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Crossing over to new segments

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 09, 2018

Nimble crossover Sharp, triangular and geometric lines intersect and create a tight rear

Lexus hopes that the new NX will help it break into the lower-priced luxury class

Lexus entered the Indian market after months of speculation and after what was claimed to be much vacillation. Not surprising given the rather slow growth in the luxury segment and the inconsistent policies of the Government regarding hybrids.

But, once Lexus took the call to step in, the Japanese luxury carmaker, which is part of Toyota, has really stepped on the gas. After debuting with three vehicles – the LX and RX SUVs and the ES sedan – Lexus is now all set to launch the NX, its compact crossover. With the typical conservatism endemic to the Toyota group, Lexus officials claim that the company doesn’t chase volumes. But with this fourth model being added to the India portfolio, Lexus is clearly hoping to woo the larger chunk of buyers in the lower priced (₹60 lakh+/-) category.

Design

The NX is one of the youngest car lines in Lexus’ portfolio. It is also one of the smallest with an overall length of just over 4.6 metres. The NX was first introduced for the 2015 model year. Unlike a few of the other Lexus models, which are Toyota platform models and share a lot of parts with their Toyota counterparts, the NX is also one of the most exclusively Lexus models with very few parts shared with the Toyota RAV4. This is smaller than the RX, which is currently available here and its design is also more aggressive.

Lexus says that the name NX is meant to refer to its ‘nimble crossover’ character. Its exterior design is defined as being edgy and condensed. With a slightly different interpretation of the spindle-shaped bonnet grille, the NX certainly looks edgy and aggressive. LED daytime running lights shaped like boomerangs and positioned below the sleek headlamps further the forceful front design of the NX. The trio of projector bulbs offer auto levelling within the headlamp, which also gives the vehicle a nice grimace when viewed at night. Turn indicators feature sequential LEDs both in the headlamps and the tail-lamps. With so much of the front fender taken up by the grille, the scoops on either side add to the statement of power. A matt aluminium highlight to the skirt and LED cornering fog lamps are the other features at the front. Viewed from the side, the NX’s aero-dynamic profile comes through. You will also notice the key-hole less construction of the NX — a first for Lexus.

The tapered nose, the gradually sloping roofline, the taut rear and the flared wheel arches gives this crossover its urban character. The rear design of the NX is an even stronger reference to typical contemporary Lexus lines. Sharp, triangular and geometric lines intersect and create a tight rear design that takes away the eye from the slightly long rear overhang. Three-dimensional tail-lamps with signature Lexus LED tubes are positioned at the same level as the high-set shoulder line. The 18-inch alloys and the dual exhausts in the F Sport trim that I was test driving in Goa earlier this week was another note worthy feature of the exterior design.

Cabin

The NX is being offered in two trim variants — Luxury and F Sport, with the former being offered with as many as 126 customisation options, compared to the latter’s 46. Some of the trim options include a range of coloured leather seat upholstery and two different wood trim for the Luxury variant and textured aluminium trim for the F Sport variant. The two trim variants only offer a couple of different features between each other, with the most significant being cooled, ventilated front seats in the Luxury variant and a unique Audio Control System in the F Sport, which enhances the engine note within the cabin for the driver’s enjoyment; there is no difference in powertrain performance between the two.

The cabin itself feels like a nice mix between that of a sedan and a sports utility. The seat height is not too tall, but the high shoulder line gives the cabin a SUV feel. The dashboard layout and design is simple, yet funky. Typically Lexus cabin means that there is a lot of attention to detail. Features such as stitched leather clad dash panels, a flip open mirror in the armrest, and a pretty intuitive touch pad on the centre console for navigating the menu are welcome additions. There is a 10.3-inch electro multi-vision display at the top of the centre stack that also throws up the panoramic view for help in parking. Also standard fitment is the 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

The NX 300h F Sport variant I was testing driving on Goa’s roads earlier this week, sported a black and white cabin theme. Lexus’ portfolio in India is hybrid focused with only the LX being offered with a non-hybrid diesel powertrain.

The NX 300h is a strong hybrid, which means additional electric motors (including one for splitting torque to the rear wheels if necessary) and batteries. The NX is also being offered with a full-size spare wheel and as such all of these means that there is very little boot space. The rear seat will also be a bit cramped for tall passengers. But, a power tail gate, which is activated by waving your foot under the rear fender and one-touch electric folding for the rear seats are near additions. The fixed panoramic sunroof also ensures a well-lit, airy cabin.

Performance

The NX 300h features a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder, in-line petrol engine combined with a hybrid system that power the front wheels. This is a strong hybrid offering parallel and series assist and a delivers an extra 42 horses of power in addition to the engine’s 152hp, for a combined 195hp (145kW). Rated peak torque is 210Nm at 4,200-4,400rpm. That must seem like an extremely delayed delivery of torque and that too within a very narrow rpm-band, but thanks to the hybrid system’s electric motors and their instant torque availability, the NX feels quick off the block. It can also start off and cruise at low speeds in full EV mode. Three other modes that can be chosen include Eco, Sport and Sport+, with changes to the transmission, steering and suspension being evident. The transmission is the same E-CVT that is also used in the Toyota Camry. A steptronic version of this is offered in the NX with six gears that can be manually selected using the steering mounted paddles.

The NX feels nimble alright, and is reasonably quick. With the sound generator off, the engine noise in the cabin is clearly identifiable as that of a 4-cylinder. The enhanced sound makes it sound a bit fake; but still makes it more interesting. There is no differential lock, but the real-time all wheel drive system works simply with the help of an electric motor on the rear axle, which splits torque during start-off, slippery conditions and cornering.

Bottomline

Lexus is also offering adaptive variable suspension system in the NX, which constantly controls the damping force of the shock absorbers. Overall, the suspension is still on the firmer side. But, it helps in ensuring tighter, more precise handling.

The NX is expected to be priced in the ₹60 lakh range. Lexus dealers have started taking bookings, though the price will be officially announced in February when deliveries will begin. In that price range there are a number of competitors like the Range Rover Evoque, the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC. The NX will have the additional advantage of its hybrid system.

Published on November 23, 2017

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