Automotive sales have been hot and one of the hottest segments is that of the compact luxury wagon.
The Lexus NX is the latest to sign on, slotting in below the current RX as the company's entry wagon. It joins other 2015 newbies that include the Lincoln MKC, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3 plus current members BMW X1, Acura RDX and Buick Encore. Other than size and all-wheel-drive availability on their side, nearly all of these models are affordably priced, staring in the low- to mid-$30,000 range, to attract younger buyers.
The NX, which is expected in showrooms later this year, offers a number of unique features. Most importantly it can be had with a traditional gasoline engine, or like most of Lexus's lineup, can be optioned with gas-electric hybrid power.
The NX also promises to wow any crowd with what is unquestionably the most distinctive styling in the segment. When was the last time you said that about any vehicle in Toyota's upscale family (excluding the $375,000 LFA sports car, of course).
The side angles and creases in the NX's sheetmetal pale in comparison to the car's futuristic front end, where Lexus's spindle-shaped grille plays a prominent role. For the optional F-Sport model, the larger grille's blacked-out mesh motif is even more distinctive, although for some it might be a case of too much of a good thing. If it's anonymity you're after, you should best steer clear of the NX.
The NX also has a practical side, although being equal parts hatchback and wagon, cargo space is a compromise. Still, the split-folding rear seat sits relatively flat and the space directly behind the front seats can handle smaller or taller items when not otherwise occupied with people.
The rest of the cabin provides first-class accommodations, with well-bolstered sport-style front seats and a dashboard/control panel design with a seven-inch display that keeps things simple. Lessons learned from Audi and BMW, perhaps?
Bringing the NX to life depends on the model selected. The NX 200t comes with an all-new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The NX 300h hybrid combines a 154-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a 141-horsepower electric motor that makes a combined 194 horses and an estimated 200 pound-feet of torque.
The 200t uses a six-speed automatic transmission to direct power to either the front or all four wheels, while the 300h employs a continuously variable unit (CVT). It has a kick-down feature that mimics a regular automatic transmission whenever the driver accelerates briskly.
As to not cut into interior space, Lexus has packaged the hybrid's nickel-metal hydride batteries into two 44-pound modules positioned beneath each side of the rear seat.
The available all-wheel-drive (or "all-weather-drive" in Lexus-speak) varies depending on the model. The NX 200t's on-demand system directs torque to just the front wheels when cruising, but can send up to half to the rears when necessary. The NX 300h uses an electric motor to send power to the rear axle, which is activated when the vehicle accelerates from rest, or when the front wheels begin to lose grip.
Being a Lexus, the list of standard features is fairly extensive. Among the options is a navigation system, power-folding rear seat and liftgate, premium audio system and a wireless charging tray inside the floor console for juicing up smart-phone batteries without needing to plug in.
The F Sport package available for the NX 200t arrives with sport-tuned suspension and steering, unique perforated seat covers and special interior trim plus special 18-inch wheels (17-inchers are standard) with summer tires.
Fuel economy and base prices haven't been announced, but a best guess for the latter would be in the $34,000 range, including destination charges (about $4,000 extra for the hybrid). That would place the NX squarely in the heart of the competition, while remaining out front when it comes to attracting attention.
What you should know: 2015 Lexus NX
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive compact wagon
Engines (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged, NX 200t (235)
2.5-liter DOHC I4 with electric motor, NX300h (283)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic (NX 200t); continuously variable (NX 300h)
Market position: Many automakers, including Lexus are jumping aboard the premium compact bandwagon. This segment promises to further expand as more youthful, affluent buyers aspire to upscale brands.
Points: There's no mistaking this car from nearly any angle; All new turbo-four points to Toyota's future powerplant direction. *Optional hybrid engine unique to this segment; F-Sport borders on outrageous; younger buyers will love it; Interior design is tasteful, not overwrought; Toyota should generally build more cars that that look like this.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG: (city/hightway) n.a.; Base price (incl. destination): $34,000 (est.)
Base price: $32,200
CLA-spinoff model offers practical styling at an appealing price.
Base price: $34,000
Distinct from the Ford Escape with a 300-horse turbo engine.
Base price: $33,400
Junior-sized wagon features the same 2.0-liter turbo-four as other Audis.