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Right On Schedule: Lexus expects smallish yet spacious new NX crossover to fill gap in carmaker's luxury lineup

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Right On Schedule: Lexus expects smallish yet spacious new NX crossover to fill gap in carmaker's luxury lineup

The brand-new 2015 Lexus NX small SUV-crossover, on sale at Hendrick Lexus Charleston, stand out on a downtown rooftop. Leroy Burnell/Staff 12/1/2014

The task seemed direct if not simple: design a sport utility-type vehicle that would be moderately sized, luxuriously appointed and frugally priced.

As it turns out, Lexus was moving at cross purposes.

The desired model would be a crossover to please retirees and young families who prefer to sit up high. It needed to be fairly small, since rarely more than a few people would be riding in the four-door at any one time. But it also had to be fairly big: since purchaser groups covet looks and style that require adequate space for comfort. Buyers, too, want high-end perks that can be expensive. But they aren't loaded with wealth, so the vehicle demanded a reasonable cost.

Despite the host of conflicting objectives, Lexus successfully rolled out its all-new 2015 NX crossover in late November.

"I think it's going to have value as well as (make) a statement as a new model," said Pat Welsh, sales associate at Hendrick Lexus Charleston.

Early this week, Lexus received its first NX, an Obsidian-exterior model with four-cylinder turbocharged engine generating 235 horsepower. The price with a premium package that included 18-inch rims was $42,729. "I expect this package will be very popular," he says.

The crossover's base price is $34,480.

"We haven't been in that (small SUV-crossover) segment ever," said David Yarborough, general manager of Hendrick Lexus Charleston. "This will be a good seller."

Welsh addressed the perks of the all-new NX.

Visually, "This gives more of a design element of the spindle grille," he said, noting a similar theme in the back. Distinctive edges give the crossover "a much bolder look," he said.

The car comes with push button start and stop, and you can open the locked front door automatically with the smart key on your person. The door handle includes a "puddle light" for nighttime and incorporates a key lock in case the smart fob malfunctions. LED headlights feature the Lexus "L" logo fashioned into the illumination pattern.

Inside, leather or Nuluxe seating is available. "The stitching is very well done," he said.

Lexus tailored a scrolling pad in the center console that acts like a laptop maneuvering device to negotiate the vehicles' communications and navigation functions via a viewing screen. Among the settings: the driver can adjust the pad's scrolling sensitivity.

A new feature: Updated traffic news is included without charge. "Free's always good," Welsh quipped.

Lexus maintained many traditional controls as alternatives or backups to the touch pad. They include the crossover's dual climate control system and adjustments to the heated and ventilated seats.

There's a number of safety and convenience features including:

. Power lift gate operated with a button next to the driver and on the hatch.

. Blind spot monitors on the side view mirrors to warn against cars passing to the left or right.

. Motion sensitive interior lights that can be waved on or off with a hand motion.

. Seating of five with eight air bags.

. A rear mounted camera activated when in reverse comes standard.

As for performance, the NX transmission can be adjusted via a center console knob from normal driving mode to energy-efficient "eco" or quick-response "sport. The pick-up is impressive when you're looking to merge," he says.

Estimated fuel mileage ranges from 28 mpg highway to 22 city for a 25 mpg average.

The initial version to roll out is the NX 200, which will be followed by a 200 F Sport and a "300 h" hybrid version that borrows technology from the ES sedan lineup.

Welsh said the smaller SUV would appeal to a "younger buyer." People who live downtown on narrow streets also would like the crossover's slimmer physique. "I'm excited about this."

In an afternoon spin around metro Charleston, the all-new NX displayed how Lexus can build trimmer crossovers for motorists who don't require people movers - while also being luxurious, comfortable and perky.

The NX 200 with performance package was a looker, what with the deep black exterior matched to "crème" inside.

Clever technological features included the power lift gate and motion sensitive interior lights.

While designing the NX with a comparatively short length and wheelbase, Lexus left ample space front and back for passengers and the driver.

The model's turbocharged engine accelerated smoothly - even providing a surge in sport mode to pass cars - and brakes worked well. Steering was easy and responsive.

If Lexus were to look for improvements, the manufacturer might want to provide clearer sight lines for the driver looking left and right - although side view mirrors were wide and well positioned. The raked roof in back also made visibility a little tight when peering through the rear view mirror, especially with second row head cushions up.

Rear cargo space is more than adequate but looks smaller with a flat base and net-like grocery holder attached (They both can be removed).

Weighing the NX ride comprehensively, Lexus has definitely headed in the right direction. It's taken the sport utility positives, notably the driver's elevated position on the road, and fit them into a more compact frame that still encompasses style and comfort.

To learn more, visit your local Lexus dealer.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

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