WHEN painting a picture of domestic bliss these days, there are a few stereotypes that need to be upheld.
There's the traditional detached home and cute kids happily playing in the yard of course, but increasingly we need to see a luxury SUV in the driveway.
Aspirational they may be, but the luxury compact SUV class has successfully merged affordability with hauling the family in some style, and Lexus is the latest player on the field with its NX range.
Late last year its hybrid NX 300h debuted, and has now been joined by the cheaper and more performance-orientated NX 200t featuring Lexus's first ever turbocharged petrol engine.
It's hard to believe such an engine - ubiquitous among its premium competition for some time - hasn't been utilised before, but Lexus's admirable push into the hybrid realm has been one reason, and development time another.
The boosted 2.0-litre four-cylinder has been nine years in the making - and exhaustively tested on bench and road - to ensure it reached power, efficiency and quality levels the match of Lexus's brand image.
Good news is it's a decent powerplant that suits the NX model well. No, it doesn't have the economy of the hybrid variant, but this NX 200t turbo petrol, starting from $52,500, is the more satisfying all-rounder.
If you need another reason to opt for a Lexus other than it being an Audi Q5 or BMW X3 alternative, it's cabin comfort.
Settle in to the front seats and their cosseting nature would have you relishing a cross-country road trip. As standard on the entry level Luxury model are heated front seats with eight-way power adjustment, moving up to 10-way cooled and heated chairs in F Sport and Sports Luxury spec.
Rear space is as expected for a compact SUV: it'll haul the family in decent room and comfort, but three adults across the back bench is a bit cosier, although both leg and head room are ample.
The cabin is awash with leather and Nulux, and combined with solid feeling switchgear the NX doesn't let down the Lexus badge.
Minor complaints would be the rather antique feel of the auto gear level and surround, the tiered central dash area is a bit fussy, and the touchpad controller takes some getting used to.
This takes little away from what is a cohesive overall design however, and the fit and finish throughout is hard to fault.
On the road
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offers a healthy 175kW and 350Nm with a six-speed automatic the only transmission option.
It has been designed to be the sportier NX offering and certainly trumps the 300h hybrid in terms of pace by hitting 100kmh in 7.1 seconds in 2WD guise and 7.3 seconds in AWD.
The engine offers impressive shove from quite low down in the rev range, but never feels truly sporting, which in all honesty isn't the point of this car.
What it does well is offer enough performance on tap when asked, but its real trump card is its refinement. Highway cruising and city streets will be the NX 200t's typical hunting ground, and here the engine and sleek transmission suit the SUV perfectly.
Same can be said of the suspension, which has been setup principally for comfort to make cruising a joy. The trade off is a bit of body roll through the corners when pushed, but again this is nothing unexpected in a compact SUV that isn't pretending to be a sports car.
Appreciated is the drive mode select which offers Eco, Normal and Sport modes, and Sports+ for the F Sports and Sports Luxury models. Sport modes holds the gears longer to exploit the petrol's higher revs, and for tackling twisty routes or for overtaking it makes for a livelier steer.
What do you get?
The high spec level as standard in the NX 200t will really get bums on seats. Much of what Lexus has thrown in for the asking price could add up to five figures to the options bill of certain German rivals.
The entry-level NX 200t models - both 2WD and AWD - offer as standard sat nav, reverse camera and parking sonar front and rear, power real tailgate, heated electric seats, rain sensing wipers and an electro-chromatic interior mirror for starters.
Move in to the F Sport and you'll enjoy adaptive variable suspension, a 360-degree panoramic view monitor, blind spot monitor, paddle shifters and racier F Sport styling inside and out.
There's no doubt the Sports Luxury offers the "true" luxury Lexus experience, with extra leather, all-speed active cruise control, an excellent full-colour head-up display, sunroof and extras in the active safety and audio departments.
Storage throughout is ample and of pleasingly chunky quality and you receive 500 litres of boot space or 1545 with the 60:40 rear seats folded. Sports Luxury models get segment-first electric rear-fold seats which will impress the kids. The towing capacity is only 1000kg, meaning it lags behind rivals here.
We returned a smidge over 10-litres/100km on our mixed road and sometimes enthusiastic test. The quoted economy figure of high sevens was comfortably attained on open roads and cruising through town.
No shrinking violet this Lexus. While the brand is typically conservative in design, the NX is a real head-turner in the way the Range Rover Evoque was at its launch. Audi's Q5 and BMW's X3 barely raise a glance these days, so hats off to Lexus for the brave design, even if it still looks a tad underwheeled with its 18-inch alloys under gaping wheel arches.
The NX 200t should be a decent seller for Lexus, ticking many boxes for its luxury and toys-loving target demographic. Its quality, high standard spec and slightly left-field styling, all at a decent price, gives a viable alternative to German compact SUVs.
Model: Lexus NX 200t.
Details: Five-door two-wheel or all-wheel-drive luxury compact SUV.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 175kW @ 4800-5600rpm and 350Nm @ 1650-4000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.3 seconds (2WD) and 7.1sec (AWD), max speed 200km/h.
Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km (2WD) and 7.9 litres/100km (AWD) combined average.
CO2: 178g/km (2WD), 184g/km (AWD).
Bottom line before on-roads: $52,500 (Luxury 2WD), $57,000 (Luxury AWD), $63,500 (F Sport), $72,500 (Sports Luxury).
What matters most
What we liked: Styling that dares to be different, refined turbo engine suits the car well, interior is a luxurious delight and spec on all models is high.
What we'd like to see: A bit more oomph and grunt from the turbo engine to suit its sporting place in the range, a less fiddly touchpad inside, and we want this engine in more Lexus models.
Servicing and warranty: Standard four-year 100,000km warranty.
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