the 4.2-inch color display lacking in size, though color and clarity are strong points. Lexus has nixed its oft-maligned “mouse” and installed a tracking finger pad to operate the display. I found it intuitive and quickly learned to operate it without taking my eyes off the road. If you prefer tapping the touchscreen, though, Lexus seems to be moving in another direction.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the 2016 Lexus NX with Top Safety Pick+, its highest honor, thanks to top scores of Good in every crashworthiness test. Extra points from crash-prevention technology like auto brake and forward collision warning pushed it over the top. A backup camera, LED fog lamps, whiplash-reducing seats, and automatic collision notification are standard. Blind-spot sensing is activated by a small light on the side-view mirror and skips the annoying beep on some other models. Impressive vented brakes that increase pressure in panic-stop scenarios are a good old-fashioned safety feature, and the Premium Package ($2890) includes 18-inch all season tires that enhance grip and control.
Trims & Pricing
At just $34,865 to start, the 2016 Lexus NX 200t is among the most affordable vehicles in a long list of luxury compact crossover competitors. The F Sport package starts from $37,065—all-wheel drive is available on either trim for an extra $1400. There’s also a hybrid NX 300h model with EPA ratings of 35/31/33 MPG, which starts at $39,720 for front-wheel drive and $41,310 for all-wheel drive. The base NX 200t front-wheel-drive model I tested, including plenty of options and destination, came to $42,475. Taking the serenity and reliability that comes with the NX into account, it’s an attractive price among the Jaguars and Porsches of this world.
Photo Credit: Lexus
It will be interesting to see how luxury compact SUVs, still in their infancy, evolve in the future. For now, many models with tight rear seats and little cargo space may as well replace “utility” with “fashionable,” because that’s their main purpose. The NX is hardly fashionable, or sporty, but Lexus hits the mark it was aiming for: a reassuring hug of a crossover that will keep your passengers (and wallet) safe. At the local playground, Minnie Mouse bicycle stowed easily behind the rear seats, I ran into plenty of Acura, Infiniti, and Mercedes challengers. The NX doesn’t stand out from that group, but it does fit in. Right now, that’s exactly where Lexus needs it to be.