Lexus offers its first turbo in the NX 200t 1

A woman stopped to talk as I was photographing the Lexus NX 200t. She is a Lexus owner and loved the fact that this compact crossover looks like a Darth Vader mask. I, on the other hand, think the maw-like spindle grille and angular styling is so overdone and cartoonish that it doesn’t seem fitting for a luxury brand. So that’s the NX 200t’s styling in a nutshell: you either like it or you don’t.

Lexus clearly wants to appeal to a young audience and shed past criticism that its cars were not sporty enough. A similarly polarizing design is also found on the new RX350.

With that gripe out of the way, it’s time to look closer. Design aside, the NX 200t appeals to me on many levels. Its 104.7-inch wheelbase is the same as the Toyota RAV4. Dimensionally, it is 2.4 inches longer, .6 inches lower and 1 inch wider than the RAV. The NX200t is handy because it is easy to maneuver, has a frugal 2.0-liter engine and its price won’t break the bank.

Prices start at $34,865 for front-wheel drive and $36,265 for all-wheel drive. The F-Sport model has a more aggressive front grille and bumper, special wheels and sport seats. Prices start at $36,965 for front-wheel drive and $38,365 for all-wheel drive. I drove an all-wheel-drive F-Sport from the Lexus press fleet and its sticker price was $43,988.

Typical of Lexus, the NX 200t has a first-rate level of fit, finish and quality of materials. The cabin is a tad small but the front seats, covered in two-tone leather, were attractive and quite comfortable. The split-folding rear seat also reclines. The rear hatch is big enough for sizable items, and a power option is available.

The instrument panel has an LCD screen atop the center stack and it displays audio and navigation information. A “remote touch interface” pad on the console replaces the former mouse-like joystick on earlier models. The square pad responds to movements of your finger much like the touchpad of a laptop. I’m a fairly tech savvy person who embraces new technology but I found the touchpad and system interface were not nearly as easy to use as a mouse-like controller.

Inside the center console is a Qi-compatible wireless charging tray for smartphones although it does not work with iPhones.

Lexus says the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is its first. It has a four-into-two exhaust manifold that pairs cylinders according to their compression stroke and that reduces turbo lag. Throttle response was nearly as linear as that of a normally aspirated engine. With 235 horsepower under foot, the NX 200t accelerated briskly and cruised comfortably at highway speeds.

The all-wheel drive system uses front-wheel drive during normal cruising. When conditions require more traction, the system engages the rear differential and up to 50 percent of available torque can be sent to the rear wheels. This system also helps the vehicle during cornering.

A hybrid version, the NX300h, starts at $39,720 for front-wheel drive and $41,310 for all-wheel drive. It combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with three electric motors. One charges the hybrid battery, one drives the front wheels and one drives the rear wheels. Total power output is 348 horsepower. Fuel economy is rated at 33 in the city and 30 on the highway.

Warranty: Four years or 50,000 miles, with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Price: The base price of the test car was $36,965. Options included the Qi-compatible wireless charging tray, Homelink garage door opener, 18-inch F-Sport wheels, navigation, auto-dimming outside mirrors, power tailgate and the F-Sport package of heated front seats, power sunroof, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and 10-way driver’s seat. The sticker price was $43,988.

Point: The NX 200t is a small crossover vehicle that is easy to maneuver, gets good gas mileage and has 235 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. The fit and finish are excellent.

Counterpoint: For me, the bold styling overshadows the vehicle’s strong points.