► Full review of Lexus NX200t
► First petrol-only NX crossover
► Our first drive asks why no diesel?
And then there were two. The NX200t joins the Lexus NX range to offer buyers a choice other than the NX300h petrol-electric hybrid. The obvious addition to a mid-size premium SUV range in Europe would be a punchy, parsimonious turbodiesel; so obviously, the NX200t is a punchy, not-so-parsimonious turbo petrol.
Given the way it looks, you weren’t expecting the NX to be conventional, were you? Besides, Lexus doesn’t do diesel – there’s not a single one in the current range – so the decision isn’t really that big a surprise. In fact, since Lexus is so heavily associated with the petrol-electric hybrid, you might be wondering why it’s bothering with another engine in the NX at all…
Presumably the Lexus NX200t is a more affordable alternative?
Traditional automotive naming practices would suggest as much, wouldn’t they – as it tends to follow that the larger the number, the better the car. But again, this is Lexus lulling you into the trap of conventionality. The NX200t is more powerful and faster than the NX300h, and spec-for-spec it’s also more expensive.
However, it’s not the most expensive NX overall, as the NX200t is only available in F-Sport specification; priced at £38,095 it’s £1100 more than the equivalent NX300h F-Sport. A range-topping NX300h Premium is £42,995, for which premium you get more standard equipment and luxury, but lose the F-Sport bodykit and suspension.
The Lexus NX200t turbo must be less efficient than the hybrid crossover?
No kidding. The NX200t’s 2.0-litre petrol is smaller than the 2.5-litre unit fitted in the NX300h, but with a turbo attached instead of a pair of electric motors, claimed fuel economy drops to 35.8mpg from 54.3mpg, while CO2 emissions shoot up from 121g/km (taxed at £110 a year) to 183g/km (taxed at £225 year).
You’d better get some decent performance in exchange…
On paper, sure. The 235bhp NX turbo scampers 0-62mph in 7.1sec – a whole 2.1sec faster than the 220bhp NX hybrid’s 9.2sec time; top speed also increases from 112mph to 124mph. With direct injection, a direct-mounted air-to-liquid intercooler (worth 0.3sec of that 0-62mph time, apparently) and the world-first combination of twin-scroll turbocharger and integrated exhaust manifold cylinder head, it revs smoothly as you’d expect from a Lexus, with minimal lag.
But with a pair of electric motors providing instant torque, it’s not as if the hybrid feels particularly lethargic once you’re up and running. Nor does the turbo sound especially inspiring, as Lexus has made a point of engineering out exciting whooshing noises that might upset the calm interior ambience. It is a very refined machine at speed, with just a faint rustling of wind around the windscreen pillars.
Yet Lexus has also tuned the six-speed automatic transmission to be so sensitive to throttle pressure that in three out of the four driving modes you only need to ask for the merest amount of corner-exit acceleration for it to drop a cog or two. Resulting in a lowing sound that you’d swear a CVT gearbox would be proud of. Perhaps Lexus thinks this will be reassuring to brand-loyal buyers used to the sound of its hybrid models...
Driving modes? Don’t tell me the F-Sport is more than just a bodykit?
Not quite – every NX comes with the Lexus Drive Mode Select control as standard, with a choice of Eco, Normal and Sport settings, each tweaking the throttle mapping and the steering weight. The F-Sport does get uprated performance suspension, but we can’t give you any guidance on that because all of the cars on the launch were upgraded with the Adaptive Variable Suspension.
AVS adds an additional Sport+ mode, which stiffens the damping for better body control. It’s £750 well spent, as it makes the NX200t feel very neat and tidy, even on some narrow and twisting French mountain roads. With the transmission set to manual and keen to paddleshift at every reasonable command, this is no Porsche Macan but it shows plenty of promise.
Or at least, it would if it wasn’t for the exceptionally over-eager traction and stability control systems. We actually had to make sure the NX200t is four-wheel drive – and it is – because the way it cuts power when driven briskly in the dry feels almost exactly like a poorly set up front-driver struggling in the wet. Perhaps Lexus doesn’t think its customers will push the NX hard enough to make this an issue, but even at a moderate pace it quickly became tedious for us.
Once parked, the smell of hot brakes from every corner of the car tells you just how much effort the electronics are putting in here. Strange. And a shame. For regular driving, stick it in Eco, as this is the least throttle sensitive and thus the least compromised. Drive Mode Select will remember to default to this whenever the NX is restarted if you choose it over Normal; it won’t default to Sport or Sport+.
Any changes to the interior for the NX200t?
F-Sport trim brings some fancy red contrast stitching, and is generously equipped as standard – more unusual items include the removable piece of centre console padding with a mirror on the back and the wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones. But the only changes compared to the NX300h come within the display, where you have the option to view a digital boost gauge for the first time in a Lexus.
In the end, we’re still wondering why Lexus has bothered to add the NX200t to the range. The appeal of the NX in general can certainly be understood: the looks, the refinement, the inevitable reliability. But the NX300h is available for less money – or with added luxury for more – offers greater efficient, is hardly any slower and has the extra image bonus of suggesting you prefer higher living by hybrid.
Plus if you really do want a turbo petrol premium mid-size SUV there are plenty of more appealing choices when it comes to the driving experience.