As the small SUV market continues to grow, this new NX certainly is one of the most eye-catching to come along in a while…

Where has the modern station wagon gone? Nowhere, it’s just called something else – a crossover, or small SUV.

The traditional family station wagon has been replaced with taller, more practical SUVs that provide similar interior space but add functionality, like a power rear lift gate, all wheel drive (AWD) and better outward visibility. Automakers have taken notice and, with a few exceptions, have abandoned the traditional station wagon and produced a small SUV instead. This market has exploded in popularity to the point that it is the fasted growing segment in the market today.

This is a tough battleground, but Lexus hopes its track record of building high quality products will attract a new buyer to the NX.

Looks

“Bam, look at me. No, look at me,” screams this new NX.

The edgy design will turns heads and garner attention but I have come to realize two things about the car business: Firstly, when a design is rather edgy, it can date quickly. The second is that the initial BAM, LOOK AT ME wears off, the product just becomes part of the vehicular landscape, losing the initial pop.

If you squint your eyes – just a bit – you can see the Toyota RAV4, the vehicle the NX is based on. The “spindle” grille that has now migrated across the Lexus family is very prominent, especially the F-Sport version of the NX. The F-Sport is the upscale, sportier model that Lexus hopes will attract the same youthful buyers that have moved into the Lexus IS compact car. The base NX 200t doesn’t have as large a front grille but the side accent lines, swept front windshield and defined rear lights all make a statement. Other than the bigger grille, the F-Sport model also gets larger wheels, a sportier suspension and LED headlamps on both low and high beam where the base model gets LED lamps only in the low setting.

Inside

The exterior might be an acquired taste but the inside is a refined and practical place to spend time.

The same “spindle” motif is carried into the centre console, with aluminum accents pieces that frame the high-mounted centre stack. The shifter and computer controller are placed to perfection making it easy for the driver to interact with the NX without having to look down. The base controller is a rotary knob, similar to Audi’s MMI system, the optional Remote Touch system has a track pad that lets the driver scroll and press the pad, the same way we all use a laptop touch pad. Above the controller is a 7-inch screen that displays the information and is positioned well, helping to keep the attention on the road ahead. The inside of the cabin might not look that inviting because of the sweeping roofline but in practice, it really is a comfortable 5-seat vehicle with standard 8-way power and heated front seats.

The rear seats sit higher off the floor for good outward visibility and the headliner has been scooped out to help maximize the interior space. Cargo is on par with others in this class and a power litigate is optional.

Drive

The worldwide launch of the NX was held right here in B.C., driving between ultra modern Vancouver and the rustic resort of Whistler. International guests were exposed to the two sides of the NX, the polished city vehicle and the weekend getaway SUV. Powering around the mountain resort I got my first shot at the all-new 2.0L direct inject turbocharged 4-cylinder that Lexus will use in a number of its vehicles. With 235hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque this new power plant does a good job once the NX 200t is in motion, it is getting away from a stop that could use a bit more snap. AWD is standard across the lineup but the system is designed to run in front wheel drive as much as possible to help save fuel. Lexus has made no bones about its target; it sees the Audi Q5 as the benchmark in this class. Audi has been at the small turbocharged game a lot longer and it shows, plus the handling of the NX isn’t sharp at all. In fact, all the passengers inside the base model test vehicle noticed the top-heavy body roll.

Verdict

What Lexus (Toyota) has been up to over the past ten-plus years is producing hybrid cars in numbers nobody else can touch. This new NX is also available a hybrid but don’t expect any kind of show-stopping performance. Rated at just 194hp, the heavier NX 300h hybrid might be outclassed by, just as thrifty, diesel options in the market. The price of the NX 200T has not been set but if you look at the Audi Q5 as a target, expect the price to start at roughly $41,000 when it goes on sale at the end of 2014. Fuel economy has also not been set but with a direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood, this new Lexus should be better on fuel than the larger RX350 equipped with a V6 engine.

As the small SUV market continues to grow and this new NX certainly is one of the most eye-catching to come along in a while.

Contact: zack [dot] spencer [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

The Lowdown

Power: 235hp 2.0L turbo or 194hp hybrid

Fill-up: N/A

Sticker price: N/A

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