If you like your go-just-about-anywhere car to look like it’s been lifted straight from the pages of Origami Weekly, then you’ll love the Lexus NX’s sharp styling.
In the case of the latest model to join the line-up, however, the crisp lines that please the eyes play second fiddle to the stuff you can’t see.
Lexus has been banging the drum for petrol-electric hybrid engines for years now, and offers a hybrid version of this car, the 300h. The trouble is, the company has had a hard time convincing UK buyers to sign up for its diesel-free vision of the future. Actually, it’s best not to mention diesel to senior Lexus executives. Dirty word. Dirty, dirty. “Exhaust gases full of ghastly nitrogen oxides, you see. Trust us, diesel’s day in the sun is nearly over. Legislation will see to it.”
So, pop the bonnet on the new NX 200t and, sure enough, you won’t find a diesel engine. No surprises there, then. What is surprising is that you won’t find a hybrid motor either. Instead, the NX 200t is powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine, boosted by a turbocharger instead of a battery pack.
Petrol-powered SUVs are not what you’d call fashionable in this part of the world and the downside of taking the non-hybrid route is a steep dip in economy, down from 54.3mpg to a claimed figure of 35.8mpg, and a corresponding rise in CO2 emissions, which means a higher rate of tax.
Still, this is as close as Lexus is going to get to toeing the conventional line, so let’s give it a go.
Push the start-stop button on the dash and the four-cylinder engine whirrs into life with little hint of the performance on offer. 235bhp is 15bhp more than the bigger-engined hybrid can offer and, without batteries and an electric motor to lug around, the 200t is more than two seconds quicker to 62mph. Top speed also increases from 112mph to 124mph.
Our test car was fitted with adaptive suspension, so you can tune the firmness of the ride to suit your mood. In Sport mode, the NX’s handling is almost as sharp as its looks and we were impressed with how well it tackled twisting mountain roads in the south of France. This being a Lexus, though, refinement is paramount and, even at its firmest setting, the Lexus shields you and your passengers from rough surfaces.
The 200t bins the hybrid’s continuously-variable transmission in favour of a conventional six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and is eager to drop a cog or two at the merest tickle of the throttle.
If that all sounds a bit frantic, set the drive mode dial to Eco and cruise in comfort, making sure to check your car’s reflection in the showroom window. Narrow lights, a gaping grille, wide haunches and creases your tailor would be proud of mean you can’t mistake the NX for anything else, in a good way. It treads a fine line between style leader and fashion victim, but stays on the right side and, in our humble opinion, it’s the best-looking Lexus on sale, assuming your budget doesn’t stretch to the company’s LFA supercar. Blue, red and white cars show off the NX’s bold edges to best effect.
Clearly, the cabin has been stitched, screwed and bolted together by people who care. Smatterings of leather and soft-touch plastics feel built to last, and only a rather unforgiving plastic glovebox release button lets the side down, but I’m being picky.
Interior space is good, too. 6ft 2ins me had no trouble getting comfortable in the back, and neither should you. The boot offers a generous 580 litres, or as much as 1,625 litres with the rear seats tucked away.
The 200t is only available in F-Sport trim, which is second from top in the Lexus spec pecking order. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, piercing LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, powered tailgate, dual-zone climate control, an eight-speaker stereo, reversing camera and a wireless charging tray for the latest smartphones.
Sat-nav is a £995 option, which strikes us as a bit mean in a near-£40,000 car. For £1,995, you can upgrade to the touchpad-controlled premium nav system with 10-speaker stereo. An extra £1,000 bags you a sliding sunroof, or fixed glass panoramic roof. Metallic paint is £645 extra, and the adaptive suspension fitted to our test car is £750.
To sum up, the NX 200t performs well and it’s quite pretty. But no amount of carefully-sculpted bodywork can disguise the lack of a diesel in the line-up. It’s not a deal breaker for everyone, but it is to us and, it seems, a good number of other car buyers as well. BMW doesn’t even offer a petrol X3 to UK customers. Audi includes a petrol-engined Q3 and Q5 in its line-up, as does Range Rover with the Evoque, but when was the last time you saw one on the road?
The Lexus needs anti-diesel legislation to skew the UK car-buying market in its favour. Until then, it will only ever be a fringe player, but a fine-looking one at that.