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Roseville, Calif. – After manufacturing generations of vehicles with rather understated exteriors, Lexus has suddenly drifted away from its comfort zone and is designing some edgy cars.

The problem with edgy is there’s two sides of the coin. While a particular design might be appealing to one person, it can totally offend another, which in the car business translates into no sale. So perhaps one can understand why the Lexus design team took the safe, homogenized approach in the past.

Last year, Lexus unveiled the NX 200t, a compact luxury crossover sport utility vehicle. I know, another SUV in the lineup. Toyota and Lexus, its luxury brand, already feature a wide selection of SUVs and in some cases seem to compete against each other. While we are a fan of the NX 200t, note that it does come with a bold styling that might not appeal to the masses.

The NX 200t has some aggressive design angles and the standard Lexus front end features thin lights and a nose that one car reviewer says resembles a rat’s angry expression. Now that’s an appealing image – huh! The NX 200t has a three-dimensional taillights and very detailed LED headlights. Note that Lexus also gave the redesigned 2016 RX 350 a shocking black, spindle-shaped front grille that was seemingly designed for Darth Vader fans.

But enough about Lexus design. It did create a new SUV with plenty of upside. The 2016 NX 200t features a high-tech interior, a smooth and quiet engine, generous room in the backseat, and a turbocharged engine that has solid performance and gas mileage capability. The starting price is right around $35,000. The competition includes the Audi Q5, BMW X3, the new Mercedes-Benz GLC, and the Acura RDX.

High-tech lovers should enjoy the five-passenger NX 200t cabin. It even looks cool from a visual stand point with its modernized dashboard, wood trim, modern analog clock, and high-quality materials (lots of soft leather) seemingly everywhere. The climate controls are high and easily accessible, and so is the display audio. What might perplex some (put me in this category) was the audio system. I couldn’t figure out how to program the radio without diving into the manual. On the positive side, the front seats were extremely soft and comfortable, and the back seat was roomy enough to seat three people. Cargo space is OK for a compact SUV at 17.7 cubic-feet.

The NX 200t has one engine, a turbo 2.0-liter, four-cylinder that produces 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, combined with a six-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel drive SUV (all-wheel is an option) goes 0-60 in 7.0 seconds, which is about average for the class. But once in a freeway situation, the 4,000-poumd NX 200t displays very good passing power.  Considering Lexus’ long history of producing fine driving automobiles, it’s no surprise that the NX 200t has sharp handling.

2016 Lexus NX 200t

  • Performance: turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 235 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 22-28 mpg
  • Price estimate: $34,965 to $38,465
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain: 6 years/70,000 miles; roadside assistance: 4 years/ unlimited; corrosion: 6 years/unlimited

If the controversial styling is not an issue, put the 2016 Lexus NX 200t on the list of compact luxury SUVs to try out. It has many fine qualities, like excellent high-tech interior, good road manners, and enough performance to keep most owners happy. The price isn’t a deal-buster, either.

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