There's no way you can ignore the Lexus NX's looks, especially the front end.
There's no way you can ignore the Lexus NX's looks, especially the front end.
The 2-litre turbopetrol engine fitted to the F-Sport version produces 175kW and 350Nm.
The 2-litre turbopetrol engine fitted to the F-Sport version produces 175kW and 350Nm.
The futuristic-looking interior is packed with gadgetry.
The futuristic-looking interior is packed with gadgetry.

Johannesburg - If you’re sitting in a room with 10 occupants and only one of you likes the new NX, then Lexus has achieved exactly what it set out to. Bizarre but true.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Toyota’s global design boss Tokuo Fukuichi, who also oversees the Lexus brand, described the group’s previous designs as the kind that everybody tolerated but which nobody fell in love with. “We tried to please 10 out of 10 people. Now we’re trying to please one of 10 people out there with Lexus,” he added.

The NX compact SUV embodies this bold design philosophy with each and every one of its eccentric creases and slashes across its bodywork and right down to those “Nike tick” LED daytime driving lights and that huge spindle grille that some have likened to the mouth of some sea creature lurking on the ocean floor.

On the one hand it’s hard not to admire this once-conservative brand’s newfound tenacity. On the other, it’s a bit like a restaurant trying to teach you a lesson by throwing pyrotechnic-grade chillies into a curry that you sent back for being too bland. For what it’s worth, the side and rear styling really grew on me with its poised archer stance, yet I still haven’t made peace with that oversized grille up front.

STILL A LEXUS WITHIN

Given its Samurai fighter looks you’d almost expect to find some LFA supercar inspiration in the mechanicals, all manifesting in explosive acceleration and a punishing ride, but nothing could be further from the truth. Take to the wheel and what you’ll experience is a slightly sportier version of that impeccably refined and supremely comfortable Lexus of yesteryear.

Though there is a hybrid NX version on offer, most buyers are likely to opt for the brand’s first turbopetrol engine, which is a 2-litre four-cylinder direct-injection unit that’s credited with 175kW from 4800 to 5600rpm and 350Nm from the 1650 mark.

It’s mated to a newly designed six-speed automatic gearbox, which is set up for comfort rather than frantic snap changes. Faced with our Gauteng test strip, the NX smoothly sailed from 0-100km/h in eight seconds, which is respectable enough for a mid-sized SUV weighing over 1.7 tons. Fuel consumption was less than impressive, averaging just over 12 litres per 100km in a mixture of conditions.

The flagship F-Sport version featured here comes with a new Adaptive Variable Suspension system which will work through 30 possible levels of adjustment and settle on the best plan for the current driving conditions and the driving mode that you selected. The Dynamic Torque Control permanent all-wheel-drive system performs a similar feat with torque distribution. While this Lexus is suitably agile for an SUV and the steering has a solid and intuitive feel, the big drawcard here is its smooth ride quality and impeccable noise insulation. As you’d expect from a Lexus, the NX is a supremely comforting companion on the open road and occasional dirt path.

RACY AMBIENCE INSIDE

The cabin looks the luxury part too, although its flamboyant design gives it a far more futuristic vibe than you’d experience in its German rivals. The latest-generation Remote Touch Interface infotainment system gives you a colour screen high up on the dash and well within view, controlled by a touch-pad located below the gearstick on the lower centre console. It feels a bit like a laptop’s touch-pad, except it also gives haptic feedback. Moving to the back, legroom is decent but no better than you’d get in cheaper crossovers like the Rav4. This one’s more about premium than practical.

There’s so much standard kit in here that the salesman would probably laugh at you if you asked for an options list. This one comes with everything from a sunroof to body-hugging leather-clad sports seats, available in red, as well as a 10-speaker audio system with digital amp, satnav, reverse camera and much more. There’s even a boost metre and G-sensor so you can pretend you’re in a real rice rocket. Other unique F-Sport decorations include alloy pedals, a dimpled steering wheel and a raft of exterior bling-enhancers such as a mesh grille pattern, deeper front bumper and 18-inch “Turbine” alloys.

VERDICT

At R659 900, the NX 200t F-Sport comes at a R120 000 premium over the less-racy-looking NX 200t E model and rubs shoulders with Audi’s Q5 2.0T quattro (R636 000) and BMW’s X3 xDrive28i (R648 809). Yet the NX is still a strong contender in its own right. If you like it, that is.

That superbly engineered, gluttonously luxurious Lexus spirit lives on here, just in a far more daring suit and if that combination of comfort and convention-challenging but head-turning looks is what appeals to you then consider yourself to be among the lucky 10 percent that actually “gets it”.

FACTS

Lexus NX 200t F-Sport

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: Six-speed automatic

Power: 175kW @ 4800-5600rpm

Torque: 350Nm @ 1650-4000rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 8.0 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 200km/h

Consumption (claimed): 7.9 litres per 100km

Consumption (tested): 12.2 litres per 100km

Price: R659 900

Warranty: Four-year/100 000km

Maintenance plan: Four-year/100 000km