Unexpected happiness comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You might not expect to win $2.00 from a scratch off lottery ticket (even though that’s why you bought it). You might not expect your favorite movie to be on TV while flipping through channels. And sometimes you’re able to test a press car that is almost too much fun for its own good.
That car of course is the Lexus NX 200t; a 4-cylinder turbocharged little pocket of unexpected motoring sunshine. Don’t confuse it with a smaller RX 350 or assume that it is just a fancier Toyota Rav4, because it is neither one of those. Not by a long shot. It may look quite similar to the RX series, and it does share some DNA with the Rav4, but you can’t even compare them. Dynamically the NX can run rings around the RX, at pretty much every end of the traction circle, and though the Rav4 is a quality piece (that review coming soon), the appointments and attention to detail in the NX puts it in another class. So why do I like it so much? Particularly because I like cars that are fun to drive.
Electric power steering is one of those things slowly muting the thrill of driving. It may give an engine more efficiency, but it makes steering feel non-existent. That’s a concern when driving a car in a spirited way or close to the limit, because your hands need that information being sent by the front tires. In the RX350, that’s not much of an issue. You’re not driving that car to the limit. Nor would you be doing that in most of the cars in a crossover segment. Except for the NX 200t with the F Sport package.
More often than not I found myself diving into the throttle just to feel the turbo boost up (and watching the turbo boost gauge in the instrument cluster). There’s a bit of lag, but it becomes fun to feel the surge of power you get as the 2.0 liter engine fills its lungs and sends you down the road. I was hoping for a bit of character from the engine, but I also don’t have any complaints in that category either. The exhaust note is neither thrilling, nor annoying; it simply does the job of accompanying forward propulsion quite well.
After you’ve had your fun with watching the boost gauge and thumbed through the different information screens on the dash, you find yourself staring at a g-force meter. This is where the fun begins. I reset all parameters to “0” and even though it wont crack much more than 0.8-ish around corners, it’s still fun to try. Feel through the steering is much more than I would have expected, giving you more confidence to trust seat-of-the-pants style driving. It also feels very well planted in the corners, too, despite being a bit on the tall side.
Even though it’s considerably lower in MSRP than an RX, you won’t notice that when you’re inside. Some of the most comfortable seats in the world are in there, and draped in dark red leather. That’s part of the F Sport package you see in the car here, which has seats with better bolstering, a sport tuned suspension, and that beefier steering wheel with paddle shifters. The layout of the controls are typically Lexus, which is my byword for “lovely.” This one didn’t have a Mark Levinson sound system in it – which is a highlight of Lexus offerings – but even the standard unit has some good kick to it. It really is a good place to be, and you know after years of use it will stand up to everything you throw at it.
Ultimately, it’s not going to give a hot hatch or a sport wagon something to worry about. It is dynamic and fun, but just not to that degree. And with a compact style makeup mirror cleverly placed behind the gear lever, the target demographic might not fully appreciate the things I enjoyed the most.
2016 Lexus NX 200t F Sport
Color: Ultra White
Engine: 2.0 L turbo 16-valve DOHC
Horsepower: 235hp (but it feels like more)
Torque: 258 lb/ft (and this is probably why)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Dynamic Torque Control AWD
Base MSRP: $38,365
As Tested: $46,440