The new Lexus NX combines traditional luxury with high-tech features to achieve a different level of desirability
A new form of luxury MAN BEHIND THE DESIGN: "We designed the basic concept and package, then applied the vehicle image. This is the key feature of the vehicle," says Mr Kato

THE Lexus NX is the Japanese luxury brand's first compact SUV and it was created with one simple target - to attract conquest customers, all of them if possible. "We would like to have new customers for the Lexus brand," says Lexus NX chief engineer Takeaki Kato in fluent English. "Of course we welcome existing Lexus owners and we expect some cannibalisation. But my target is 100 per cent new customers for the NX."

Lexus already has the popular RX mid-sized sport-utility vehicle, a model which is particularly successful in the US. The smaller NX is also aimed at the American market, as well as Europe and China, where the compact crossover segment is experiencing strong growth. Lexus says that these three geographical areas are currently registering similar sales volumes.

But it isn't just the NX's size that sets it apart from other Lexus SUV models; its styling is also radically different.

According to Mr Kato, however, his priority at the concept stage was not design but rather, proportions. Back in 2010, he had decided that the NX would not be taller than 1,650 mm (the Lexus is 1,645 mm high with the sharkfin antenna, and 1,630 mm without). This was important because tall SUVs project an image of "offroad sport". But Mr Kato wanted the all-wheel-drive NX to be "onroad sport".

It was icing on the cake that none of its competitors happened to be in this height range then.

The vehicle height was also important because the width can be an issue in certain countries such as Japan. The NX had to be less than 1,850 mm, which is relatively narrow, but its height cap was still able to make it look low and wide. And overall length was integral for rear kneeroom and luggage space, as well as when parallel parking on European streets.

"I studied the packaging and the proportions first, then we determined the design," explains the eloquent Mr Kato. "We designed the basic concept and package, then applied the vehicle image. This is the key feature of the vehicle."

The parameters he set may have met with some resistance from his design and production counterparts, but Mr Kato - with a slight smile - adds that a compromise was eventually achieved.

What is important is that the NX's distinctive styling and proportions catch the eye of a prospective customer.

"Premium customers like remarkable design. If the design is common or ordinary, you can't impress the customer," he says. "When they see the car, it must make them say, I don't know what brand that is but I am curious to find out. This way, the NX will get on the shopping list."

Such a shopping list will likely be in the hands of singles and couples who are relatively young, in their 30s to 40s, or young families as well as empty nesters who want to downsize. More of such young and wealthy examples are also found in China and Russia.

"In Japan, singles in their late 30s and early 40s are richer than those who are married," Mr Kato says with a laugh.

Based on his research, buyers of compact SUVs choose such a car because it can be used daily for business, as well as for leisure with friends for activities such as camping, skiing and shopping. "The plus point for the NX is that it has good handling, it drives like sedan, and it is a good size. It has utility," he says.

The NX offers a choice of either a 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, or a novel 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. When asked about his favourite part of the car, he smiles and says he has more than one. So his top three are:

  • The exterior design proportions because of "the big effort from design and production to create the NX's sculpted surfaces by deep pressing the sheet metal";
  • The handling performance, which is "benchmarked against the IS sedan with its sharp steering and good feedback"
  • The "attention to detail of the interior", with small but attractive cosmetic bolts inspired by the LFA supercar, and the stitching of the leather.

"Luxury is a traditional feature of a premium brand, with leather, wood and metal being part of the basic heritage. But we combine high-tech features like the Remote Touch Interface (with vibrating touchpad) and touch-sensitive overhead lighting to create a higher level of luxury."

CAR INFORMATION

Lexus NX 300h  2.5 Luxury (A)

Price

:POA

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve DOHC VVT-I

Engine Cap

:

2,494 cc

Horsepower

:

196 bhp / 5,700 rpm

Torque

:

210 Nm / 4,400 rpm

Transmission

:

E-CVT (A)

Acceleration

:

9.2 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

180 km/h