Lexus is a manufacturer whose decisions jump between good and bad more than any other automaker I can think of. Cars like the original LS and RX models demonstrated the ability of the Japanese to zero in on a vulnerable area in the premium marketplace and exploit it, whilst cars like the IS and current GS prove that when they put their minds to it that Lexus can create cars which are both entertaining to drive and interesting to look at, the LF-A speaks for itself as a halo model even if it is outrageously expensive. On the contrary though, cars like the LS600h hybrid, CT and HS cause me to question just what they are smoking over in Osaka. I mean a hybrid which is barely quicker and cleaner than the standard petrol model yet commands £30k more?! Puh-lease.
Lexus’ upcoming launch of the NX compact crossover is one which definately falls into the latter camp when it comes to business decisions. Bear in mind that the original RX was the first modern luxury crossover, beating the X5 to the market by a good year or so (and whilst Mercedes launched their ML a year before, it was still built on a ladder chassis). Subsequent generations of the RX have been much less revolutionary but have continued to sell in droves, and the hybrid version (launched in 2005) is the top selling hybrid SUV and indeed Lexus’ best selling hybrid model…quite impressive considering that it is significantly more expensive than conventional powered rivals. All this means it is extremely surprising that it has taken Lexus this long to get involved in the compact luxury SUV market. I mean BMW jumped in a mere 4 years after the X5 with their X3, and even Mercedes got around to launching the GLK and now the smaller GLA , so for the Japanese company to take over 15 years seems pretty damn tardy – especially when they have had access to Toyota’s RAV4 and Corolla platforms to form the base of such a car.
So what have Lexus brought to the table after such wait? Well they are certainly going to get noticed with their ‘Evoque fighter’ as they are calling it. After years of people calling their cars bland and boring Lexus have recently taken to trying to inject some excitement into their vehicles, and the NX could well the culmination of all these efforts. The ‘spindle’ grille and striking LED running lights that have become talking points on other recent models have been taken to the extreme with the crossover. Deep creases run down the sides of the concept car towards the rear wheelarches, with the rear lights being built into huge scallops carved into the back panel of the car. The relatively long bonnet and tapered roofline make the NX look a bit like a high riding estate version of the CT hatchback, except rather than looking all doughy and droopy it looks a great deal more athletic.
As a concept car obviously a lot of details will be toned back for the production version, but although the interior is wildly different from anything Lexus currently produces, the new touchpad controller is something that will replace the much criticised Remote Touch system. Another interesting feature that might reach production is the engine option that powers the concept…actually it is an adaption of the engine used in the ES300h saloon, with a 2.5L petrol engine and electric motor producing a maximum of 200bhp, a decent amount considering the size of the thing. Given Lexus’ obsession with hybrids it seems pretty unlikely that they will offer a diesel version, but they could well add four wheel drive to the car over the front wheel drive version featured in the concept.
I’d expect to see the production NX next year some time, but for those not prepared to wait the Evoque provides a pretty decent alternative (albeit at a slightly higher price.