New Lexus compact SUV starts at under $36K, aimed at young

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Posted: Jun 03, 2015 1:01 PM
New Lexus compact SUV starts at under $36K, aimed at young

Finally, there's a Lexus sport utility vehicle that's priced under $40,000.

The new-for-2015 Lexus NX is a compact crossover SUV, so it provides a car-like ride and is smaller than Lexus' top-selling RX 350 mid-size SUV.

The NX also is the first Lexus with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which in this case produces 235 horsepower.

But a big appeal for shoppers has to be the $35,405 starting retail price for a base NX 200t, which is $6,490 less than the previous lowest-priced Lexus SUV — the RX 350, which starts at $41,715 for a base 2015 model with a 279-horsepower V-6.

Lighter than the RX, the NX higher has better fuel economy ratings. In fact, the NX tops all other non-plug-in, gasoline-electric hybrid SUVs sold in the country with its government ratings of 35 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway.

Best of all, the NX earned five out of five stars, overall, in federal government crash testing.

The $35,405 starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including the destination charge, is for a base, 2015 NX 200t with front-wheel drive, a turbo four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

The lowest starting retail price for an all-wheel drive NX 200t, including the destination charge, is $36,805.

The NX also is available as a 300h gasoline-electric hybrid, with a starting retail price of $40,645. That is $7,900 cheaper than the $41,715 retail base price for the 2015 RX 350 hybrid.

Competitors include other luxury compact crossover SUVs such as the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA, which starts at $32,225 and comes with a 208-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed automatic transmission.

The 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, with a starting retail price of $39,550, comes with a 240-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.

Lexus is years behind some of its European competitors in entering the luxury compact crossover SUV market. But only the NX has the accoutrements and silky smooth and quieter-than-expected ride that are the hallmark of a Lexus. Roughness seems to be polished away, whether it's the ride or the shifting of gears.

These qualities are mixed with some verve and sass in the NX, which is designed to attract young buyers. The NX 300h hybrid, for example, has a kickdown feature in the transmission that allows even hybrid drivers to get strong get-up-and-go when they need it, no matter what speed they are traveling.

The base, 2-liter, twin-scroll, turbocharged four-cylinder in the NX delivers 258 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 1,650 rpm.

This is more than the 248 foot-pounds of torque that the 3.5-liter, naturally aspirated V-6 delivers at 4,700 rpm in the RX.

Too bad, though, that the transmission only has six gears when competitors offer more.

The NX comes with decent standard equipment, including dual-zone climate control, SmartAccess and push-button start, exterior door handles that illuminate, eight air bags, rearview camera, traction control and electronic stability control, three 12-volt power outlets and three drive modes — Eco, Normal and Sport.

The tester was the 300h hybrid, and with optional moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation system, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, power liftgate, leather-covered seats and other items, it topped out at $49,195.

Yes, for this price, consumers could get a non-hybrid RX 350.

But the NX, which is 5.5 inches shorter from bumper to bumper than the RX and 1.5 inches shorter in height, feels more personal-sized than the mid-size RX. It handles nimbly, slips easily into smaller parking spaces and feels light.

The NX's five seats are positioned higher than a sedan's and afford better views of traffic ahead, but not so high that they are hard to get into. Cargo space is also better than a sedan's, with a maximum 54.6 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.

The hybrid's mileage ratings are realistic. The hybrid tester with 194 horsepower from the combined engine and onboard electrical hybrid system averaged an impressive 30 mpg in travel that was 60 percent at highway speeds, and the driver didn't try to maximize fuel economy. The resulting travel range was a noteworthy 477 miles on a single, 15.9-gallon tank.

But Lexus requires costlier premium gasoline for the NX hybrid, and the battery pack is nickel metal hydride (TJ2) rather than the newer lithium-ion type.

The vehicle's tall beltline — which is how far up the sides of the car the sheet metal goes — can take some getting used to as it makes the side windows seem smaller than expected.

Also, be sure to look around the thick window pillars at the sides of the windshield when making turns. The pillars can make it difficult to see pedestrians.

The power lift gate is a worthwhile convenience option and is priced at $400.

Last month, Toyota, which produces Lexus vehicles, announced a recall of some 3,000 NX vehicles because an actuator that controls traction control, electronic stability control and antilock brakes might not operate properly.